LOS ANGELES — U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Friday that LGBTQ+ rights remain a top priority for her and her United Nations colleagues.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s definitely a priority for us as we deal with so many crises at every level,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview with Summit. of the Americas, which took place this week in Los Angeles.
The US Senate confirmed in February 2021 Thomas-Greenfield as the next US Ambassador to the UN
The Louisiana native is a seasoned American diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012. Thomas-Greenfield served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2013 to 2017.
Thomas-Greenfield, in response to Blade’s question about the previous administration’s campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, said that “all of our embassies and ambassadors had instructions to solve the problems of criminalization of the LGBTQI community”. Thomas-Greenfield also noted that then-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf refused to sign a bill that would have criminalized same-sex relations after she “came to the president” with her concerns.
“They (Liberian officials) have been very, very clear about our position,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She pointed out that the United States is a member of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of UN countries that are committed to supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
Thomas-Greenfield said the UN General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on free elections last November that specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity “was hugely important to us”. Thomas-Greenfield also noted that the U.S. Embassy in Guyana supports efforts to decriminalize cross-dressing in Guyana in accordance with a 2018 Caribbean Court of Justice ruling.
Guyanese lawmakers approved a bill last August that removed the travesty of the country’s summary jurisdiction (offences) law.
“Our embassy there advocated for the removal of that language and we were successful in doing so,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
In February 2021, President Biden signed a note committing the United States to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. Thomas-Greenfield said the directive “was one of my guiding principles when I came to New York.”
“Having this memo in my hand gave me the impetus to do these things that we all care about anyway, but it made a difference that the president instructed us,” she said.
The Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are among the myriad of crises Thomas-Greenfield has responded to since joining the UN
Advocacy groups continue to urge the United States and other Western governments to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans and other at-risk groups leave the country. Reports from Ukraine indicate that transgender people have not been able to leave the country because their gender presentation does not match the gender marker on their identity documents.
“It’s so important that we’re here to make sure this community receives the protection it’s been afforded,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Thomas-Greenfield said she and her colleagues at the UN in Geneva are “working to ensure that LGBTQI+ issues are taken into account in all the work the UN does around the world, including in relation to the refugees”.
She noted that they “provide and encourage the UN to provide” the same anti-human trafficking protections offered to young Ukrainian women “to the LGBTQI+ community when crossing borders.” Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged the difficulties faced by trans Ukrainians who want to leave the country.
“I am aware of this and I know that the UN is aware of this and is doing everything possible to solve the problem,” she said. “The point I would like to make to these countries is that when people leave their country, they are not rushing to get documents to prove who they are or what they believe in. You are running for your life.”
“What people have told us is that they were lucky to go out with a backpack,” Thomas-Greenfield added. “So we need to pressure these countries to end these restrictions that require people to show all kinds of documents when fleeing for their lives.”
The Summit of the Americas took place in Los Angeles from June 6-10.
Thomas-Greenfield noted that she attended President Biden’s meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Thomas-Greenfield also met with Honduran government officials, among others.
Thomas-Greenfield delivered the closing remarks at the Young Americas Summit on Thursday. She noted that one of the people she met at the event was an “extraordinary, extraordinary young man” from Colombia who is working to implement the peace accord between his government and the Armed Forces. Revolutionaries of Colombia which specifically recognizes LGBTQ+ victims of the conflict.
“I was amazed at her courage, her commitment, her passion for bringing about change and ensuring that the LGBTQI community in Colombia is protected and the necessary help that they need,” Thomas-Greenfield said. .
Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged criticism over the decision not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the summit.
“We have heard the concerns about this, but I will tell you that civil society has been invited at all levels in these countries,” she said. “We think it was important that the voices of those people who were mistreated by those countries…be amplified, even highlighted. I think that was an important result of that.