On Friday of last week, the White House convened experts on combatting bias-motivated violence against LGBT persons around the world. It was our privilege to welcome representatives from domestic and international civil society, partner governments, and multilateral organizations, as well as law enforcement officers and colleagues from across the U.S. government for a series of panel discussions on community efforts to prevent and respond to bias-motivated violence; the role of law enforcement and the judiciary in addressing bias-motivated violence; and government action as a tool to help protect LGBT persons from violence.
This meeting was a follow-up to last year’s first-ever White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights. This year, in focusing on violence targeting members of the LGBT community around the world, we sought both to share our ongoing work to address this issue, and to hear from our colleagues and partners about how we can enhance those efforts moving forward.
Several persistent themes emerged from an afternoon of informed and thoughtful discussion.
First, there was a strong sense that—even though it is clear that LGBT persons in general, and transgender persons in particular, face disproportionate levels of violence all around the world—there are significant gaps in data about this violence, at least in part because some LGBT victims of violence are afraid to report crimes committed against them because of past negative interactions with law enforcement. Helping to fill these information gaps, and better understand the problem, is an important challenge for governments, civil society, and multilateral organizations.
Second, in many places, the difficulties that justice systems around the world face in adequately addressing violence against LGBT persons frequently stem from broader issues of capacity. In many cases, improving access to justice for LGBT persons will require both an overall strengthening of the institutions that safeguard the rule of law, and increased education and training for law enforcement officials on promoting human rights and protecting vulnerable communities, including LGBT communities.
Third, as we have seen in the United States and in countries around the world, legislation addressing discrimination and violence against the LGBT community sends an essential signal that LGBT persons are entitled to the same rights and protections as all citizens. Legislation can help focus attention, training, and resources on this critical issue -- and in so doing can begin to change hearts and minds. Nevertheless, as stakeholders from government, law enforcement, civil society, and multilateral organizations noted, passing legislation by itself is not sufficient. In order to achieve lasting changes in behavior, it is also important to change attitudes. Broader public awareness campaigns and education programs emphasizing tolerance, equality, and non-discrimination all play an important role in addressing mistreatment of the LGBT community, from bullying in schools, to discrimination in health, housing, and employment, to acts of violence in the home or the street.
Across the U.S. government, we are working every day to provide our diplomats and development professionals with the support they need to help counter violence against LGBT individuals around the world. As we seek to expand our efforts in this area, we could not be more grateful for the collaboration of partners in civil society, law enforcement, other governments, and multilateral organizations, and for the contributions they make to this essential work.
Steve Pomper is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Mutilateral Affairs and Human Rights.