Senator Edward Markey (D – Mass.) has introduced a new bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, to the Senate that would commit the U.S. to protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community all around the world.
Markey, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, has brought this bill to the floor due to the fact that there are many countries around the world that condemn homosexuality to some degree. This includes more than 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality and the support of LGBT rights, as well as seven countries that punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The vast majority of these countries are located in poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and South Asia.
One country where being gay can land someone in jail is Nigeria. The northern part of the country is governed by strict Sharia law and prohibits homosexuality and anyone who supports it.
Although the government does not invoke the death sentence for this offense, local Islamic law often calls for the public stoning of anyone found guilty of homosexuality. Those who are turned in to officials for suspected homosexuality are often turned in by informants who secretly gather information. This activity is the result of the mindset in Nigeria and other countries that homosexuals and supporters of LGBT rights are a pestilence that society must be cleansed of.
The bill that hopes to change this focuses mainly on the discrimination and violence that LGBT men and women face, and imposes new strategies to counteract these, including the following:
· Making prevention and response to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community a priority
· Promoting LGBT rights via private sector, governments, multilateral organizations and local advocacy groups
· Creating a new position within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor that would be known as the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People. This envoy would be responsible for organizing all U.S. involvement with foreign LGBT affairs.
· The continuation of the LGBT rights sector of the annual State Department Report on Human Rights
The bill has already garnered 24 co-sponsors, including Markey’s fellow Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In addition to congressional co-sponsors, the bill is also being endorsed by many LGBT rights groups, including MassEquality, which is the leading advocacy group in Massachusetts for LGBT rights.
Markey stated that “for the United States to hold true to our commitment to [defend] the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community,” and if this bill were to pass, it would be a significant step toward equality around the world, as well as a more progressive American stance on LGBT rights.
— Taylor Lovett