New US envoy for LGBTQ rights sees cause for hope and concern

NEW YORK (AP) – Jessica Stern, soon to become the State Department’s Special Diplomatic Envoy for LGBTQ Rights, sees a mix of promising news and disturbing developments almost everywhere she looks, both nationally and abroad.

In the United States, Stern’s admiration for the steps President Joe Biden has taken on LGBTQ rights is offset by his dismay at other developments. These include the continued violence against transgender women of color and a wave of legislation in Republican-ruled states aimed at limiting sports participation and medical options for trans youth.

“I don’t think there is a country or region that is all good or all bad,” she told The Associated Press on Friday. “When you look around the world, you see progress and danger simultaneously. “

Stern, whose new role was announced by Biden last week, has since 2012 served as executive director of New York-based OutRight Action International, which works globally to prevent abuse against LGBTQ people and strengthen their rights. civilians. She hopes to take up her post at the State Department in September.

From her vantage point in OutRight, she monitors widespread threats against LGBTQ people: recent mass arrests in African countries like Ghana and Uganda, three murders in one week in Guatemala and legislation in Hungary that has come under attack. by many European leaders and human rights activists as denigrating LGBTQ people.

Stern is also concerned that LGBTQ people in Myanmar are suffering disproportionately amid the military’s violent crackdown on protesters and opposition groups.

As for the United States, she said, LGBTQ developments this year have reflected deep contradictions.

She praised Biden for deciding to strengthen transgender rights, including lifting a Trump administration ban that barred trans people from joining the military. And she praised the groundbreaking appointments of LGBTQ people to important administrative positions – including Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, as secretary of transportation, and Dr Rachel Levine, who is transgender, as assistant secretary for health.

“At the same time, the work in the United States for the safety and security of transgender Americans is far from over,” Stern said. She urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would extend federal civil rights protection to LGBTQ people. The bill is blocked in the Senate for lack of Republican support.

“There is no country that got it right,” she said. “We all have work to do to make sure we are free from discrimination and violence. … We are all in the same boat. “

She sees reasons for optimism, even in Africa, where South Africa is the only one of 54 countries to have legalized same-sex marriage.

In Nigeria, for example, she said that a recent poll showed 25% of the public opposes discrimination against LGBTQ people – a substantial increase from a few years ago,

“There is no doubt that this is a slower journey for LGBTQI rights wherever conservative religions play a dominant role, but progress is being made,” she said.

“Every day I get an email from a new organization – maybe starting a film festival or an arts festival,” she said. “As long as LGBTQI civil society is strong, it is only a matter of time before we see a change in attitudes and even in law and policy.”

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