In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to impose sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals abroad:
“LGBTI rights are human rights, and as we witness governments around the world trample on those rights, it is incumbent on the United States to take action. This bipartisan effort is an unmistakable message from Congress that we will not sit idly by while people are persecuted, jailed or murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are empowering the administration with additional authority to take action against human rights violators. As LGBTI people around the globe endure precarious, or deadly, conditions every day, time is of the essence. I urge Leader McConnell to move swiftly and bring this bill up for a vote.”
When she introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Sen. Shaheen specifically cited concerns about LGBTI persecution in Russia and Indonesia:
“While we’ve seen tremendous progress towards equality in the United States, the LGBT community is still threatened by violence and harassment here at home and around the world. Recent reports of LGBT persecution in Russia and Indonesia are horrifying. No one should live in fear of physical violence or oppression because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Global Respect Act would send a strong message to the international community that those who persecute LGBT individuals are in violation of human rights and are not welcome in the United States.”
This bill’s House sponsor in both the 115th and 116th Congresses, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), a co-chair of the House Equality Caucus, adds:
“The United States and the international community have a responsibility to condemn horrific acts of discrimination and targeted violence against all individuals, including egregious offenses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Global Respect Act will ensure that abusers of the LGBTI community are held to account and uphold America’s commitment to defending basic human rights in all corners of the world.”
After this bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Cicilline said:
“Every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, millions of LGBTI people around the world are targeted with violence, harassment, discrimination, and worse every single day. The United States needs to stand as an advocate for oppressed and marginalized communities across the world. That’s why I’m pleased this bill is moving to the House floor and bringing us one step closer to imposing real penalties on anyone who abuses the human rights of LGBTI people.”
Critics of this bill argue that it goes too far, and could be used to curtail human rights, including religious freedom and freedom of expression by foreign citizens. They also point out that it remains unclear how this bill would improve on existing mechanisms for addressing human rights violations, or to what extent it could infringe on other rights through overreach. The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), which is skeptical of this bill, sums the issue up, “With regard to the Global Respect Act, it is up to Congress to ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease.”
The pro-family movement organization Eagle Forum, which also opposes this bill, adds:
“The Global Respect Act contains broad language that can be interpreted in a manner that imposes sanctions on any foreigner who publicly expresses disapproval of homosexuality and transgender ideology through the ‘flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of the individual.’ This is a threat to a person’s religious freedom and freedom of speech. Living in harmonious diversity is a cornerstone of the United States and only made possible by the rights granted to us through our Constitution. Because of this, our foreign policy must not provide protections and then punishments for those who disagree with the offended party.”
The Eagle Forum also argues that this bill doesn’t create any new protections not already provided by the Global Magnitsky Act, which provides for presidential sanctions to prevent human rights violators from entering the U.S.
This legislation has nine bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including six Democrats and three Republicans. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 65 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 64 Democrats and one Republican. It’s endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom House and Council for Global Equality.
In the 115th Congress, this legislation had one Senate cosponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Cicilline, had 81 Democratic House cosponsors. Neither bill received a committee vote last Congress. Sen. Shaheen and Rep. Cicilline first introduced this legislation in the 114th Congress.
Of Note: According to a 2015 United Nations report, thousands of incidents of physical violence are committed against LGBTI individuals around the world each year. Additionally, Amnesty International reports that about a dozen nations enforce homophobic laws carrying a death penalty. Additionally, over 80 countries, including Russia, Cameroon, and Nigeria criminalize same-sex relations.
The State Dept.’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has documented hostility toward LGBTQ citizens in every region of the world. These violations include murder, rape, torture, death threats, extortion, imprisonment, and loss of employment and access to health care, as well as restrictions on freedoms of assembly, press, and speech.
Earlier in 2019, the Treasury Dept. took it upon itself to impose sanctions on a group of five Chechen individuals, including at least three Russians, under the Magnitsky Act over allegations of extrajudicial killings and the torture of LGBT people.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / SolStock)