With SCOTUS ruling behind us, Obama must turn to LGBT people around the world

New York, NY – American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for delivering this historic victory for marriage equality.

“This is a magnificent achievement for our country,” said Robert Bank, executive vice president of AJWS. “Although it may be tempting to view this Supreme Court ruling as the end of the struggle for LGBT equality, much work remains to address legal and social discrimination faced by the LGBT community in the U.S.—particularly for transgender individuals and people of color. There are even greater obstacles for LGBT people beyond this nation’s borders, especially in some of the poorest and most repressive countries in the developing world.”

In 78 countries around the globe, LGBT people face systematic harsh discrimination and are arrested, imprisoned, or even put to death simply for who they are or whom they love [1]. In Nigeria, federal law classifies same-sex sexual activity as a felony punishable by imprisonment. Several states in Nigeria have also adopted sharia law and imposed the death penalty for gay men. A law signed in early January 2015 now makes it illegal for gay people throughout Nigeria to hold a meeting or form clubs.

Bank added, “The road to fully realizing the dignity and rights of LGBT people worldwide is long and arduous. But there are immediate steps we can and should take to start making a difference.”

President Obama has become an indispensable ally for LGBT communities worldwide over the past several years, and his administration has made unprecedented and encouraging moves to advocate for LGBT rights overseas. Appointing Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons at the State Department is one example of Obama’s pioneering leadership in this regard. But there is more the Administration can and should do, and can do without a vote in Congress.

President Obama must ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not being used to subsidize discrimination abroad, so that people in developing countries are not denied lifesaving services on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.S. foreign aid is critical to ensuring prosperous, healthy societies abroad through its support of healthcare systems, emergency relief, and food aid in the developing world. Denying these services to LGBT people in parts of the developing world where resources are often scarce can be a matter of life or death. Reforming the way that foreign aid dollars are spent, which the Administration could do on its own, would send an important message to foreign governments and would make a real impact on the lives of LGBT people in the developing world.

“These are certainly not the only steps we need to take in order to safeguard the inherent dignity of LGBT people in the developing world, but they are concrete measures that demand our attention and action,” added Bank. “The U.S. has the resources to influence our global community in powerful ways. And we know that when LGBT people have equal access to jobs, education, healthcare and foreign aid, our whole society is better off.”

As we rejoice in the progress for the constitutional rights of LGBT people in the United States, it is crucial to remember that millions of LGBT people around the world still face immeasurable stigma and discrimination. As in this country, our partners are pursuing the same broad goals of achieving legal and social equality and justice for all members of the LGBT communities they represent – fighting for their basic human dignity. We urge President Obama to build on his record of clarity and compassion by ending discrimination against LGBT people in overseas contracting and foreign assistance programs without delay.

AJWS is the fourth largest U.S. funder of LGBT rights worldwide (according to Funders for LGBTQ Issues). Since 2005, AJWS has invested nearly $9.5 million in global LGBT rights. In 2013 alone, AJWS provided $2.97 million to support the critical work of 47 organizations promoting the rights of LGBT people in 14 countries and in regional movements for change. 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, and is currently distributing a petition to urge President Obama to end LGBT discrimination in foreign assistance programs.

[1] According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association.

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If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Tanyanika Davis, Director of Media Relations, at tdavis@ajws.org.