7 Homosexual U.S. Ambassadors: Trade Deals Should Advance LGBTI Rights

By Patrick Goodenough | June 10, 2015 | 4:36 AM EDT

Six openly gay U.S. ambassadors meet in Washington in March 2015. They are, from left, Ambassador to Australia John Berry, Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Brewster, Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer, Ambassador to Spain James Costos, and Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius (Photo: Blake Bergen/Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies)

(CNSNews.com) – International free-trade agreements like those being negotiated with countries in the Pacific and Europe should help to export American values such as human rights, including for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, according to seven openly homosexual U.S. ambassadors.

The seven, joined by the State Department’s first “special envoy for LGBTI persons,” Randy Berry, signed a joint letter published Tuesday in the national gay and lesbian news magazine The Advocate, and re-posted by the White House.

“Through the President’s trade agenda, we will not only support more American jobs, but we can also promote greater justice beyond our borders,” they wrote.

“We are committed to working closely with the White House to ensure that any trade arrangement approved by Congress is a force for progress on human rights for everyone, including for LGBTI persons.”

The letter comes as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on a contentious piece of legislation known as trade promotion authority, giving the president “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals. The Senate passed it by a 62-37 vote last month. The administration has been lobbying hard to win support, especially from Democrats worried about the potential impact on workers and wages.

“With America’s interests and values on the line, we hope Congress passes trade promotion authority without delay,” the diplomats wrote.

The seven joining Berry are Ambassador to Dominican Republic James Brewster, Ambassador to Spain James Costos, Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, Ambassador to Australia John Berry, Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer, and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman.

“Many of us are currently working in our host countries to promote new trade initiatives, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),” they said.

“In speaking about these agreements, we often use the word ‘values.’ We promote transparency, public participation, accountability and the rule of law, and we advocate for our host countries to join us in setting the global standard.

“As the seven openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex U.S. Ambassadors and the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, this approach is particularly important to us.”

The U.S. is negotiating the TPP with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam), and the TTIP with the 28-member European Union.

The diplomats who signed the letter said that “LGBTI persons” continue to face challenges in countries around the world.

They did not name any countries, but of the TPP partners, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw same-sex sexual acts, according to data compiled by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

In Malaysia, anyone convicted of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” can be imprisoned for up to 20 years, and also be flogged.

In Singapore, a male who commits “any act of gross indecency with another male person” can be jailed for up to two years.

Brunei punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal” with a prison term of up to 10 years, plus a fine.

Moreover, Brunei is scheduled to introduce the death penalty for certain same-sex activity by next year – as part of a roll-out of a controversial shari’a-based legal code – although ILGA said in a report last month that it “seems unlikely to be implemented in actuality.”

(According to ILGA data, same-sex sexual acts are illegal in 76 countries. In five – Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – the death penalty is implemented for same-sex activity, along with some provinces in Somalia and Nigeria.)

“Done right, trade policy is a strong complement to our broader bilateral efforts to urge partner countries to defend and protect the human rights of all individuals,” the diplomats wrote.

“In many ways, the two issues go together: open markets promote development, raise wages, and increase living standards, which in turn goes hand-in-hand with more open and engaged societies that demand a higher standard of protection for civil rights.”

The signatories said they were proud to be part of an administration “deeply committed” to advancing the human rights of LGBTI people, citing President Obama’s recent comment – in a statement marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – that “all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

The administration has made the issue a foreign policy priority, and at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva it co-sponsored in 2011 the first-ever resolution adopted by the U.N. on the human rights of LGBT people.

Delivering a keynote Human Rights Day-themed speech in Geneva six months later, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton focused on LGBT rights, calling the issue “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our times.”

Clinton in that speech said that failure to uphold the human rights of homosexuals and lesbians could not be justified by citing religious or cultural values.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow