AJWS Applauds Historic State Department Appointment of Randy Berry as America’s First Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Washington, D.C. – American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, applauds U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for making history by appointing veteran diplomat Randy Berry as the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons. In this newly created role, Berry will lead efforts by the U.S. government to defend the rights of LGBT people worldwide.

“By appointing a highly experienced diplomat as our country’s first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons, President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made history and sent a clear message that the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people worldwide are a priority of the United States government,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “As Jews whose ancestors were the targets of genocidal hate just 70 years ago, we understand that the U.S. Government must do all it can to uphold the rights of the people who are the objects of prejudice and hate.” 

“Envoy Berry will ensure that the United States defends the rights of LGBT people. His experience in countries where LGBT people are persecuted, including Uganda, equip him to succeed in this new and important role. This appointment comes at a time when we are witnessing a disturbing increase in threats against the rights and lives of LGBT people. State-sanctioned discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Nigeria, India, Uganda and many other countries is intolerable, and we cannot stand idly by while LGBT people are targeted for punishment. We heartily commend Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration for deploying the power of the United States to promote the human rights of LGBT people around the world,” added Messinger.

Berry, a veteran diplomat with the U.S. State Department, was previously the consul general to the Netherlands and has overseen the United States’ consulates in the Netherlands since 2012. Before that he was stationed in New Zealand and Nepal, and has also served in Uganda and Egypt, both of which have recently launched anti-LGBT efforts.  

AJWS is hopeful that Envoy Berry will focus on the following three urgent tasks: 

  • Creating a comprehensive, systematized process for the U.S. government to respond to another country’s enactment of policies that violate the human rights of LGBT people, as well as coordinating diplomatic efforts to prevent such policies in the first place.  
  • Implementing a “Do No Harm” standard for U.S. programming by requiring policies that include LGBT people and forbid discrimination against them by U.S. government contractors, sub-contractors, grantees and sub-grantees worldwide. 
  • Supporting a United Nations resolution requiring the U.N. Secretary General to produce a thorough study on violence directed at vulnerable communities on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This action by the Obama administration meets one of the primary goals of the International Human Rights Defense Act (S. 302 / H.R. 590), which calls for the appointment of such an envoy and which was recently reintroduced in the Senate by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and in the House by Representatives by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). AJWS has been working in support of the legislation.

In more than 75 countries, having same-sex relations is illegal, and in several of those countries LGBT people can be put to death. Along with the establishment of the envoy position, the International Human Rights Defense Act would direct the State Department to make international LGBT rights a foreign policy priority and would require the State Department to devise a strategy to promote LGBT rights internationally.

AJWS is the fourth largest funder of LGBT rights worldwide (according to Funders for LGBTQ Issues). Since 2005, AJWS has invested nearly $9.5 million in global LGBT rights. Last year, AJWS provided $2.97 million to support the critical work of 47 organizations promoting the rights of LGBT people in 14 countries. With this support, AJWS’s grantees are supporting LGBT people to come out, speak out, collaborate and pursue recognition, inclusion, security and equality. AJWS also mobilizes supporters in the U.S. to advocate for laws and policies that advance the rights of LGBT people in the developing world.

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Tim Lessick
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