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Equal Rights Now: The LGBTQ+ Global Respect Act

Highlighting the importance of LGBTQ+ issues, the U.S House of Representatives has passed the Global Respect Act. Representative David Cicilline of the Democratic party describes the bill as “a common-sense, straightforward, human-rights bill”, with an extensive goal of fighting anti-LGBTQ+ actions on an international scale.

The bill seeks to identify and restrict entry into the US of those who have violated the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community. This initiative has been a pioneering step for the State Department in commencing full-fledged operations to track violence against the LGBTQ+ community, for the first time.

The need for this act shines prominently over history with discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community spilling over decades. Discrimination had reached heights since the Lavender Scare, a period of ‘moral panic’ in the US over homosexuality, but only a few states in the country still offer explicit protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

Federal law in the US does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in areas such as employment or housing. Religious leaders in opposition to the enforcement of equality, claim that compliance to LGBTQ+ based laws interferes with their religious and moral beliefs guaranteed under human rights, failing to understand the universality of human rights. Republican Representative Claudia Tenney, supported this very belief in her speech on the floor debate of the Global Respect Act.

The US at present, under the Biden administration, has added the protection and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community on a pending list of priorities as the Global Respect Act is announced.

The act is seen as an extension to the existing Magnitsky Act of 2012, which denied visas to human rights abusers in general, and several countries took upon this legislation. The Magnitsky Act, under its terms, imposed governmental sanctions against foreign individuals who have committed human rights abuses or acts of corruption.

Additionally, on the debate floor, the Magnitsky Act was a significant point of conflict with Republicans arguing that the act is sufficient to condemn human rights violations holistically, and that the Global Respect Act is “unnecessary”. Yet, Representative Cicilline remained adamant on its need, since in the American constitution specifically, the legislation left a loophole which declined importance to the LGBTQ+ community, and was rather skewed towards rooting out corruption that slipped under the radar. Therefore, the Magnitsky Act was a catalyst to international feuds and hence left loopholes in individual state constitutions.

US Democratic Representative and the first openly gay mayor of a US state capital, David Cicillne, began the floor debate by mentioning that one third of the world’s nations have laws that criminalize same-sex relations, citing the Human Rights Watch. Alarmingly, he added that in up to nine countries, homosexuality may be punishable by death. Striving to counter this, the Global Respect Act imposes visa-blocking and revoking sanctions on foreign individuals who are responsible for violating the human rights of others, due to actual or percieved sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

Rightfully, the Act is also effective on both state and non-state actors. Considering Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney’s argument, she mentioned the burden that the Global Respect Act creates for US officials, and further mentioned the inevitability of such violations occurring, hence arguing the effectiveness of the act on state actors. Nevertheless, Democrat Rep. Gregory Meek counters the same stating “I don't mind burdening anyone, as long as it saves somebody’s life”, attempting to reimburse the confidence in the act’s effectiveness, regardless of them being a state or non-state actor.

The execution of this bill is highly dependent on globally reputable non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Campaign, that monitor human rights abuses, and will work closely with the US immigration law. With each case, a process of merely 15 days of fair trial would occur, in which each immediate family member along with the alleged violator would face visa-blocking consequences within 120 days.

Along with the blocked/ revoked visa, the violator would receive no additional benefits of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is the Committee on Armed Forces, the Committee on Homeland Security, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives that are responsible for the tracking operations of this act. The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor would designate a senior officer or officers who would be leading the identification process. Additionally, the responsibility of recording the effectiveness of this act is given to the President, in which it is his responsibility to approve and annually report on the Act’s progression.

Surprisingly, the bill passed with a bipartisan vote, in which representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties voted in favor of this bill. Those Republicans who disapprove of this bill, claim it to be unnecessary and call it a move to deprioritize religious freedom of those who have professed homophobia since millenia. They claim that their move is an international attempt to shun the voices of those who do not align with the left’s ideological purity. It was disappointing for many globally to see Grace Melton, as senior associate for social issues at the United Nations, propagating this viewpoint, expressing that the “prideful act”, is an attack on another’s religious faith. Strongly protesting against this act, she claims that the Congress needs to reject this bill to protect traditional and religious human rights across the globe.

Following this line of opposers, another parallel contradiction rose in the state of Florida with the new ‘Parental Rights in Education Bill’, referred to by critics as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. As the US pushes the Global Respect Act to be a national law, local Floridians are protesting outside schools as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill states that schools “may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity”. The bill has practically shunned LGBTQ+ youth, all while the Biden administration is pushing for national safeguarding of LGBTQ+ youth. If the ‘Don’t say gay’ bill is passed, it would effectively erase and silence the voices of LGBTQ+ youth and parents in Florida, while critical health information for the community would be removed from schools.

The US contradictingly has relations with countries that criminalise homosexuality, although a subtle decrease in relations may be the way foward. The US would now share less intelligence with countries that criminalise homosexuality, mixing national security priorities with trade. A list of countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia with which the US has extensive trade ties, have prominent discrimnation against the LGBTQ+ community. Due to this bill, restricting communication and trade with such countries could economically downtrend poorer countries, while also creating a disbalance among US’s eastern-trade relations. The Biden Administration proposes foreign aid incentives to convince such states to remove their bans on homosexuality.

In a parallel manner, the US has expressed its determination to eliminate systematic racism, all while considering the historical hypocrisy of this very determination. President Biden issued a Memorandum which condemned and aimed to combat Racism, Xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans. This remains precarious since President Biden took office after the recent Black Lives Matter movement, which questioned the US’s commitment to Human Rights on racial terms.

Regardless, The White House also released a proposal, outlining the need to “diminish the wealth gap, health disparities, inequalities in education and assessing the demographic bias of extremism in domestic violence”, all to eliminate human rights abuses holistically.

Keeping to his promise of LGBTQ+ rights, the Biden Administration also announced in 2021 that the gay and transgender community will be protected from discrimination in health care, under the Affordable Care Act. As a response to such political gains, there has simultaneously been a rapid increase in support for the community, doubling over the past three decades. From when protestors marched in Washington under the Trump Administration which threatened the community by undermining the Affordable Care Act, the public now is now slightly more relieved under the Biden Administration.

With the announcement of the Global Respect Act, Twitter was taken by storm by members of the LGBTQ+ community, representatives present at the floor debate, and allies. #GlobalRespectAct remains trending on the platform, as each advocate celebrates the global message the act propagates. With each US and global citizen celebrating the dignity that each member of the LGBTQ+ community deserves, a sense of pride seems to shine.

Edited by Veda Rodewald and Thenthamizh SS



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