Remarks at launch of USAID LGBT Vision for Action

Monday, July 14, 2014
(As delivered)
 
Thank you, and good afternoon. 
 
Thank you, Robert -- we’re proud to be partnering with the American Jewish World Service. 
 
I want to thank in particular our members of Congress: Representative Polis, whom I got to know well before he was in Congress, and has always had a commitment to a broad set of activist international affairs issues, and we’re thrilled with his leadership. 
 
Congressman Cicilline, thank you for your leadership, and for being here, and for taking me to Rhode Island. I hope we’ll do that again sometime soon. 
 
And Congressman McGovern, for your partnership and friendship on such a broad range of things that we try to do together. 
 
It’s special to be here with you today. 
 
I also want to point out that Todd Larson is in fact responsible for most of the good things and all of the not-good things that we’re going to end up doing as an Agency. I’m just kidding. I’m looking forward to getting to know him, and spend some time with him.  
 
We’re thrilled to have Todd, who comes with a pretty storied background from the United Nations and is no novice to working in large institutions. His impact in a short amount of time has already been felt, so thank you, Todd, for your leadership. 
 
I just want to make a few points this afternoon. The first is that our Agency’s efforts a couple of years ago to be leaders in trying to work with our contracting partner community to get as close to non-discrimination as we could, to the plan for action being released today, are conducted at the direction of the President and the White House. And that this is a team, and an Administration, that cares very deeply about human equality and supporting those when they are at their most vulnerable. 
 
It’s one of the reasons why I think this policy and approach takes on special significance, and I’ll share just one example of that in a moment. 
 
But before I do, I think it’s important that we understand the context. 
 
A few of our speakers have already alluded to the fact that some high number, more than 75 or so countries, criminalize certain behaviors -- being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. 
 
We know that some of those countries threaten to punish by death, and at the same time, we know we’re making some progress here in the United States to changing norms, standards, achieving greater legal respect, for all Americans. 
 
I just have to say that I have the opportunity sometimes to travel around the world, and be in lots of different places. The one thing that we have to be cognizant of is that in these settings, it’s still possible for political leaders, looking to drum up support, and looking to get a quick rise in their political standing, either in advance of an election or otherwise, to incite the politics of bigotry into their political systems, or at least bring it out more forcefully. 
 
While I think we can be optimistic about the long-term path, I think the short term has been quite difficult. 
 
We have colleagues from Uganda and Kenya that will share their examples, and their leadership is very important. But the truth is, more and more countries seek to actively score political points by bringing out the worst lack of respect for basic human rights for everyone. 
 
We have to be the ones that stand up for those that are marginalized and for those that are not benefiting from their legal and social systems protecting their individual human rights.
 
And in doing so, we have the best chance of ending extreme poverty, of supporting efforts to reduce hunger and suffering, of improving health and adequate nutrition. 
 
We’re going to take that responsibility more seriously and in a more structured way through this effort. 
 
Third, it means that we’re going to build the capacity of local LGBT organizations in developing countries. I think this is particularly important. 
 
I was in Zambia last week with Dr. Jill Biden, and in Zambia, they had two men who were in the legal system, prosecuted for being gay, and the term that they were facing was fifteen years of incarceration. 
 
It just struck us, that as much as we can, and we did, sit there with senior leaders and say, “Look, here’s how we approach human rights, and this is very important to us.” 
 
But as important as it is for an outside partner to advocate, it’s also important for there to be strong local institutions that can help those in the system trying to lean on the side of right to be successful. 
 
I’m glad that this policy prioritizes building that capacity because I think that can make a big difference in the long run. 
 
Fourth, we’ll hold ourselves accountable for upholding non-discrimination requirements in grants and contracts and other efforts. 
 
I’ll just say that running a large organization with 9,600 people spread out across more than 70 countries, where 65% of our work force outside of the United States is of the nationality of the country we’re in, I think this is particularly important for us -- to simply be a great example in our actions and our behaviors. 
 
We have already trained more than 1,000 USAID staff around this policy and we will achieve our full target soon. 
 
And then finally, expand a learning agenda. We need to be able to understand and help countries and leaders see the benefits of standing up for and protecting basic human rights across the board. 
 
To do that, we will play a more active role in collecting information, sharing best practices, and helping communities and practices be more effective in their work. 
 
I want to conclude with the note that I just had in my office a woman, Dorothy Davis, and her father was one of the first -- I think he was the first African-American Foreign Service Officer ever to serve in the USAID Foreign Service. 
 
He served in the ‘50s and ‘60s, actually before there was a USAID, when this was all called the Point IV Program created by President Truman. He was a photographer on the side -- it was how he got himself through school -- and he had photographs. 
 
His daughter was telling me how they served in Liberia for a long time because at the time, if you were African-American and in the U.S. Foreign Service, you served in Liberia. 
 
You didn’t have the range of opportunities. 
 
It was just a reminder to me that in our example, in what we do, in how we conduct our foreign policy, we have an extra obligation -- we need to project our values in the work that we do. 
 
USAID has an extraordinary mission to end extreme poverty and support resilient democratic societies. 
 
The more effective we are in projecting values, from all the way up and down the chain, the more we really do serve as that example and that partner that brings out the best in others. 
 
Tackling tough, controversial issues is a critical part of conducting our work to serve the world’s most vulnerable. 
 
Like Dorothy’s dad, I think we aspire for a day when our own example is extraordinarily fair and just, and the examples that that perpetrates on our partners to help them realize everyone’s human rights, and to do so in an equitable manner, is something that we can realize together. 
 
USAID can’t get there on its own, but this is one important step forward for our Agency and for our country. I think lives up to the spirit of Secretary Clinton’s Geneva speech from a couple of years which has since been reaffirmed by Secretary Kerry--that our standing up for everyone’s human rights will be a critical part of how we engage around the world. 
 
So, thank you, everyone. 
Washington, DC

Last updated: July 28, 2014

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