Pompeo Continues Assault on LGBT+ Abroad Via USAID

Mike Pompeo Photo: Wikimedia

A new attack on LGBT+ people abroad by the U.S. State Department was revealed in a policy draft under the department’s foreign aid arm, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The policy was prepared by one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most controversial hires, Bethany Kozma, who is highlighted in GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project (TAP). Kozma is USAID deputy chief of staff and Senior Advisor to the Office of Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment.

As Pompeo shattered long-held ethics rules by Secretaries of State to maintain an apolitical stance by giving a speech to the Republican National Convention on August 25, and doing so from foreign soil, Pompeo’s radical religious extremist revamping of USAID continued unabated.

For several months PGN has reported on Pompeo’s concerted yet largely covert and dangerous efforts to erase LGBT+ people from any protections proffered by USAID. Pompeo has focused on eliminating work done by the Obama administration to add inclusive language, policy and programs in the international funding arm of the U.S. State Department. The Obama administration’s additions were made to better and protect the lives of LGBT+ people in developing nations and other countries that receive U.S. foreign aid.

USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government. It is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With a budget of over $27 billion, USAID is one of the largest aid agencies in the world. The funding granted by USAID accounts for more than half of all U.S. foreign assistance: the highest in the world in absolute dollar terms. This significant monetary fact makes every decision by USAID and all formal statements and policy denoted by the agency pivotal to international response on specific issues — like policy regarding LGBT+ people globally.

USAID is in a premier policy-making and policy-promoting role on the world stage. Thus, recent actions by Pompeo have direct influence on how other nations — particularly those with problematic histories regarding LGBT+ civil rights — act. These decisions are particularly critical during the coronavirus pandemic, which has been used by many countries as a cover for authoritarian anti-LGBT+ actions and laws.

USAID’s 40-page draft of the agency’s “2020 Gender and Women’s Empowerment Policy” covers objectives, operational principles and “global snapshots,” as well as agency requirements. What is missing from the 2020 policy counter to the 2012 Obama administration USAID policy is any and all mention of LGBT+ people, transgender identity or contraception, all of which were previously covered by the policy.

The new draft states unequivocally that “This Policy supersedes and replaces the 2012 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy in its entirety,” making the elisions all the more concerning.

The new draft was only supposed to update the original policy the Obama administration put in action in 2012. But the new draft is marked by Pompeo’s continuing radical restructuring of USAID policy on women and LGBT+ to reflect the overall pro-religion, anti-choice and anti-LGBT+ political stance of the Trump administration.

All USAID policy acts as a guideline for distribution of funding — this latest policy shift harkens back to the Bush era two decades ago when an anti-choice and anti-LGBT+ profile was adopted in a shift from the prior Clinton administration directives.

A close reading of the 40 page text for LGBT+ protections finds the comparison shockingly different from the 2012 version.

All references to LGBT+ people or issues related to LGBT+ are gone. The 2012 policy stipulated partnering with LGBT advocates to advance gender equity. That has been removed. Also gone are all references to gender identity, effectively erasing trans persons and their concerns as part of the overall issue of gender. (Kozma has spoken publicly against trans equality, including testifying against so-called “bathroom bills.” She has also referred to the US as a “pro-life nation.”)

Also elided from the text is any use of the terms LGBT, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

In the section on inclusivity directives, the Obama-era policy states inclusivity means “regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic area, migratory status, forced displacement or HIV/AIDS status.”

LGBT+ are clearly referenced.

Not so in the Pompeo policy which now refers to: “All people, including those who face discrimination and thus may have limited access to a country’s benefits, legal protections, or social participation, are fully included and can actively participate in and benefit from development processes and activities.”

The deliberate vagueness of the language offers no specific protections to LGBT+ or people with HIV/AIDS. At a time when anti-LGBT+ violence is on the rise globally and LGBT+ people become scapegoats in the pandemic, removing the protective language is of concern for LGBT+ people.

Pompeo’s new USAID policy also references “unalienable rights.” This phrase is critical to Pompeo’s larger agenda and is part of the new report released by Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. The panel was convened in 2019 by the Secretary with several religious conservatives with anti-LGBT histories.

PGN reported on the commission’s July 2020 report and Pompeo’s invalidation and dismissive response of expanded civil and social rights for LGBT+ people. As PGN reported, the commission’s report refers to same-sex marriage not as a civil right, but as a “divisive social and political” controversy, among other anti-LGBT+ language.

That report and Pompeo’s tone on civil and social rights for LGBT+ people is one that LGBT+ rights advocates have viewed as dangerous for LGBT+ people globally. This latest policy shift in the 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy is yet more evidence that the State Department has become a danger to LGBT+ people abroad. The breadth of these policy changes could have lasting consequences throughout the world.

Kozma, who helped draft the new policy, has a long history of homophobic, transphobic and anti-choice comments while working for USAID as well as prior to her employment there. Kozma did not reply to PGN’s request for comment. 

Earlier this month PGN reported that Meritt Corrigan, USAID liaison to the White House, resigned from the agency after a series of vitriolic anti-LGBT+ comments on Twitter.

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