LGBT Envoy to Remain in State Department Overhaul

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to keep the special envoy for the promotion of LGBT and intersex rights abroad in place under his plan to overhaul the State Department. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(WB) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday indicated the special U.S. envoy for the human rights of LGBT and intersex people will remain in place under a State Department overhaul.

Tillerson in a letter to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the position “will be retained and continue to be organized under the” State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Tillerson wrote the position “will continue to be held by a deputy assistant secretary.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the position’s creation within the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in early 2015. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Berry, who is a career Foreign Service officer, has been in the position since April 2015.

A State Department spokesperson in February told the Washington Blade that Berry “continues in his role under the current administration.” Berry’s bio on the State Department website currently notes in the past tense that he “served as the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons beginning in April 2015.”

Tillerson plans to eliminate special envoys for climate, the Colombian peace process that has begun to take effect, the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan and South Sudan and dozens of other positions. Existing State Department agencies or the U.S. Agency for International Development will assume their responsibilities.

Ambassadors-at-large for women’s issues, the global fight against HIV/AIDS and religious freedom are among the positions that will remain in place.

“Over the past four decades of U.S. diplomacy, Congress and the president have utilized these positions to assert U.S. leadership abroad and address emerging challenges,” wrote Tillerson in his letter to Corker, noting U.S. efforts to broker the 1998 Good Friday peace accords and restoring full diplomatic relations with Burma in 2012. “Today, nearly 70 such positions exist within the State Department, even after many of the underlying policy challenges these positions were created to address have been resolved.”

“The department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” added Tillerson. “In some cases, the State Department would leave in place several positions and offices, while in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau. If an issue no longer requires a special envoy or representative, then an appropriate bureau will manage any legacy responsibilities.”

Corker in a statement welcomed Tillerson’s plan, noting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month approved a State Department appropriations bill that would require it to tell Congress which special envoys it would like to maintain. The U.S. Senate would also have to approve each special envoy nomination.

“Through the years, numbers of special envoys have accumulated at the State Department, and in many cases, their creation has done more harm than good by creating an environment in which people work around the normal diplomatic processes in lieu of streamlining them,” said Corker in his statement. “That is one reason our committee took bipartisan action last month to require Senate confirmation of special envoys while empowering the secretary to reduce bureaucracy by reining in these often unnecessary positions.”

 

Global concern over Trump, U.S. policy growing

Tillerson’s efforts to overhaul the State Department are taking place against the backdrop of mounting concerns over President Trump’s foreign and domestic policy.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert have publicly condemned the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya, even though Trump and Tillerson themselves have not specifically done so. LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. continue to sharply criticize Trump over his decision to ban transgender people from the military and his response to a white supremacist rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., that left a 32-year-old woman dead.

“We express America’s values from the State Department,” said Tillerson on Sunday during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace in response to a question about “some foreign leaders” questioning Trump’s values. “We represent America’s values, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment to people the world over. And that message has never changed.”

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in an Aug. 23 press release

noted

it has called upon the U.S. government and “high-level politicians and public officials to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech in Charlottesville and throughout the country.” The panel of U.N. human rights experts condemned the white nationalist rally in a statement it released on Aug. 16.

“I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values,” Tillerson told Wallace, reiterating his previous comment in response to a question about the U.N. committee’s statements.

Tillerson added Trump “speaks for himself.”

 

— Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.


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