I was honored to represent the United States government at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe’s Annual Conference, held in Zagreb, Croatia yesterday. Before an audience of more than 250 activists from 45 countries across Europe, I affirmed the strong U.S. commitment to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Europe and beyond. While noting some positive developments in Europe, such as anti-discrimination and hate crime measures, I also expressed deep concern about negative trends in a number of countries in the region. The Anti-Gay Propaganda law in Russia, for example, has led to an increase in harassment and violence targeting LGBT persons. Similar laws have been proposed or are being discussed in other European countries. And we heard at ILGA how such laws validate discrimination and lead to an increase in violence and intimidation.
On the margins of this important gathering, I also met with Croatian government and EU officials as well as civil society organizations from Croatia and elsewhere in Europe. Those officials included Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, and Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, Director for Equality in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, who both joined me in delivering keynote remarks.
In a roundtable discussion with LGBT advocates from across Europe, I heard firsthand about the human rights challenges facing LGBT persons, including legal difficulties in changing gender markers on official documents for transgender persons, violence and harassment targeting LGBT persons, particularly around Pride marches, and the pressing need to ensure societies at large become more tolerant and inclusive of LGBT persons and their families. This sobering reality will inform the work of the Department as it continues to use diplomacy and foreign assistance to increase human rights protection for LGBT persons.
In December 2011, the Department launched the Global Equality Fund to support civil society programs and projects that respond to human rights backsliding and advance the human rights of LGBT persons. Since the its launch, the Fund has allocated more than $7.5 million to civil society in more than 50 countries worldwide, including Europe, to help support efforts to challenge discriminatory legislation, build organizational capacity and document human rights abuses that target LGBT persons. As a public-private partnership, the Fund is a collaboration of over a dozen foreign governments, private foundations, and corporations.
While meeting with EU human rights officials and civil society activists, I also highlighted the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons as a useful government-wide mechanism to focus attention and energy on common objectives across different government agencies.
The State Department is determined to continue its work in close collaboration with civil society and government partners in Europe to ensure a society where all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are treated with equality and dignity.
About the Author: Uzra Zeya serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.