Obama Admin to ‘Leverage’ Foreign Aid for LGBT Rights

In a major foreign policy announcement, timed for the anniversary of adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the White House has issued a memorandum ordering all government agencies to promote LGBT rights internationally.

The memorandum directs agencies to:

  • Combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
  • Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • Engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.

The use of aid (‘foreign assistance’) as a factor in promoting LGBT rights has recently come into focus with a major media storm in many countries following reports of the UK government withholding aid to countries criminalizing homosexuality.

The UK has clarified that it is not reducing but will consider redirecting aid from government budgets to other routes. It has also clarified that aid policy has four ‘pillars,’ one of which is human rights and that includes LGBT rights.

Exactly how the UK will apply its policy remains unclear, however, it is known to have used ‘aid conditionality’ in attempts to pressure Uganda to withdraw its ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. Criminalization of lesbianism in Malawi was also a minor factor in a recent aid redirection, alongside a serious backsliding on human rights in that country.

The Obama memorandum also does not clarify how it will ‘leverage’ aid.

The White House said:

The Administration’s dedication to LGBT rights does not stop at our borders, as the President made clear at the United Nations in September of this year when he said: “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

Following an interagency process coordinated by the National Security Staff, this memorandum directs the first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Today’s memorandum applies to the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on the policy in Geneva, today, December 6. She announced a new ‘Global Equality Fund,’ which will be a ‘public-private’ partnership and to which the State Department is contributing $3 million. Amongst the work of this fund, it will:

Provide emergency assistance to NGOs and human rights defenders facing governmental or societal threats, and increase organizational capacity to respond to security concerns.

It specifically mentions support for Sierra Leonean activists, who have recently reported coming under attack following a media appearance. It also mentions that “where necessary,” the Fund will support relocation of key activists.

In a briefing [PDF], the State Department laid out its ongoing work on LGBT asylum seekers and refugees. It said:

The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is working to improve the security of LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants by implementing a comprehensive LGBT refugee protection strategy developed in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs.

Progress includes additional funding to UNHCR in places such as Turkey to help with resettlement of LGBT refugees, training for staff working on refugee protection, and the expansion of  NGO guidelines to ensure partners know that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers are a priority population of concern.

PRM is also funding new programs in this area, including research to develop best practices for serving LGBT refugees in urban areas and a pilot initiative in Costa Rica on the needs of LGBT migrants.

Related stories:

Update: Nigerian Legal Attack on LGBT Worsens

Support Brave Sierra Leone LGBTI Activists

Lonely Planet Says Uganda is World’s Top Tourist Destination

Picture by Joseph Huff-Hannon


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marianne C.
Marianne C6 years ago

It's certainly a step in the right direction -- and it could not have happened with a regressive int he White House.

It may be time to stop giving aid to countries that treat being Gay as a crime. Those countries that abuse and imprison Gays for having been born that way are an international shame and a human rights disgrace. And if the UN is going to intervene in countries in which human rights are being shamelessly violated, those same countries would be a good place to start.

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert6 years ago

Yes indeed, Sue - a step in the right direction. Thank you to those who are supporting this step towards making the world a better place for us all to live in.

Jane H.
Jane H6 years ago

this is a huge step.....thnks to the Obama Admin. and Hillary Clinton.

Warren Friedman
Warren Friedman6 years ago

I live in Africa and the clamour against David Cameron and now Hilary Clinton is almost deafening. Strange how those that shout loudest against racism are the same bigots screaming their homophobia. The same Africa that called for disinvestment in and ostracization of South Africa for its racist policies rails against the same actions in respect of their own discrimination. Hypocrites!

Penny C.
penny C6 years ago


William G.
William G6 years ago

Sodom, Gomorrah and now D.C.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

@Beth M. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Thank you for the article.