July 22, 2022

Reps. Castro, Cicilline, Sires Lead Letter Urging Biden Administration to Expand Support for LGBTQI+ Rights in Latin America

WASHINGTON – Today, Reps. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), David Cicilline (RI-01) and Albio Sires (NJ-08) led 27 members of Congress in a letter urging the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen their commitment to supporting LGBTQI+ individuals in Latin America, including refugees and asylum-seekers. 

“LGBTQI+ rights are human rights, and our support for equality should be reflected in both our foreign and domestic policy,” said Congressman Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations, and Global Corporate Social Impact. “As the world confronts a surge of homophobic and transphobic violence, the State Department and USAID must mobilize their resources and personnel to protect equal rights. Marginalized communities around the world look to the United States as a champion for freedom, and our LGBTQI+ neighbors in Latin America deserve to know that the United States will stand up for them.” 

“We as a country and community cannot be complacent when it comes to the fact that LGBTQI+ people around the world do not have the same freedoms and liberties as we do here in the states. As we continue to fight for equality and justice here in America, it is equally as important that we support members of the LGBTQI+ community abroad who face human rights violations and tribulations abroad due to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Congressman David N. Cicilline, Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and sponsor of the Global Respect Act. “Protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ communities throughout Latin America must be a top priority. I urge the Department of State and USAID to support the LGBTQI+ community by bolstering investments, strengthening protections, and advocating on behalf of LGBTQI+ rights.”  

“Our national commitment to preventing violence and discrimination against vulnerable populations, including gender and sexual minorities, must extend beyond our own borders,” said Congressman Albio Sires, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy. “Protecting the civil rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ individuals in the Western Hemisphere and around the world is central to our work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I look forward to working with Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power along with my colleagues to swiftly and thoroughly implement these recommendations.” 

In the letter, members urge the U.S. Department of State and USAID to: 

  • Prioritize direct investments in local LGBTQI+ led organizations in Latin America, including through the implementation of USAID’s Centroamérica Local initiative 
  • Surge support for initiatives to combat impunity by strengthening the capacity of authorities to prosecute crimes against the LGBTQI+ community 
  • Strengthen protection mechanisms and emergency assistance for LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers who are vulnerable to discrimination and violence 
  • Deploy senior-level U.S. diplomatic officials to Latin America to advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and to develop a regional strategy to combat persecution 

The letter is supported by Refugees International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Campaign, Council for Global Equality, Peace Brigades International, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin America Working Group, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, and the Instituto sobre Migración y Refugio LGBTIQ para Centroamérica. 

“Displaced LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk to violence and discrimination in their home countries and while on the move, and many are in desperate need of international protection to safeguard their lives and well-being. It is crucial that the international community steps up to ensure their safety. The U.S. government can make a meaningful impact in the lives of LGBTQ+ migrants and refugees by supporting local LGBTQ+-led organizations, restoring access to asylum, and working with countries in the region to provide more pathways to protection for LGBTQ+ individuals,” said Rachel Schmidtke, Advocate for Latin America, Refugees International

“The Council for Global Equality welcomes Congress’s call to action in response to a growing crisis for LGBTQI+ persons in Central America and beyond. We join Congress in calling for urgent action to surge funding to local LGBTQI-led organizations, target diplomatic engagement, and expand refugee protections. This three-pronged strategy is essential to end impunity, protect the rights and dignity of transgender individuals, and support the LGBTQI+ community as a constituency for democracy and human rights in some of the most dangerous Northern Triangle countries. In the meantime, immediate support also must be provided to aid LGBTQI+ refugees as they escape the circle of violence that so often threatens their lives and livelihoods,” said Mark Bromley, Co-Chair, Council for Global Equality 

“Many LGBTQI+ people migrate because they have been ostracized, assaulted, or are at risk of losing their lives in their own country due to their sexual orientation, identity, gender expression or their work to promote human rights. The challenges that LGBTQI+ refugees face include difficulty accessing health services, stigmatization, and discrimination, hate speech, violent attacks, and a lack of job opportunities, vulnerability, and exploitation. These situations threaten human dignity,” said the Instituto sobre Migración y Refugio LGBTIQ para Centroamérica

The full letter can be viewed here and below. Co-signers include Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), André Carson (IN-07), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Raúl M Grijalva (AZ-07), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Bill Keating (MA-09), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), Dina Titus (NV-01), Norma Torres (CA-35), and Juan Vargas (CA-51). 

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,  

We gathered last month to celebrate Pride and the progress made by LGBTQI+ communities worldwide, but the commemorations took on new weight and an unmistakable urgency as the month progressed. From the tragic attacks on Pride in Norway to the U.S. Supreme Court’s assault on bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, last month provided a sobering reminder that the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals are still very much under threat in the United States and around the world.  

In Latin America in particular, a region with close connections to the United States, we see rising rates of anti-LGBTQI+ violence, discrimination, and legislative restrictions that threaten LGBTQI+ advocates’ hard-won progress and the protection of human rights. As such, we are writing with urgency to call on the State Department and USAID to use all available opportunities to surge funding to local LGBTQI-led organizations, target diplomatic engagement, and provide lifesaving refugee protection in the region. Protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ communities throughout Latin America is essential to strengthening democratic institutions, increasing cooperation between states in the Western Hemisphere, and reducing the harm LGBTQI+ people face.   

Despite significant advancements in parts of Latin America, major obstacles remain. Several countries in the Caribbean continue to criminalize same-sex relationships; transgender individuals cannot change their gender markers on identification documents in many countries, and the process is procedurally burdensome even if technically possible in many others; and anti-LGBTQI+ violence is endemic and rarely investigated or prosecuted across much of the region. Furthermore, trans people experience a disproportionate rate of violence in Latin America, with 311 transgender people murdered in the region from 2020 to 2021. Efforts to address these concerns are essential to the prevention of violence and the protection of human rights.   

In Central America, the situation is particularly acute. Members of the LGBTQI+ community live in fear and many have fled the region to seek protection abroad. More than half of all LGBTQI+ asylum seekers at the United States border come from the Northern Triangle region of Central America: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. And a recent study found that 33 percent of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from Honduras suffered torture or ill treatment while fleeing to the United States. Lesbian and transgender persons are particularly vulnerable to violence by local authorities, gangs, and fellow migrants during their migration journey and while in U.S. immigration detention after they arrive.  

We are grateful for the Administration's commitment to LGBTQI+ rights abroad, as outlined in the "Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World" and believe more can be done to address the ongoing obstacles to equality in Latin America. We ask that both the State Department and USAID prioritize direct investments in local, LGBTQI+-led organizations in Latin America, including through the implementation of Centroamérica Local. LGBTQI+-led organizations are best placed to provide direct services to those in their own community, but they also are best situated to develop and lead necessary policy and legal reforms that center LGBTQI+ communities within democratic reforms. The closing of civic space in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, as evidenced by legislation restricting the activities of civil society organizations, has a heightened impact on organizations defending the rights of marginalized communities such as LGBTQI+ organizations. 

Funding should include targeted support for initiatives to combat impunity by strengthening the investigation and prosecution of crimes against the LGTBQI+ community. These efforts should focus on the needs and priorities of the community and not just on the needs of law enforcement. Similar investments should promote self-determined gender-identity recognition for transgender individuals across the region as an urgent means of rights protection and violence prevention.  

Additional diplomatic engagement is also essential, and additional opportunities should be prioritized to deploy senior-level U.S. government officials to the region to develop a region-wide LGBTQI+ strategy, including but not limited to diplomatic missions by the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons and the USAID Senior Coordinator for LGBTQI+ Issues. 

Finally, immediate steps must be taken to address the needs of LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers. As LGBTQI+ migrants are particularly vulnerable to extortion, assault, and discrimination in flight, special emphasis should be placed on expanding opportunities for timely refugee processing in the region by accredited civil society and international organizations so that fewer individuals are forced to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border and on halting U.S. policies, like Title 42, that turn away and expel asylum seekers, including LGBTQI+ migrants, to further halt human rights violations in Mexico. Programs like the Protection Transfer Agreement and urgent refugee resettlement programs that prioritize protection of those at increased risk should be supported and expanded. And as the State Department engages with countries in the region on migration issues, including through new bilateral agreements and the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which was signed by 21 countries in the context of the Summit of the Americas last month, we ask that you prioritize the treatment and protection of LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers.  

We appreciate the United States government’s continued support of LGBTQI+ rights both domestically and abroad. We will continue to support your efforts in Congress and look forward to hearing from you on these issues