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Newly confirmed secretary of state vows to promote LGBT agenda

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is sworn in as the 71st U.S. Secretary of State by Acting Under Secretary of State for Management Carol Z. Perez at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 2021. |

The newly confirmed U.S. secretary of state has vowed to support the LGBT agenda by flying pride flags at United States embassies and resurrecting the "special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons."

Antony Blinken, who was confirmed 78-22 by the United States Senate Tuesday, shared his thoughts about LGBT issues during his Senate confirmation hearing last week, which took place before President Joe Biden took office.

As he questioned Blinken, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "You and President-elect Biden have indicated that you're going to support, appoint a new special envoy for human rights on LGBTI people, a position that I've been pushing to make permanent through the International Human Rights Defense Act." As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed to make LGBT activism a centerpiece of his foreign policy. 

"After four years of Trump administration efforts to specifically marginalize, minimize, do damage to the rights of the LGBTI people, I think it's going to be vital to appoint a seasoned expert on this issues. Are you going to move forward towards a speedy appointment towards an LGBTI envoy and would you consider raising it to an ambassadorial level?" Markey asked.

Blinken answered in the affirmative: "This is a matter, I think, of some real urgency, we've seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase. We've seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we've seen ever and so I think the United States playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something the Department is going to take on and take on immediately."

Markey also asked Blinken if he would "repudiate the findings of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and reaffirm the United States' acceptance and adherence to the human rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and whether he would "ensure that ambassadors are able to fly the pride ... flag at our embassies around the world."

"Yes to both," Blinken replied.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights was created by the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2019. In a press conference announcing the State Department Commission, the secretary of state argued that "international institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission." According to Pompeo, "As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions about which rights are entitled to gain respect."

Democrats and progressive advocacy groups quickly criticized the move to create the commission, warning that it constituted an attempt to remove LGBT rights and abortion from the consensus definition of human rights. During the Trump administration, the United States signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which declared that "there is no international right to abortion."

During the Trump administration, U.S. embassies were told not to fly the pride flag, which consists of the rainbow colors and is designed to show support for LGBT rights. Then-Vice President Mike Pence defended the State Department's declaration that "on the flagpole of our American embassies that one flag should fly and that's the American flag," saying "I support that." 

As Markey explained, the special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons was "left vacant in the Trump years." The position was created during the latter part of the Obama administration. The first special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons was Randy Berry, who served in the position from 2015 to 2017 before former President Donald Trump appointed him to the position of United States Ambassador to Nepal. 

While Markey contended that "the Trump administration rolled back much of the United States' previous efforts to support and promote LGBTI rights around the world," the previous administration pushed 69 countries to decriminalize homosexuality and same-sex relationships. 

Blinken is the fourth member of Biden's cabinet that has been confirmed by the Senate. The others are Director of Intelligence Avril Haines, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen

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