USAID is showing extraordinary leadership by establishing the LGBT Global Development Partnership to address serious issues of inequality and discrimination faced by LGBT individuals around the world. Both in the quality of USAID’s work and the way it is doing business, it has recognized that we cannot achieve our development goals unless we first learn to solve problems creatively, partner with our private sector allies, and address how equal treatment can empower individuals to be more effective and impactful members of society.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the bold step just a few years ago to assert that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and this initiative builds upon her leadership as well as the incredible leadership of President Barack Obama, who addressed the nations of the world at the UN and said, “No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”
America’s leadership in the world on the issue of LGBT equality is no coincidence. Equality and equal protection of the law are deeply embedded in the idea of America and the foundation of our democracy. We were, after all, a country that was founded on this radical idea – or at least radical at the time – that people have inalienable rights not because of the generosity of a monarch or a sovereign ruler, but as a result of the natural affairs of human existence and a recognition that every person has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
America’s real power in the world is the overwhelming might of these founding principles, and it is important to understand our responsibility to countless LGBT individuals all over the world who face violence, institutional discrimination, criminalization of their status, and violations of basic human rights. The challenges that USAID addresses – global health, access to food and water, education, and economic growth – cannot be fully met unless we are honoring basic human rights, especially the basic responsibility of keeping LGBT individuals safe. This partnership will do just that.
We must urgently make certain all LGBT individuals around the world are safe from violence and physical harm. In 2011, I introduced and successfully worked to pass an amendment out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would have empowered the Secretary of State to discourage foreign governments from sanctioning acts of violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen the collaboration between federal agencies and Congressional leaders in order to apply pressure to governing bodies that oppress LGBT communities abroad.
And I know that we can continue to make progress on these issues because LGBT voices are stronger than ever in Congress. I am one of six co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the House, and our membership grows every day.
While our work to enact legal prohibitions against discrimination and violence continues, ultimately our progress must not only be reflected in the executive orders of our President, or even in the laws adopted by Congress, but in the words and actions of ordinary citizens in cities and towns all across America and the world who are seeing members of the LGBT community marry, serve their country openly and honestly, raise families, hold office, and distinguish themselves as business and academic leaders.
Seeing the power of these examples will, in the end, help advance the cause of equality all over the world.