Last month, USAID demonstrated leadership in promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion through its international workplace and programming by participating in and presenting at the 2013 Out & Equal Workplace Summit. This annual conference convened over 2,000 leaders from the private and public sector as well as non-governmental organizations.
A recurring theme of the Summit was the need to create safe spaces for LGBT people abroad. Speakers from all over emphasized the problem: LGBT people abroad often face life-threatening discrimination, harassment, and violence at the hands of state and non-state actors, noting that approximately 80 countries still criminalize LGBT behavior (with seven imposing the death penalty). Organizations struggle to identify ways to support their LGBT employees and members of the local LGBT community when working in countries with anti-LGBT laws and norms.
To share lessons learned from USAID, I was proud to present on a panel discussion titled, “Changing the Way of Doing Business: LGBT Integration at USAID,” along with colleagues from across the Agency (Matthew Emry, Gender Advisor, Africa Bureau; Regina Jun, Senior Program Analyst & Gender Advisor, LAC Bureau; and Claire Lucas, Senior Advisor for Partnerships, IDEA). Interested audience members came from a wide spectrum, including executives from Fortune 500 companies, heads of LGBT advocacy groups, and internationally-renown experts on diversity and inclusion.
The current context and challenges of promoting LGBT inclusive development in difficult operating environments;
The Agency’s impressive progress, including mainstreaming LGBT into USAID’s strategies and programs (such as Being LGBT in Asia);
USAID’s successes in improving non-discrimination policies, expanding LGBT outreach, and training our global staff; and
An overview of the Agency’s LGBT Global Development Partnership, a historic $12 million initiative that brings together 12 resource partners to strengthen LGBT civil society organizations, train LGBT leaders to effectively participate in democratic processes, and research the economic cost of discrimination against LGBT individuals.
A robust question and answer session followed, during which audience members applauded USAID for taking such leadership and principled stance on LGBT inclusion abroad. They demonstrated an eagerness to learn much more too. Many participants representing private companies stated that they were inspired to follow USAID’s leadership; they requested sample policy statements, copies of the LGBT training and outreach brochure, and summaries of the Agency’s LGBT programming and partnerships. Others approached USAID about future partnership opportunities that could leverage private sector resources and expertise to promote human rights and access to services for LGBT people abroad. At the end of the session, it was great to hear that people felt inspired and emboldened to push their organizations in the direction USAID is moving.
Being out at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit reminded me how far USAID has come. USAID has made bold institutional changes to policies, operations, and programming aligned with the President Obama’s Memorandum to advance the human rights of LGBT people abroad. While never forgetting that there is much more work to do, USAID should be proud of its efforts and recognize that it has taken the lead on an issue of extreme importance.