The U.S. Department of State has announced that career diplomat Randy Berry will serve as the first special envoy for the rights of LGBT people in foreign countries, calling him a “voice of clarity and conviction on human rights.”
Berry, who is openly gay, has served as the consul general at the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands since 2012 and before that was posted to Nepal, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Egypt and Uganda since joining the State Department in 1993.
“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally — the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a news release.
In the new role, Berry will strive to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from violence and abuse and will try to work with foreign governments to overturn laws in more than 75 countries that criminalize same-sex relationships.
“Too often, in too many countries, LGBT persons are threatened, jailed and prosecuted because of who they are or who they love. Too many governments have proposed or enacted laws that aim to curb freedom of expression, association, religion and peaceful protest,” Kerry said.
Gay rights groups praised the announcement, citing the need to stop discrimination and abuse of LGBT people globally. “At a moment when many LGBT people around the world are facing persecution and daily violence, this unprecedented appointment shows a historic commitment to the principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Chad Griffin, president of the Washington-based LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign, said in a news release. “This new appointment sends a message that the United States will remain on the forefront of protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world.”
According to Human Rights Campaign, same-sex conduct is punishable by death in 10 countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, and is criminalized in 76 countries.
In 2014 there were at least 200 documented murders of transgender people in 28 countries, according to the TVT Project, an international transgender rights and research group that has been tracking homicides in the transgender community.
Berry’s appointment is part of an Obama administration push to promote LGBT rights internationally and make them a foreign policy priority. The State Department in 2011 launched the Global Equality Fund, which supports LGBT human rights through partnerships with foreign governments and the private sector.