The Obama Administration’s Accomplishments Promoting the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People
The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. There are many things President Obama has done that the LGBT community can be proud of, including appointing a record number of LGBT persons to serve in his administration.
In 2011, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons. The Obama Administration’s record in support of the LGBT community includes:
• Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The President signed the bill to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on December 22, 2010, putting in motion the end of a discriminatory policy that ran counter to our values as Americans. As of September 20, 2011, when the repeal took effect, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans can serve openly in our Armed Forces and without fear of losing their jobs for who they are and who they love.
• Ending the Legal Defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): In February 2011, the President and Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA against equal protection constitutional challenges brought by same-sex couples married under state law. In July 2011, the White House announced the President’s support of the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, which would repeal DOMA and uphold the principle that gay and lesbian couples should receive the same Federal rights and legal protections as straight couples. The President has long supported a legislative repeal of DOMA.
• Signing Historic Hate Crimes Legislation: President Obama overcame years of partisan gridlock to pass and sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
• Ensuring Hospital Visitation Rights for LGBT Patients and Their Loved Ones: Following a directive from the President, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds – just about every hospital in America – to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients. The President also directed HHS to ensure that medical decision-making rights of LGBT patients are respected.
• Developing and Implementing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy: President Obama fulfilled a pledge to those with HIV by developing and releasing the Nation’s first comprehensive plan for responding to the domestic HIV epidemic. In 2009, President
Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program for four years to provide critical health services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV. The Administration has also prioritized funding increases for HIV prevention, care, and research in each successive President’s budget. In FY 2011, the Administration fought for and secured a $50 million increase in appropriations for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) and a $31 million increase for HIV prevention. President Obama continued this commitment in FY 2012, when he announced on World AIDS Day an additional $35 million for ADAP and a $15 million increase for Ryan White Part C medical clinics. Finally, the health reform legislation that the President signed into law, the Affordable Care Act, ensures that Americans have secure, stable, and affordable insurance, which will make it easier for people living with HIV and AIDS to obtain Medicaid and private health insurance and overcome barriers to care from qualified providers.
• Expanding Access to Health Coverage: The Affordable Care Act ensures that Americans have secure, stable, and affordable insurance. In 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone due to a pre-existing condition, and because of the law, insurers can no longer turn someone away just because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In addition, the federal website, HealthCare.gov, designed to help all consumers find the health insurance best suited to their needs, makes it easy to locate health insurers that cover domestic partners.
• Addressing Health Care Disparities: The Affordable Care Act is funding preventive efforts for communities, including millions of dollars to use evidence-based interventions to address tobacco control, obesity prevention, HIV-related health disparities, better nutrition and physical activity. In addition, the new health care law is making other investments that will help address health disparities. Funding is going toward building a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce, as well as investing in community health centers to serve up to 20 million more patients. And through increased research and data collection on health disparities, policymakers will have the knowledge and tools they need to continue to address the health needs and concerns of the LGBT community.
• Ensuring Equality for LGBT Federal Government Employees: President Obama has taken numerous administrative actions to advance equality for LGBT Federal employees, setting an example for all employers. In response to the President’s directive, the Office of Personnel Management is expanding Federal benefits for same-sex partners of Federal employees to the extent possible under current law, including by allowing same-sex domestic partners to apply for long-term care insurance. The Administration’s directive on same-sex domestic partner benefits also opened the door for the State Department to extend legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of members of the Foreign Service serving abroad.
• Taking Steps to Ensure LGBT Equality in Housing and Crime Prevention: The Administration announced the first ever national study of discrimination in housing against LGBT persons and, in January 2012, issued a final rule to ensure that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s core housing programs are open to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Justice Department also issued guidance stating that Federal prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving same-sex relationships.
• Preventing Bullying Against LGBT Students: President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services convened students, parents, and teachers, in addition to non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers, for the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March 2011. Early in the Obama Administration, six Federal agencies joined together to establish the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Steering Committee to explore ways to provide guidance on combating bullying to individuals and organizations. The Department of Education has issued guidance to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate Federal education anti-discrimination laws. In June 2011, Secretary Duncan issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, accompanied by legal guidelines, reaffirming the rights of students to form Gay-Straight Alliances and other student groups under the Equal Access Act, noting the important role they can play in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. In addition, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other Administration officials recorded “It Gets Better” video messages to address the issue of bullying and suicide among LGBT youth.
• Advancing and Protecting the Rights of LGBT Persons around the World: The Obama Administration continues to engage systematically with governments around the world to advance the rights of LGBT persons. The Administration’s intensive and systematic leadership has included various public statements and resolutions at the UN. President Obama has also issued a presidential memorandum that directs all Federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.
President Obama has already embraced a series of proposals to advance LGBT causes in his second term, highlighting his evolving views on LGBT rights. In January, Obama became the first president to mention gay marriage in an inaugural address, citing the “Stonewall” riots in New York City as a major landmark in the fight for civil rights. Since then, he has offered an immigration proposal that would give the same benefits to heterosexual and same-sex couples, called on the Boy Scouts to open its membership to gays, and seen the Pentagon announce it would offer certain benefits to same-sex couples.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championed a comprehensive human rights agenda that includedd the protection of the human rights of LGBT people. One of former Secretary Clinton’s greatest LGBT accomplishments was providing global benefits to LGBT employees and diplomats representing the country overseas. In December 2011, Clinton also gave an unforgettable speech before the United Nations in Geneva against LGBT human rights abuses.
Our new Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been a trailblazer in the fight for LGBT equality, both domestically and internationally. In fact, he is the first person to support gay marriage while holding the post. During his tenure as a Senator, Kerry was a supporter of LGBT issues and earned perfect rating of “100″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard. His leadership in repealing the HIV travel ban, as well as his steadfast support for employment non-discrimination protections and addressing the needs LGBT homeless youth demonstrate his dedication to equality and to the rights of LGBT people worldwide. Kerry voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protection legislation. That support goes back to 1996, when Kerry was among 14 senators to cast a vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. He’s also been a key voice in encouraging the Obama administration to take additional action to protect bi-national same-sex couples and ending the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Secretary Kerry will pick up right where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left off and continue the work already being done at the State Department against LGBT human rights abuses overseas.