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New US State Department report could downgrade LGBT+ rights worldwide

New US State Department report could downgrade LGBT+ rights worldwide

  • Mike Pompeo promises to review international law so only ‘God-given rights’ are recognized.
Mike Pompeo.

The US is just weeks away from unveiling a new report that could downgrade LGBT+ and women’s rights around the world.

The report will be the work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set up the group last June and it is due to report back this month or early next month.

Pompeo believes that current internationally recognized rights lack ‘logic’. Furthermore he argues that in recent years ‘things that we all know as Christian believers aren’t part of the inherent dignity of a human being [have become] rights’.

Now Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a statement expressing concern the US may attempt to ‘unilaterally rewrite international human rights law’.

LGBT+ campaigners are even more anxious because a number of commission members are homophobic and transphobic views.

Pompeo wants rights based on ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’

Pompeo created the commission to tackle what some conservatives call ‘human rights inflation’. In particular this includes LGBT+ rights.

Speaking to pastors in April, Pompeo said the report will be back by the ‘middle of May or first of June’. Moreover he added that it will look at what rights are ‘God-given’. He contrasted these to rights he thinks lack a ‘moral underpinning’:

‘I think it will return America’s understanding of human rights – at least at the State Department, I hope more broadly – back to the fundamental moorings of the Judeo-Christian tradition on which this country was founded, to take this idea of rights and human rights back to the foundational ideas that have made this civilization, this country here, so unique and so special.’

Human Rights Watch has called on the State Department to reject any report that doesn’t respect universal rights.

Andrea Prasow, Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said:

‘The US government cannot unilaterally rewrite international human rights law.

‘To maintain any credibility on human rights, the commission should recognize the necessity of upholding all rights equally, without giving some rights less value than others. If the report does not reflect that basic premise, the State Department should reject it outright.’

Meet the commission’s anti-LGBT+ members

LGBT+ campaigners have worried about the Commission on Unalienable Rights since it started.

From the outset it aimed to revisit rights on the basis of ‘natural law’. Conservatives often use the ‘God-given’ basis of rights as a pseudointellectual justification for opposing LGBT+ rights.

Moreover, several of the commission’s panelists are anti-LGBT+ religious scholars.

Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor, heads the commission. She was the US ambassador to the Vatican under President George W Bush.

Previously, Glendon described same-sex marriage as a ‘radical social experiment’ with economic and social costs. She further said that marriage equality ‘impairs’ children.

Glendon also wrote a blurb for the transphobic book When Harry Became Sally. The book argues many trans people regret transitioning. And it describes the trans movement as ‘full of contradictions’.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson is one of the founders of the US’ first Muslim liberal arts college and another member of the commission.

He says Muslims should repress being gay. Another time, he described homosexuality and same-sex marriage as ‘signs of the End Times’.

Jacqueline Rivers, the director of Harvard’s Seymour Institute for Black Church Studies, is another panel member.

In a 2014 speech at the Vatican, she said ‘those who promote what they call marriage equality have unjustly appropriated the language and mantle of… the Civil Rights Movement’.

‘But there can be no equivalence between blacks’ experience of slavery and oppression and the circumstances of homosexuals,’ she added.

Another panelist is Christopher Tollefsen, an author, who has written against transgender people and identity. In 2015 he wrote it was ‘heartless’ to encourage ‘confusion’ about gender to the point of ‘bodily mutilation’. Instead he endorsed anti-LGBT+ conversion therapy.

Founding fathers didn’t abolish slavery or given women the vote

Human Rights Watch has given its own submission to the commission. In it, the organization warns that not respecting LGBT+ and women and girls’ rights has dire consequences.

In a statement the organization pointed out:

‘In some countries, LGBT people face torture or other ill-treatment, for instance when the authorities employ forced anal examinations in criminal investigations.

‘In these and other instances, LGBT people are not seeking special, separate, or new rights, but seeking to be protected by the same human rights that apply to everyone.’

Moreover, HRW’s Prasow rejected Pompeo’s suggestion that modern human rights should be only what the US founding fathers listed. She said:

‘When the US was founded, many understood “rights” to belong only to white men who owned property.

‘Just as the Constitution was amended and reinterpreted to abolish slavery and ensure that women have the right to vote, international law has evolved too, and a series of treaties – many signed by the US – make clear that human rights apply to everyone, equally.’

The commission’s report may help the Republicans appeal to their conservative base at this year’s US elections. Analysis of the Trump administration indicates it has become more anti-LGBT+ as the election looms.