When Senator Chris Coons asked Secretary of State Tillerson during the Senate confirmation hearing about whether LGBTIQ rights are human rights, he responded, “American values don’t accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone.” Senator Coons also asked Secretary of State Tillerson if he thought advancing LGBTIQ rights was “a piece of our human rights advocacy and agenda around the world” to which Tillerson responded, “That’s part of that American values that we protect.”
In Senator Cardin’s QFR, he asked, “As Secretary of State, how do you intend to advance LGBTIQ, and other human rights, as to stay true to the mission of America of “freedom and justice for all”? Will you commit to fully empowering the Special Envoy for the Rights of LGBT Persons?”
In response to Senator Cardin’s question, Secretary of State Tillerson answered, “Should I be confirmed as Secretary of State, I would be charged with promoting American values on the world stage, and that means standing for universal human rights and fighting for the dignity of every person. The United States has an obligation to stand strongly for those who fight against discrimination worldwide. As I mentioned in my opening statement, the United States must continue to display a commitment to personal liberty, human dignity, and principled action in foreign policy. The State Department under my leadership will work aggressively to advance human rights for everyone.”
Likewise, Senator Shaheen asked, “In a number of regions – from Africa and the Caribbean to the former Soviet Union – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are targeted for simply being who they are. They have been criminalised, arrested, tortured and even killed. In response, the U.S. has begun to include the human rights of LGBTIQ people among the wide array of human rights that we have fought for and protected. How do you plan to continue this work to protect the human rights of all people, no matter who they are or whom they love?”
Secretary of State Tillerson’s response was, “The United States needs to stand firmly for all human rights. This includes support for basic political freedoms such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as well as non-discrimination against women, minorities, and a shared commitment to protect the human rights of all people, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
He continued, “In supporting all such human rights, we should be aware of cultural and historic differences and how they can be used to weaken U.S. influence. We need to stay true to our own values, while being tactically smart about how to advance those values throughout the world.”
Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, responded to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks by saying:
I am heartened that Secretary of State Tillerson condemned discrimination on any basis and recognized the need for the United States to stand by human rights and human dignity globally.
However it is significant that Secretary Tillerson did not specifically name lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex people in his statements. When LGBTIQ people are not specifically named, we see direct consequences on LGBTIQ safety and livelihoods.
America must refute political isolationism and PRIORITISE human rights in US foreign policy. We call on Secretary Tillerson to ensure that the US continues to fund LGBTIQ rights organizations around the world, condemn acts of homophobic and transphobic violence, support the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, and uphold human rights and justice for LGBTIQ people and other vulnerable groups.