Trump administration leaves LGBTI envoy role sitting empty – despite claiming they would keep it
Despite previous claims that the Trump administration would keep on a special envoy for LGBTI rights, the role is now sitting empty.
President Obama had created the role of US Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, appointing gay diplomat Randy Berry to the role to allow him to dedicate his time to fighting anti-LGBT legislation around the world.
Berry had the full power of the State Department when he was in the brief, making contacts across the world in order to try and further the cause of LGBT rights.
After Trump took office, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly committed to keeping the envoy in place – despite anti-LGBT actions within other departments of the Trump administration.
But LGBT activists now fear that the role has been quietly erased.
It was confirmed in November that Mr Berry was no longer in the brief, and he is now listed on as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Meanwhile, the State Department website that previously described the role of envoy now simply says: “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons: Vacant
“This position is currently vacant.”
The job is not listed on the State Department’s recruitment system.
PinkNews contacted the State Department to enquire whether any progress had been made on filling the role, and if any recruitment is taking place.
After publication, a spokesperson told PinkNews: “As the Department has said, the position of the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons will be retained and continue to be organized under the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). The Department is looking to fill the position.
“The role and responsibilities of the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons are currently being carried out by DRL Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby. As in the past, LGBTI policy issues are managed by the staff in DRL’s Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs.”
While Mr Berry initially performed the role full-time, Mr Busby’s brief also includes overseeing “the Bureau’s work in East Asia and the Pacific as well as on multilateral and global issues, including U.S. engagement on human rights at the United Nations, democracy, civil society and governance, disability rights, internet freedom, and business and human rights”
Ty Cobb, director of HRC’s global program, told PinkNews: “From day one, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have worked to undermine American values and roll back the critical progress we’ve made on LGBTQ rights in the U.S.
“It is disturbing that they are also working to undermine our nation’s commitment to the human rights of LGBTQ people abroad. Secretary Tillerson’s failure to fill this critically important position is yet another indication of his dangerously negligent indifference toward LGBTQ people around the world.
“Make no mistake, this November at the polls, the fair-minded people of the United States will hold this administration accountable for their failures.”
The quiet erasure of the envoy role mirrors the fate of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy – which was maintained by every President from 1993 onwards. The ONAP shuttered when Trump took office, and is still yet to re-open with a new director.
The Trump administration also sacked the entirety of the Presidential advisory council on HIV/AIDS without making any move to replace them.
The State Department has been largely insulated from the worst excesses of the anti-LGBT activism within the Trump administration.
While the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions sent officials to the Supreme Court to argue that discrimination against gay people should be legal, Secretary Tillerson has issued statements to mark Pride Month and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
He said in November: “On Transgender Day of Remembrance, the United States honors the memory of the many transgender individuals who have lost their lives to acts of violence.
“Transgender individuals and their advocates, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons, are facing increasing physical attacks and arbitrary arrests in many parts of the world. Often these attacks are perpetrated by government officials, undermining the rule of law.
“Transgender persons should not be subjected to violence or discrimination, and the human rights they share with all persons should be respected.
“On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, the United States remains committed to advancing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons. These principles are inherent in our own Constitution and drive the diplomacy of the United States.”
It has been three months since the State Department confirmed to the Washington Blade that Berry had been moved out of the role.
Speaking about the role previously, Mr Berry told PinkNews: “This job is an important new tool for us because it allows us to engage in a globally consistent manner at a reasonably senior level with governments overseas to explain our views and our policy projection here, which is actually not very controversial.
“In a global sense, basically, what we’re looking at are the worst forms of violence and discrimination as our policy points.
“So, I think we’ve seen a lot of receptivity to that, but I think a good deal of that is also that this gives us the ability to basically just normalise our engagement, as we do with any other policy issue that allows us to just make sure that our global messaging is consistent and to take a look at the various tool kits that we have to sort of work for the kind of change that we want to see.”
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