Directed by the 2011 Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, the United States works every day to promote respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons both at home and around the world. We do so knowing that, in too many places, people are threatened, tortured, and even killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, LGBT persons are highly vulnerable to hate crimes and bias-motivated violence globally and there is evidence that crimes against LGBT persons, especially transgender persons, are on the rise. The United States and countries around the world have enacted hate crimes legislation that criminalizes or enhances penalties for violent acts committed because of a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability or some other status. A subset of those laws, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the United States, include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Obama Administration aims to provide a swift and meaningful response to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad. Addressing the hate crimes and bias-motivated violence faced by LGBT persons is vital to achieving that goal and advancing our broader human rights policy. To this end, on June 12 the White House hosted a Conversation on Combatting Bias-Motivated Violence Against LGBT Persons Around the World. Participants had the opportunity to engage with Obama Administration officials on the ongoing efforts by governments and private actors to address bias-motivated violence targeting the LGBT community. The forum also provided an opportunity for experts to discuss how law enforcement, judges, legislatures, governments, and civil society can work together to address bias-motivated violence.
Beyond the June 12 event, we are taking a number of steps across the U.S. Government to address this challenge.
Work with Foreign Law Enforcement Partners
- The State Department trains civil society leaders and security sector officials on LGBT issues. In 2014, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs partnered with the Atlanta Police Department to launch a new course on combatting hate crimes for criminal justice practitioners from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico at the State Department-run International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The Hate Crimes Course focused on the vital role of law enforcement in addressing hate crimes against members of the LGBT community. In 2015 this regional ILEA will again deliver the Hate Crimes Course to criminal justice practitioners from Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.
- In 2014, the State Department worked with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), as well as various municipal police departments, to develop an International Police Education and Training Program (IPET) initiative in Haiti focused on improving police response to crimes against marginalized groups through police training, mentoring, and exchange. The initiative culminated in the Haitian National Police developing a new training curriculum on responding to crimes against members of vulnerable groups including the LGBT community. The police academy incorporated the curriculum into its basic training and has delivered it to more than 1,000 cadets who have since graduated into the police force.
- Also in 2014, as part of a broader human rights program, the State Department supported the visit to Mexico City of a U.S. police detective and the head of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL). The visitors spoke about the role of GOAL and police protocols for interacting with the LGBT community during a panel on public security on the margins of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference. The detective also participated in workshops on LGBT issues at the Mexico City Police Academy and the Federal District Police Academy.
- The State Department supports the Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF), formerly the Special Victims Task Force, which investigates and supports the prosecution of LGBT-related homicide cases among other high-profile crimes in Honduras.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) works with civil society, law enforcement, lawyers, and judges to build communities of practice to better promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. USAID activities include: support for training and resources for pro bono lawyers who work to defend the rights of LGBT individual; promoting judicial independence; and developing curriculums and hosting educational events for law students, public officials, police, and judges on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Partnering with Governments
- Through the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), San Diego Superior Court Judge Ted Weathers, the first openly gay judge to be appointed in San Diego, California, and his husband Terry McEachern, addressed the Government of Kosovo’s Advisory and Coordination Group for the Rights of the LGBT Community. The couple held several workshops with local legal professionals about how to effectively enforce laws that protect the LGBT community, including prosecuting hate crimes. OPDAT has also worked in Macedonia to amend language to the Crimes Code which adds discrimination against “marginalized groups,” including LGBT persons, as an aggravating factor in sentencing.
- OPDAT-Albania, helped draft the Albanian anti-discrimination law, prohibiting discrimination based on different criteria including sexual orientation or gender identity. The OPDAT program also worked with the Albanian State Police to provide training for officers working with LGBT victims of crime. In June 2012, OPDAT-Albania hosted the U.S. Government’s first regional LGBT workshop in the Balkans, including over 100 participants from 17 countries. The workshop brought together civil rights leaders and nongovernment organizations to share best practices for protecting LGBT individuals from violent crime and preventing discrimination against them.
- The State Department and the Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) have worked with governments to develop police agency policies and police accountability and law enforcement trainings in a number of places, including Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia.
- To strengthen local government and evidence based advocacy, USAID supports civil society led initiatives to: conduct multi-stakeholder conferences and policy dialogues with government agencies so that concerns of the LGBT community are addressed in legal and policy reforms; fund research studies and baseline surveys on public perception on violence and rights of vulnerable groups; introduce policy and legal tools to promote and protect the rights of LGBT persons and address rights violations; and work with local governments to track anti-LGBT violence and rights violations.
- The Doha Declaration, a consensus outcome document adopted by United Nations Member States in April 2015 during the Thirteenth UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, includes groundbreaking language that the United States introduced on the need to provide “specialized training to criminal justice professionals to enhance capacities for recognizing, understanding, suppressing and investigating hate crimes motivated by discrimination of any kind, to help engage effectively with victim communities and to build public confidence and cooperation with criminal justice agencies.” This represents the first time that UN Member States have agreed to include mention of “hate crimes” and efforts to counter them in the outcome declaration adopted by a UN Crime Congress, which has met every five years since its establishment in 1955.
Empowering Civil Society
- Funded by the United States and 18 partners, the State Department administers the Global Equality Fund which supports civil society organizations engaged in a variety of strategies, including anti-violence coalition building and training programs on recognizing and responding to hate crimes for police and prosecutors. The Fund supports a number of programs explicitly focused on increasing protection of transgender persons from violence and enabling them to seek legal redress.
- Since 2011, the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) has brought to the United States nearly 300 emerging global leaders in the areas of LGBT civil and human rights advocacy to meet with their American counterparts across the country, to share experiences and knowledge, and to develop an appreciation for the remarkable diversity of our nation.
- USAID supports programs to promote respect and social tolerance for sexual and gender diversity, educate the public and LGBT civil society on human rights, and raise awareness on how stigma and discrimination drives violence against LGBT persons. USAID works hand-in-hand with LGBT civil society to: publish articles online to discuss anti-LGBT violence; conduct seminars and focus groups with the media and the community on stigma, discrimination, and the human rights of LGBT persons; host forums to engage youth (LGBT and non-LGBT) on violence and topical issues that affect young people broadly; and provide comprehensive human rights training and resources to the public and LGBT civil society to foster a broad culture of human rights.
We will build on insights gathered during the June 12th to continue strengthening our efforts to address violence against the LGBT community, including by developing new tools and strategies that our Embassies, Consulates, and USAID missions can use in working with governments, law enforcement, and civil society. In addition:
- The State Department will launch “Justice Works,” a new initiative to provide timely technical assistance and support to civil society organizations and government as they respond to hate crime and bias-motivated violence targeting LGBT persons. “Justice Works” will draw upon existing expertise within the U.S. government, including from the Department of Justice, as well as from partner governments, multilateral organizations and civil society to strengthen ongoing efforts and enable organizations and agencies to request assistance to launch new initiatives at the local and national level.
- The State Department plans to expand the successful ILEA Hate Crimes Course to additional ILEAs throughout the global program. The Atlanta Police Department has offered to provide training at the ILEAs.
- The State Department will facilitate a professional exchange project, “Preventing and Responding to Bias-Motivated Violence against the LGBT Community,” to bring 13 civil society activists from 12 countries to the United States. During their exchange visit, participants will work with a coach to develop individually-tailored action plans focused on hate crimes prevention and will have the opportunity to receive small grants to implement their action plans upon their return home.
- To continue the momentum and ensure ongoing coordination, the Obama Administration will regularly convene departments and agencies to discuss key trends, priorities, and opportunities for ongoing engagement, and Administration officials will continue to consult with civil society organizations and like-minded governments to share information and solicit feedback on ongoing programmatic efforts.