It is a great honor to welcome you to the White House for what should be a fascinating dialogue on the challenges of addressing global LGBT issues. I’m Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and I wanted to begin by saluting you, the many activists and advocates from around the world who have stepped forward, often at great personal risk, to claim your rights and those of the LGBT community around the world.
I wanted to begin with a personal story. My father, Dr. Warren Steinberg, served for many years as president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and was also a high school principal in Los Angeles. Nearly three decades ago, he was the first administrator in his region to launch a program to support and counsel LGBT students on his campus. The program was called Project 10 – in recognition of the fact that perhaps 10 percent of the student population was LGBT. He came under huge attack for this project – not so much in our community, but from demagogues here in Washington. One Senator threatened to destroy my father’s career if one penny of federal money was being used to support the program.
I remember calling my father to offer my support and congratulations on his work to defend the human rights of these students. My father said that yes, human rights was one motivation for his work, but more important was the fact that students who were uncomfortable with their sexual identity were far more likely to drop out of school, far more likely to use drugs or alcohol and far more likely to have problems in the classroom. He saw the program as a natural part of his lifetime role as an educator. He said, “How can we teach these kids algebra and colonial history and ignore sexual identity issues that will fundamentally shape the rest of their lives?”
This pragmatic, even utilitarian approach toward LGBT issues guides the work of my agency, USAID, under the great leadership of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At USAID, we understand that our development assistance will never be fully effective unless we draw on the full contributions of the entire population, including previously marginalized groups such as the LGBT community, women, young people, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, and displaced persons.
For the LGBT community, as spelled out in President’s Obama historic memorandum last December, this means supporting projects for the political, economic and social empowerment of the community; helping protect LGBT people during periods of conflict or humanitarian emergencies; and mainstreaming and integrating these issues into our broader programs to ensure food security, improve global health, address climate change, and build democracy and good governance.
Most of all, it means involving the LGBT community in our partner countries as planners, implementers and beneficiaries of all our programs under the watchwords, “Nothing about them without them.”
Nice words, perhaps, but I want to be specific about how we’re putting them into practice. From Colombia and Honduras, to Mali and Uganda, to Honduras and Pakistan, we are providing financial and technical assistance to civil society groups promoting the rights and well-being of the LGBT community. We are using our convening authority and our platform abroad to expand broad public awareness of LGBT issues, meeting publicly with LGBT activists from Mongolia and Romania to Kenya and South Africa. Last October, we began including in all of project proposals, grants and contracts language that strongly encourages our implementing partners not to discriminate against LGBT persons in the conduct of their USAID-funded projects.
Working with the State Department, we’re supporting Secretary Clinton’s Global Equality Fund, which will strengthen LGBT advocates around the world. And in the near future, USAID will launch a $12 million global partnership with other governments, advocacy groups and academic institutions that will identify and implement best practices with respect to development, and fund groundbreaking research to quantify the economic cost of discrimination against LGBT communities around the world.
To support these efforts, we’ve appointed for the first time a senior coordinator for LGBT issues, who is backed by an advisory committee including officers addressing research, partnerships, public affairs, and legal rights of the LGBT community.
Within USAID itself, we’re changing as well. With the strong encouragement of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, we were the first federal agency to publish a recruitment brochure targeting LGBT applicants. We’ve issued new regulations to ensure that we’re providing full benefits for same-sex domestic partners for our various classes of employees.
We’ve proudly sworn-in openly gay mission directors to lead a number of our key missions abroad, and we’re providing awards to those within our ranks are leading the LGBT space. We meet regularly with GLIFFA, our in-house affinity group, as well as U.S. and international advocates, including many of the people in this room, to seek your guidance. Our new internal list-serve, LGBT Champions, is serving as a form of communications for those addressing LGBT issues. Most of all, we’re consciously and purposefully seeking to create at USAID a safe space for LGBT individuals and their advocates to discuss and debate these issues.
We still have a long way to go, but I believe that day-by-day, we are making small but significant progress. And while we wish that progress were swifter and more secure, I am inspired by the words of Robert F. Kennedy, which I keep on my desk.
Kennedy said, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
It’s my pleasure now to introduce one of the important ripples, our master of ceremonies for the afternoon’s session, National Security Staff Director for Human Rights and Gender, Elizabeth Drew.
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Last updated: February 13, 2015