Biden aims to undo damage done to LGBTQ rights abroad under Trump

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The new administration is working to combat the criminalization of LGBTQ people abroad, as well as protect LGBTQ immigrants and asylum-seekers.

President Joe Biden gave a speech at the U.S. State Department on Thursday pledging to "reinvigorate our leadership on LGBTQ issues," demonstrating a stark change of direction from the Trump administration's policies.

"We'll ensure diplomacy and foreign assistants are working to promote the rights of those individuals included by combating criminalization and protecting the LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers," Biden said, according to Reuters.

On Thursday night, Biden issued a memorandum that said executive agencies engaged abroad are directed to "ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere."

In addition to combating the criminalization of LGBTQ people and their relationships, and ensuring LGBTQ refugees and asylum-seekers have "equal access to protection and assistance," the State Department is reversing any policies and guidance that are not in line with the new inclusive guidelines.

The move is a massive shift from the Trump administration's stance.

Mike Pompeo's approach to LGBTQ rights when he was secretary of state placed his own evangelical Christian beliefs at the center of State Department policy. In 2019, he created the "Commission of Unalienable Rights," which was led by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor who opposes marriage equality. In 2020, Pompeo released a report by the commission, which differentiated some rights as more important than others.

"Americans do not only have unalienable rights but also positive rights: rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding. Others aren't," he said in July that year. "...More rights doesn't necessarily mean more justice."

Human rights experts said that the commission had enabled embassies to call into question how they should behave on matters of LGBTQ rights.

In October, Pompeo gave a keynote speech for an anti-LGBTQ group called the Florida Family Policy Council, which states on its website that "radical LGBT activists ... will not stop until they force all Americans to approve, support and celebrate their lifestyle."

During the Trump administration, several officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose administrator coordinates with the secretary of state, also exposed records of internal anti-LGBTQ comments, including intentionally misgendering transgender people, claiming transgender people were a danger to cisgender people, and referring in one instance to a "tyrannical LGBT agenda."

Biden's secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has said he plans to put someone back in the role of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, a role that was never filled by the Trump administration. Blinken has also pledged to let embassies fly the LGBTQ Pride flag once again and "repudiate" the commission Pompeo started.

In 2019, the Trump administration announced a campaign to decriminalize homosexuality abroad but by the summer of 2020, human rights groups said they still hadn't seen any developments. Trump's agencies additionally assailed LGBTQ rights numerous times, up through his very last weeks in office.

Biden began his first days in office working to reverse many of the other anti-LGBTQ policies left in place by the Trump administration, including the transgender military ban and the implementation of a landmark Supreme Court decision that protected LGBTQ workers' rights at the federal level.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.