New U.S. LGBTI Envoy Seeking Global LGBTI Rights

By Penny Starr | May 26, 2015 | 7:05 PM EDT

Randy Berry, the State Department’s envoy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, spoke at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. on May 26, 2015. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Randy Berry, the State Department’s first envoy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, said on Tuesday he is leaving on a 15-country, five-week trip to encourage foreign governments to include protection for homosexuals in their constitutions.

Speaking at the United States Institution of Peace in Washington, D.C., ahead of a panel of gay rights activists from around the world, Berry said gay rights and human rights are “issues we hold very, very dear.”  Civil conflict around the globe that leads to constitutional change offers a “unique opportunity” to advance those rights, he added.

“Constitutional change has provided a unique opportunity for groups to mobilize for their members’ rights and for recognition,” Berry said.

He did not say which countries he will be visiting.

“Constitutions and constitutional courts are powerful tools to protect rights of members of minority groups,” Berry said, adding that some foreign governments are “addressing the rights of members of the oppressed and marginalized populations through the context of their constitutional drafting processes.”

That process, Berry said, often takes place after civil unrest or war.

“Transitional periods allow a country to redefine its identity in a way,” he said. “And since many of these transitions occur after some form of conflict or denial of benefits of citizenship to one or more parties the rhetoric of equality is often a central feature of discussions during the drafting.”

Constitutional protection for homosexuals, “creates a more durable, healthier nation,” Berry said.

One of the panelists at the event, Michael Dafel of South Africa, said his country’s post-apartheid constitution instituted in 1996 codified discrimination protection for sexual orientation.

According to his biography, Dafel “co-authored reports that were written for the constitutional drafting assemblies in the Middle East and North Africa region following the Arab Spring.”

Material distributed at Tuesday’s event stated that, “While only a few countries now protect LGBTI rights in their constitutions, the inclusion of those protections increasingly has become an indicator of the strength and consolidation of Democracy and constitution-building processes in various countries have opened a social and political space of tolerance and equality within which gender minorities are continuing to claim their rights.”

Berry cited President Obama’s 2011 memorandum on LGBT rights initiative, which covers issues including combating the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; foreign assistance to advance nondiscrimination; and U.S. responses to abuses committed against LGBT people around the world.

Still no religious freedom special envoy

Even as the Obama administration promotes gay rights around the world, the president has yet to name a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, a post created by a law he signed last August.

In a letter to Obama last month, arranged by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, religious freedom advocates and groups urged him to fill the post, the Religion News Service reported at the time.

The letter cited the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East and South Central Asia, including rape, torture, kidnappings and killings of Christians and other religious minorities.

“The persecution and even eradication of religious minorities in the Middle East right now is the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis that we face,” said one of the signatories, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore. “There is a moral imperative to do everything we can to advocate for imperiled religious minorities.”

The letter was signed by 22 leaders including National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Central Florida, and by more than 30 groups, including Coptic Solidarity, the Chaldean Community Foundation, International Christian Concern and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

Although Obama signed the legislation creating the special envoy position, his administration opposed the measure, saying it was unnecessary and duplicative.

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