It’s a great privilege to add my welcome to you at this celebration of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ (GLIFFA) first two decades. I wanted to begin by thanking you, the activists and advocates who have stepped forward, often at great personal risk, to claim your rights and those of the LGBT community around the world. I also wanted to thank President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Counselor Mills for making it easy to be an LGBT advocate within the State Department and USAID.
Let me start with a personal story. My father, Warren Steinberg, served for many years as president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and as a high school principal in Los Angeles. Nearly three decades ago, he was the first administrator in his region to launch a program to support and counsel LGBT students on campus. The program was called “Project 10” – reflecting the fact that perhaps 10 percent of the student population was LGBT. He came under huge attack for this program – not so much in our community, but from some here in Washington. One senator threatened to destroy his career if one penny of federal money was used to support the program.
I remember calling my father to offer support and congratulations on his work to defend the rights of these students. My father said that yes, human rights was one motivation for his work, but more important was the fact that students who were uncomfortable with their sexual identity were far more likely to drop out of school, to abuse drugs or alcohol, to be bullied, and to have problems in the classroom. Project 10 was a natural part of his lifetime role as an educator. He said, “How can we teach these kids algebra and colonial history, and ignore issues of sexual identity that will fundamentally shape the rest of their lives?”
This pragmatic, even utilitarian approach toward LGBT issues guides the work of my agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development. Our development assistance will never be fully effective unless we draw on the full contributions of the entire population, including marginalized groups such as the LGBT community, women, young people, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and displaced persons.
For the LGBT community, this means supporting the political, economic and social empowerment of the community. It means protecting LGBT people during periods of conflict or humanitarian emergencies, when they’re most vulnerable. It means mainstreaming these issues into our programs in food security, global health, climate change, economic growth, and democracy and governance. Most of all, it means involving the LGBT community in our partner countries, not just as victims, but as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries of our programs under the watchwords, “Nothing about them without them.”
We’re putting these words into practice. From Colombia and Honduras, to Mali and Uganda, to Vietnam and Pakistan, we’re supporting local groups promoting LGBT rights and well-being. We’re using our convening authority to expand public awareness of LGBT issues, meeting openly with LGBT activists from Mongolia and Romania to Kenya and South Africa.
Fourteen months ago, USAID began including in all our project proposals, grants and contracts language that strongly encourages our implementing partners not to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Working with the State Department, we’re supporting the Secretary’s Global Equality Fund to strengthen LGBT advocates around the world. And USAID has just launched a $12 million global partnership with other governments, advocacy groups, and universities. This partnership will support LGBT grassroots groups in a half-dozen target countries; identify and disseminate best practices in promoting the economic, social, and political well-being of LGBT persons; and fund research to quantify the economic cost of discrimination against LGBT communities around the world.
In-house, we’re changing as well. Earlier this year, we appointed our first senior coordinator for LGBT issues, backed by an advisory committee addressing research, partnerships, public affairs, and legal rights of the global LGBT community – under the leadership of Ajit Joshi, Chloe Schwenke, Claire Lucas, Clay Doherty, Vy Lam, Patricia Lamonde, Rosarie Tucci, and Mara Patermaster.
With the strong encouragement of the President and Secretary Clinton, we were the first federal agency to publish a recruitment brochure targeting LGBT applicants. Along with the State Department, we’ve adopted new regulations to provide full benefits for same-sex domestic partners for our various classes of employees. We’ve proudly sworn-in openly gay mission directors to lead key missions abroad, and we’re providing awards to those within our ranks who are leading the LGBT space. Our internal list-serve, LGBT Champions, provides a forum for 200 officers to address these issues. And we meet regularly with GLIFFAA to seek your guidance and counsel.
Most of all, we’re consciously seeking to create at USAID a safe space for LGBT individuals and their advocates to discuss and debate these issues.
We still have a long way to go, but day by day, we’re making small but significant progress. I’m inspired by the words of Robert F. Kennedy, which I keep on my desk. Kennedy said:
Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
It’s now my pleasure to turn the podium over to one of the most important ripples, a passionate, thoughtful and articulate leader on LGBT issues within the State Department and throughout our administration, Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Baer. Thank you.
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Last updated: January 27, 2016