President Biden signs memo to protect LGBTQ rights around the globe

Joe Biden photographer in January 2020
(Photo: Shutterstock)

President Joe Biden has signed a historic presidential memorandum pledging to support LGBTQ rights worldwide.

It builds upon a 2011 directive issued when Biden was serving as Vice President: work that was largely abandoned during the Trump years.

Biden announced the memo during a speech at the State Department yesterday in which he outlined U.S. Foreign Policy going forward and pledged to rebuild alliances abroad.

“To further repair our moral leadership, I’m also issuing a presidential memo to agencies to reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally,” he said.

“We’ll ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance are working to promote the rights of those individuals, included by combating criminalization and protecting LGBTQ refugees and asylum-seekers.”

The memo directs executive departments and U.S. agencies working abroad “promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere.”

The memo states, “All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.

“Around the globe, including here at home, brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists are fighting for equal protection under the law, freedom from violence, and recognition of their fundamental human rights.

“The United States belongs at the forefront of this struggle — speaking out and standing strong for our most dearly held values. It shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”

Although presidential memoranda are often considered a symbolic gesture, this one suggests tangible consequences for countries that commit human rights abuses against LGBTQ people. It says anti-LGBTQ actions undertaken by countries will be noted when the U.S. considers who benefits – and to how much – via its Foreign Assistance Act.

It also says it will respond to such human rights abuses against LGBTQ people using “the full range of diplomatic and assistance tools and, as appropriate, financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and other actions.”

It goes on to pledge that federal agents dealing with LGBTQ refugees fleeing from persecution are appropriately trained to deal with their unique needs. It pledges the, “Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum.”

It ends by saying that agencies working abroad will also rescind any directives made during the Trump era that may contravene this memo.

Related: President Biden signs historic LGBTQ executive order on first day in office

On his first day in office, Biden signed an Executive Order to ensure federal employers do not discriminate against LGBTQ employees. He also reversed Trump’s military ban.

He has previously pledged to sign an Equality Act into law in his first 100 days in office, further cementing LGBTQ rights across the U.S.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday the President “stands by” that pledge, but said Congress would need to take action first.

Related: Biden’s team says landmark LGBTQ rights legislation could take more than 100 days to pass

An Equality Act bill has repeatedly introduced in Congress since 2015 but has not advanced through the Senate (controlled by Republicans during the Trump years). With Democrats now controlling the Senate, such a bill is expected to become law.

However, the ongoing emergency response to the covid pandemic, and Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing, may take priority and has raised a question mark over whether the Equality Act will be introduced within the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency.

You can watch the whole of President Biden’s speech at the State Department below (he announces the LGBTQ memo from the 11.52 mark).