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New Partnership to Speed Progress on LGBT Rights

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer | 10 April 2013
Man standing in front of flag with colored horizontal stripes (AP Images)

John Allen stands in front of a rainbow flag at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development has formed a new partnership to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in developing countries and emerging economies.

The LGBT Global Development Partnership joins USAID with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency in Stockholm, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, based in New York, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute in Washington, the Williams Institute in Los Angeles and the Olivia Companies LLC travel services of San Francisco. The partnership is the world’s largest initiative of its kind, USAID said.

The partnership “has the potential to make a huge difference in the daily lives of LGBT individuals around the world and the communities in which they live,” said Maura O’Neill, USAID’s chief innovation officer.

The partnership will strengthen LGBT community groups, train LGBT citizens to participate more fully in democratic events, and support research on the economic impact of discriminating against LGBT people.

The partnership leverages the resources and skills of the participating organizations and “can be a real game-changer in the advancement of LGBT human rights,” said Claire Lucas, USAID public-private partnership adviser.

Writing on USAID’s blog, O’Neill explained that “in countries where LGBT individuals can be legally evicted from their homes or arrested simply for being themselves, building connections and a community of empowered LGBT leaders is absolutely critical.”

Eighty-five countries and territories criminalize LGBT activities, while seven countries have a death penalty for same-sex actions. Fewer than 50 countries punish people who discriminate against LGBT individuals, according to USAID.

Yet, O’Neill wrote, “people around the world are recognizing that such violence, discrimination and governmental intolerance are no longer acceptable.”

In 2011 the United Nations passed a resolution endorsing LGBT human rights. The following month, President Obama directed all U.S. agencies engaged with other countries to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people everywhere. Obama stressed that the United States has a “deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people.”

He told U.S. agencies to combat government criminalization of people who identify as LGBT, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and leverage foreign aid funds to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination. He directed them to ensure rapid U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT people and to engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.

USAID incorporates LGBT concerns into all of its programs and works to promote the political, social and economic well-being of LGBT persons, the agency said.

“Our aim is to unleash the potential of hundreds of millions of people globally who are LGBT to have the freedom and dignity to contribute fully to their families, communities and nations,” O’Neill said.