WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, has worked continually since its creation in 1962 to end global poverty and promote economic development and human rights worldwide. It provides humanitarian assistance in the wake of foreign disasters, helps further education in impoverished regions and promotes economic and environmental sustainability.
Recently, USAID has also become committed to promoting LGBT rights worldwide. Although LGBT typically stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, it is important to note that USAID uses it in a far more inclusive manner for “all sexual and gender minorities.”
On December 6, 2011, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum, directing “all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance provide and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” In response to the president’s voiced commitment, on April 8, 2013, USAID announced a new public partnership, called the LGBT Global Development Partnership. This partnership between USAID and numerous other organizations works to protect and ensure LGBT rights worldwide.
Notable international participants in the partnership are the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, the Williams Institute which conducts research on legal issues and policy concerning LGBT rights, Olivia Companies and over 20 other differing nonprofit research partners.
Since its conception, the partnership has worked to strengthen LGBT organizations worldwide and push LGBT individuals to get involved in local and national politics. Thus far, the partnership has reached local communities of LGBT individuals across Latin America, Africa, Europe, Eurasia and Asia.
Colombia, one of the first nations where the partnership began their collaborative work, has benefited greatly from the LGBT Global Development Partnership.
Colombia, a middle-income nation, is one of the world’s most ecologically diverse nations and one of the oldest democracies in South America. For the last 50 years, Colombia has suffered from continued armed conflict due to the persistent prevalence of illegal drug operations and production in the country.
Between 2008 and 2013, Colombia had the fourth highest transgender murder rate in the world. However, with the involvement of local organizations, USAID and its partners are working to change this statistic.
The partnership is working towards this goal by empowering local communities and organizations of LGBT people to lobby for more rights and protections.
In an advisor capacity, USAID and its partner associations have helped provide education and training to help LGBT individuals get elected to local and national political positions. They have also helped LGBT communities organize leadership conferences across the nation and provided training for public officials and police officers in Colombia in an effort to promote respect and protect LGBT individuals.
One organization that USAID works with in Colombia is the Santamaría Fundación. In 2010, this foundation helped pass the National Police “Directiva 006” due to their continued advocacy efforts. This legislation helps provide protection for LGBT individuals living in Colombia.
While this is good news for Colombia, more work still needs to be done as harsh and hostile laws are still a reality for millions of LGBT people throughout the world.
Five countries and territories criminalize LGBT people’s existence and behavior, and eight countries prescribe the death penalty for homosexual practices. According to conservative estimates by USAID, there are roughly 216 million LGBT persons living in USAID active countries. Of these, roughly 120 million live in places where their sexuality is a criminal and subversive action. 93 million of these individuals face imprisonment for their actions, and 27 million face life imprisonment. A further 10 million face the possibility of death penalty.
However, it is important to recognize that this problem is not restricted to “developing nations” or those with struggling economies. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association, and in the United Kingdom, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibited the local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality and labeled homosexual family relationships as “pretend.”
This was in effect in England from 1988 to 2003, with Scotland having the act repealed three years earlier in 2000. In 2013, the Russian Duma passed a remarkably similar law that penalized the promotion of homosexual relationships and homosexual “propaganda.”
LGBT rights are a continued issue throughout the world, and the wealth of a nation does not directly correlate to increased tolerance for LGBT people.
For now, USAID will keep working to promote the rights of LGBT people around the world.
– Albert Cavallaro
Sources: CNN, Global Equality, Stonewall, USAID 1, USAID 2, USAID 3, USAID 4, USAID 5, USAID 6, USAID 7, USAID 8