Press Release: Advocates for Youth Statement on the Introduction of the International Human Rights Defense Act

For immediate Release: January 29, 2015

Rachel Cooke // 202.419.3420 x45 rachel@advocatesforyouth.org

Today, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act (IHDRA), a bicameral piece of legislation that calls on the U.S. State Department to continue its efforts to promote and defend lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights internationally. Advocates for Youth is proud to endorse the bill, along with 14 other human rights organizations. The IHDRA aims to ensure that the rights of the international LGBTQ community remain at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy and affirms the U.S’ opposition to laws in the roughly 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality.

In many countries, LGBTQ youth are alone and afraid, too often facing violence or prison based solely on who they are. And as the bill’s findings point out, “for the world’s 1.8 billion youth, anti-homosexuality laws and discrimination against LGBT persons poses significant risks,” including homelessness, violence, family rejection, and lack of access to education and employment opportunities. Additionally, studies have shown that when facing discrimination, LGBT Q people (especially youth) are less likely to seek HIV prevention, testing, and care.

A year ago this month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships. The law, which also bans same-sex marriage and membership in gay-rights groups, represents a carte blanch for mob justice and human rights violations against LGBTQ people.

“Things have become more challenging for LGBTQ people in Nigeria since the bill passed,” says Stephen Chukwumah, a Nigerian activist with Advocates for Youth. “Recently, 12 young people were arrested in the North on grounds that they were involved in same-sex marriage. The government continues to deny LGBTQ people their rights and further encourages violence towards them. International efforts to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people are needed now more than ever if we are to really build a free society and ensure the global effort to end HIV is a success.”

The International Human Rights Defense Act directs the State Department to place the prevention of and response to discrimination against the LGBTQ community as a foreign policy priority and develop an explicit blueprint to guide the Department’s efforts. The bill also directs the Department to galvanize and coordinate action with nongovernmental partners, multilateral organizations, and the private sector.

Addressing the violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community is a human right and global health imperative, and is particularly necessary in light of the trend of deplorable homophobic and transphobic legislation seen internationally, such as the anti-homosexuality bills passed in Nigeria and Gambia or Russia’s ban on “homosexual propaganda.” And in countries like Cameroon and Uganda, where the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is working to combat HIV/AIDS, discrimination against and persecution of LGBTQ people continue to undermine US and global priorities for promoting human rights and achieving an “AIDS-free generation.”

“Implementing the strategy outlined in this legislation must have a particular emphasis on centering the needs of the local LGBTQ communities and keeping in mind the nuanced cultural context will be key to successful long term change,” says Urooj Arshad, Associate Director of International Youth Health and Rights at Advocates for Youth. “Advocates for Youth continues to stay committed to connecting foreign policy to the on-the-ground work of local partner organizations and activists to ensure that the most culturally appropriate and relevant actions are taken to further LGBTQ rights around the world.”

The International Human Rights Defense Act provides an unprecedented opportunity for the U.S. government to support the LGBTQ community internationally and to integrate their rights and needs into human rights and global health efforts. Advocates for Youth applauds Senator Markey for his leadership on this issue and looks forward to continuing the conversation around how the U.S. Government can best serve LGBTQ persons on the ground.

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Advocates for Youth is a national nonprofit that champions programs and advocates for policies that help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health. Advocates’ Youth Activist Network stands 75,000 strong on 1,000 campuses and in tens of thousands of communities.