Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts

January 19, 2017

What President Obama Accomplished for LGBT Worldwide

 2016 Obama’s trip to China (adamfoxie)

President Barack Obama's two terms in office saw a great deal of change for LGBT rights abroad.

The global campaign for LGBT rights started December 6, 2011 with a simultaneous presidential memorandum and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic speech in Geneva, Switzerland where she declared, "Gay rights are human rights."

The memorandum directed United States agencies working in foreign policy to promote LGBT rights abroad in decisions about aid, combating criminalization, and protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Since that day LGBT people around the world had an ally in Obama and two secretaries of state, Clinton and John Kerry, and a safe harbor at U.S. embassies for Pride festivities and other LGBT events. Obama appointed six gay ambassadors: Dan Baer, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna, John Berry in Australia, James "Wally" Brewster in the Dominican Republic, James Costos in Spain and Andorra, Rufus Gifford in Denmark, and Ted Osius in Vietnam.

In 2015 the State Department added Randy Berry as its first-ever special U.S. envoy to promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad.

At the United Nations, Obama's two ambassadors, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, both advocated for recognition of LGBT rights globally. Power, along with U.N. Ambassador Cristian Barros Melet of Chile, led the Arria, an informal meeting of the 15-member Security Council to hear testimony from Syrian and Iraqi LGBTs.

2011 also saw the establishment of the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership supporting global LGBT advocacy, overseen by the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development. It has given out more than $33 million in funding.

Obama consistently spoke out about LGBT rights and took actions. He regularly acknowledged LGBT people of courage, such as Jamaica's Angeline Jackson, founder and executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. He ignored warnings and naysayers urging him not to speak about LGBT rights during his trips to Africa. He spoke out against anti-LGBT laws at a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar, Senegal in 2013. Two years later, Obama raised LGBT rights again during a joint news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Obama took action when Uganda passed the so-called jail the gays bill by slapping sanctions on the country in 2014.

The Washington Blade reported that Kerry advocated for the release of former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim from his five-year sentence for alleged sodomy during a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2015.

Also in 2015, USAID formally banned discrimination among its contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the law doesn't extend to employees of organizations overseas that receive U.S. funding or USAID grantees.

Tillerson shrugs off LGBT rights during confirmation hearing

Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson faced many questions from Democrats and Republicans during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11-12.

The nine-hour hearing focused on many issues, such as labeling Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal because of the Russian military's involvement in the Syrian civil war and the targeting of civilians that have killed many, reported National Public Radio.

His response to Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who asked the question, was that he wanted more information before reaching a conclusion.

"Those are very, very serious charges to make and I'd want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion," Tillerson, 64, responded.

Tillerson also said that he would want more information about Putin, with whom he is friendly, regarding allegations that the Kremlin is behind human rights violations, such as killing journalists.

Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) posed a question on LGBT rights.

Tillerson responded, "American values don't accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone."

Coons followed up asking whether Tillerson believed the promotion of gay rights is "a piece of our human rights advocacy and agenda around the world."

"That's part of that American values that we protect," responded Tillerson, reported the Washington Blade.

Tillerson's noncommittal response to how LGBT rights will be handled in his potential State Department is what continues to cause LGBT rights advocates concern.

President-elect Donald Trump's adviser Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council, has called for the firing of all current LGBT employees at the State Department. Last month, Trump's team requested a list of all State Department positions related to advancing gender equality. Insiders expressed concern that a request for a list of LGBT programs will be next. New, Now, Next reported that the current State Department administration rejected the request.

Then there's Tillerson's record as head of Exxon Mobil. The company resisted implementing policies protecting its LGBT employees in the U.S. and around the world up until 2015. In 1999, when Exxon acquired Mobil, domestic partner benefits and company policies protecting LGBT workers were eliminated by the merger, according to human rights organizations. Exxon Mobil became the only company to score a negative 25 on HRC's Corporate Equality Index in 2012 and 2013.

The oil company's score only rose due to protections implemented by federal laws and policies and Obama's executive orders that forced the company to protect its queer employees, according to experts. Last year, following the U.S. Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling, LGBT Exxon Mobil employees in the U.S. finally received full protections.

Exxon Mobil received an 85 percent rating on HRC's 2017 Corporate Equality Index. The New York Times reported that the multibillion-dollar company was docked points due to its philanthropic arm's guidelines allowing donations to non-religious organizations that discriminate against LGBT people and because its anti-discrimination policy only covers U.S. LGBT employees.

However, Tillerson has taken smaller pro-LGBT stances in recent years with the Boy Scouts of America. His role as president of the Boy Scouts from 2010 to 2012 was "instrumental" in ending the Scouts' ban on gay youth, his colleague John Hamre told the Dallas Morning News. The Boy Scouts lifted its ban against gay youth in 2013. In 2015 it lifted the ban against adult participants, but troops chartered by religious organizations are permitted to exclude gay people as den leaders, scoutmasters, or camp counselors.


January 14, 2017

The Obama Presidency by the Numbers

The Obamas embracing and smilingU.S. First Family (2011, L-R): Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Barack Obama, and Sasha Obama.

December 22, 2016

Thanks to Obama The law Protects Religious Freedom but Also Non Believers

When President Barack Obama signed an update to U.S. law protecting religious freedom late last week, one provision drew special attention: U.S. law now recognizes non-believers as, in essence, a religious group.

Obama's signing of amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act on Friday wasn't widely noticed — except among the community of atheists, agnostics and others who categorize themselves as "humanists."

For the first time, the law — which was originally passed in 1998 — specifies that "the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion."

Among other things, the main amendments to the law promoting religious liberty around the world:

Allow the United States to target “ ntities of particular concern" (that is, groups that aren't sovereign countries, like ISIS and Boko Haram).

Set up a way to track religious prisoners overseas.
Require that all foreign service officers undergo training in religious liberty.
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, walk back to the White House after attending St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington in October 2009. AP
The addition of protections for non-theistic or even non-existent beliefs wasn't even mentioned in many news reports. But for Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the nonprofit American Humanist Association, the change is a historic cause for celebration.

"That non-theists are now recognized as a protected class is a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals, who are still far too often stigmatized and persecuted around the world," Speckhardt said.

"Legislators are finally recognizing the human dignity of humanists and granting the non-theistic community the same protections and respect that have been given to religious communities," he said.

In its 2016 annual report (PDF), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal panel that was created under the original 1998 law, highlights numerous instances of persecution of atheists and other non-believers.

The report plays no favorites, singling out important U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, where the poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death last year for "apostasy" — specifically, for spreading atheism. The sentence was reduced in February 2016 to eight years in prison and 800 lashes.

Regulations enacted in 2014 by the Saudi Interior Ministry, in fact, classify "calling for atheist thought in any form" as terrorism.

The report also harshly criticizes Egypt, which convicted Mustafa Abdel-Nabi, an online activist, to prison in absentia in February for "blasphemy" after he published posts about atheism on his Facebook page. A year earlier, another Facebook user, Sherif Gaber, was sentenced to prison for discussing his atheist views online.

"Religious freedom for all people, theists and non-theists, is an American value we must protect," said Matthew Bulger, legislative director of the American Humanist Association.

But it's not just humanist groups that are applauding the revision.

"Protecting non-theistic beliefs and requiring increased religious freedom training for our foreign service officers emphasizes our shared value of religious liberty for all people across the globe," said J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom, a coalition of more than a dozen Baptist denominations.

“We are pleased that religious liberty still finds broad bipartisan support," Walker, an ordained minister, said in a statement to The Baptist Standard, a publication devoted to the Baptist faith.


October 29, 2016

Pres.Obama Has Been Quietly Exporting LGBT Rights Overseas

While the world was watching America's gay rights transformation, the Obama administration was pursuing a quieter mission to export the same freedoms overseas to places like sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and eastern Europe.  The U.S. has deployed its diplomats and spent tens of millions of dollars to try to block anti-gay laws, punish countries that enacted them, and tie financial assistance to respect for LGBTQ rights. It was a mission animated in part by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration that "gay rights are human rights." 
Yet the U.S. encountered occasional backlash, including from some rights groups that said public pressure by the West made things worse. 
"I walked into a very backward environment in 2009," said Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser and former U.N. ambassador. In an Associated Press interview, Rice said both the U.N. and U.S. had avoided taking on the issue. 
She argued that despite a cascade of pressing global crises, the White House had tried to "deal with the urgent and deal with the important, and even if the important is, some might say, optional, it's important."  In its latest push to use dollars as leverage, the Obama administration announced Wednesday it is enacting a rule prohibiting U.S. Agency for International Development contracts from going to groups that discriminate in delivery of services. That means a clinic, food program or shelter can't refuse services to a gay or transgender person. 
Yet even in countries where legal protections have improved, like Brazil and Argentina, it's difficult to draw a straight line between U.S. advocacy and progress, and in Latin America, those changes have been accompanied by increasing violence against LGBTQ people. In Uganda, a court eventually invalidated an anti-gay law the U.S. had emphatically opposed. But in Gambia, anti-gay rhetoric has escalated despite a U.S. decision to revoke the country's preferential trade status following an LGBTQ crackdown. 
The growing focus on gay rights in diplomacy mirrored the shift in attitudes in the U.S. toward LGBTQ people, illustrated by seismic changes like gay marriage and gays serving openly in the military. As with its domestic efforts, the Obama administration faced objections from social conservatives and some religious groups at home and abroad who called it an inappropriate use of government to infringe on others' cultural beliefs. 
 A 2011 memorandum signed by Obama directed the government for the first time to use diplomacy and foreign aid to "promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." U.S. embassies started taking part in pride celebrations, with outposts in socially liberal capitals like Tel Aviv and London raising rainbow flags. 



                                                                            A speech by Clinton to the U.N. in Geneva that year thrust the issue to the forefront, at least for a moment, when she said that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," in an echo of her famous 1995 speech in Beijing equating women's rights and human rights. Mira Patel, a former State Department adviser now working on Clinton's presidential campaign, said she was shocked when the secretary first used the line publicly at a pride reception for U.S. diplomats. 
"I never expected these issues could be elevated so fast and at such a high level," Patel said. 
The U.S. in 2010 started issuing passports to transgender people that reflected their current gender identity, and the White House started sending openly gay athletes as part of its delegation to Olympics ceremonies — including the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. At the United Nations, Rice and other diplomats secured language in several resolutions opposing discrimination or condemning extrajudicial killings of LGBTQ people. 
For Obama, who only came around to fully embracing gay rights while in office, the campaign came to a head last year in Nairobi, Kenya. Warned in no uncertain terms ahead of his visits to keep quiet about gay rights, Obama called for equal legal treatment for gays while standing next to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who brushed it off and insisted it was "not really an issue."  
Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian gay rights activist, said that advocacy was critical to helping dissolve what for many Africans has been a persuasive argument against gay rights: that the U.S. and other rich nations are engaging in paternalism and cultural colonialism. 
"We should not forget that Obama's father is Kenyan," Alimi said by phone from London, where he fled after being physically attacked in Nigeria. "There was no better place for him to say that than in a place where his nationality wouldn't be questioned, where he wouldn't be seen as a Westerner telling us how to live our lives." 
Yet not infrequently, LGBTQ activists in other countries have urged the U.S. to pull back — or at least to stop making the case publicly. 
In Uganda, the U.S. in 2014 cut off visas for senior Ugandan officials, canceled aid and nixed a joint military exercise to punish Uganda for legislation that became known as the "Kill the Gays" bill. But activists said heavy-handed U.S. advocacy had given gay rights opponents the evidence they needed to argue that a native rights movement was being orchestrated by Washington.  Two years earlier, stolen diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed Ugandan activists had insisted to U.S. diplomats that "they preferred quiet diplomacy — not public statements." 
"What we've seen in the last eight years has been 99 percent great and 1 percent horrible backlash," said Jay Michaelson, an American author and LGBTQ activist who's written extensively on the subject. 
Rice said the key was to tailor efforts to each country's circumstances, limiting advocacy to behind-the-scenes meetings when a public push might cause more harm. 
“What we don't want to do to the extent we can avoid it is expose individuals who aren't wanting to be exposed and to put individuals at risk," Rice said.


September 4, 2016

President Arrived at a Changed Sour China for Summit

 The problems began as soon as President Obama landed in China.
There were no stairs waiting for him to disembark from his usual door at the top of Air Force One.
On the tarmac, as Obama’s staff scrambled to get lower-level stairs in place for him to disembark, White House press photographers traveling with him tried to get in their usual position to mark his arrival in a foreign country, only to find a member of the Chinese welcoming delegation screaming at them.
He told the White House press corps they needed to leave.
A White House official tried to intervene, saying this is our president and our plane and the media isn’t moving. 
 Obama is greeted at Chinese Airport

The man yelled in response, “This is our country!”
The man then yelled more and entered into a testy exchange with Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and her deputy, Ben Rhodes, while trying to block them from moving toward the front of the plane. 
On what is probably his last visit to China, there were flare-ups and simmering tensions during Obama’s meetings with Chinese officials — a fitting reflection of how the relationship between these two world powers has become frayed and fraught with frustration. Over the past seven years, that turbulence with China has colored and come to define Obama’s foreign policy at-large in Asia.
On Saturday, several White House protocol officers and other staff arriving at a diplomatic compound ahead of Obama’s meetings were stopped from entering and had heated arguments with Chinese officials in order to get in.
“The president is arriving here in an hour,” one White House staffer was overheard saying in exasperation.
A fistfight nearly broke out between a Chinese official trying to help the U.S. diplomats and a Chinese security official trying to keep them out. “Calm down please. Calm down,” another White House official pleaded.
Twenty minutes before the arrival of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two sides were still arguing in the room where the two leaders would soon be meeting to talk about cooperation. The Chinese insisted there was not enough space for the 12 American journalists traveling with Obama. U.S. officials, pointing to a spacious area sectioned off for the media, insisted there was.
High hopes turn to pivot
When Obama became president in 2009, he began with high hopes of improving U.S.-China relations. He tried reaching out to Chinese leaders with offers of increased engagement and decided not to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid angering Beijing, to the disappointment of human rights advocates.
 Obama became the first U.S. president to visit China during his first year in office. But his administration was taken aback by how completely the Chinese controlled all aspects that visit. “He wasn’t allowed to say much at all,” said Orville Schell, a longtime China scholar who was in China during the visit. “The Chinese kept him from meeting certain people, from taking questions or even radio broadcasts. He didn’t know quite how to respond. He didn’t want to be impolite. It took the U.S. a while to understand that this was the direction China and the relationship was headed.”
Some have blamed Obama for adopting such an overly optimistic and open stance during those early years. For all his outreach, current and former top U.S. diplomats say, Obama has gotten little in return, except the feeling of being burned by Beijing.
But that result could be equally attributed to the simple fact that China itself was undergoing a seismic shift during those early years of Obama’s presidency.
When the global recession plunged the world into financial crisis in the late 2000s, China escaped unscathed. Its leaders looked around and realized for the first time just how much power China had attained in becoming the world’s second largest economy. And shortly after, they began eagerly throwing that weight around.
No longer were they willing to make concessions or bide their time, from big things, such as territorial claims, down to the nitty-gritty of negotiations over who sits where and says what in diplomatic exchanges.
Obama’s response to this newfound Chinese assertiveness was largely a response to reality. “In a textbook, it would be great to have a strategic vision for how you see things being eight years now,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama’s top Asia adviser during those early years. “But in this case, I think the word ‘reaction’ is right. You had a China that was changing in capacity and leadership.”
If the carrot of engagement didn’t work, the Obama administration decided, they would try the stick. And they gave this tougher policy a name: the “Pivot to Asia.”
The pivot policy boiled down to the idea of turning the resources and attention of the United States away from perpetual problem areas in the short term, such as the Middle East, to Asia — an area that would have clear long-term strategic importance in coming years. 
Those overseeing the pivot strategy, senior U.S. officials said at the time, studied other examples in history, where one power was rising while others were declining: Germany’s rise in Europe after World War I; Athens and Sparta; the rise of the United States, itself, in the past century.
The pivot strategy was developed out of a belief that China would respond best to a position of strength. To find that leverage, the United States planned to forge stronger ties with its traditional allies in Asia and pick up new allies among neighbors alienated by China’s new aggression — including Vietnam, Burma and India.
Using that multilateral approach, the thinking went, the United States could offset China’s rising military power and assertiveness.
Doubts in Asia and among allies
The main problem with the Asia pivot was one of perception and substance.
European and Middle East leaders expressed concern with the idea of U.S. attention and priorities suddenly shifting from their regions to another. Chinese leaders saw the pivot as a U.S. conspiracy to interfere with China’s goals and to slow its rise.
Meanwhile, the very Asian allies the pivot was meant to reassure had their doubts, as well. Many wondered how much of the U.S. pivot was empty rhetoric and how much of it would be backed by economic and military substance.
In recent months, those doubts have resurfaced because the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Obama cobbled together as a way to reach out to Asian allies, may die for lack of support among Congress and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, in the years since the pivot strategy began, the U.S.-China relationship has soured to its current fraught state.
Both countries today are trying to avoid open hostility but are increasingly wary, hedging and frustrated with each other. Other countries in the region continue to fear China’s rise but at the same time are not fully convinced that the United States will be a sufficient counterweight.
The U.S.-China relationship may be the biggest problem Obama’s successor will face in Asia. How he or she deals with it — the exact proportion of carrots and sticks chosen and the Chinese response — will probably define the region in the decade to come. 
If this visit by Obama is any indication, the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon.
On Saturday, even as the two presidents finished their talk and prepared for a final nighttime stroll toward Obama’s motorcade. Chinese officials suddenly cut the number of U.S. journalists who could cover them from six to three, and finally to one.
“That is our arrangement,” a Chinese official flatly told a White House staffer, looking away.
“But your arrangement keeps changing,” the White House staffer responded.
In the end, after lengthy and infuriating negotiations, they settled on having just two journalists witness the leader’s walk.

July 1, 2016

Obama Made Offer to Putin He Can’t Refuse but Might


The Obama administration has offered to help Russia improve its targeting of terrorist groups in Syria if Moscow will stop bombing civilians and opposition fighters who have signed on to a cease-fire and use its influence to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to do the same.

The offer early this week of what one administration official called “enhanced information sharing” does not include joint military planning, targeting or coordination with U.S. airstrikes or other operations in Syria.

But it would expand cooperation beyond the “deconfliction” talks the U.S. and Russian militaries began last year to ensure their planes do not run into each other in Syria’s increasingly crowded airspace.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, who has long opposed any additional cooperation, said Thursday that if Russia would “do the right thing in Syria — that’s an important condition — as in all cases with Russia, we’re willing to work with them.”

“The Russians got off on the wrong foot in Syria,” Carter said. The stated purpose of airstrikes Russia began last fall was “to fight ISIL and . . . assist the political transition in Syria towards a post-Assad government.”

“They haven’t done either of those things,” he said. ISIL, along with ISIS and Daesh, is an alternative term for the Islamic State.

Senior administration officials declined to discuss details of the proposal, saying that publicizing the content of diplomatic talks would undermine their possible success.

“We’ve made no bones about the fact that if the Russians, with their military presence in Syria, proved to be willing to focus those efforts against Daesh, then that’s a conversation we would be willing to have,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

“There have been proposals offered by multiple parties,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to start laying those out publicly.”

The United States and Russia, while backing opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, co-chair an international task force that agreed early this year — along with Assad and the opposition — to support a “cessation of hostilities” and begin negotiations for a political solution that would allow the international community to turn its full attention to the fight against the Islamic State.

More than 400,000 Syrians have died in the civil war, which has also displaced half the population, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and beyond.

The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, are not parties to the truce. The administration has charged that Russia and Assad’s forces have violated it by continuing to launch airstrikes and other attacks on the anti-Assad opposition and civilians, under the guise of targeting the terrorist groups.

“What has prevented us from being able to more effectively coordinate militarily is that what the Russians have been militarily doing is propping up Assad and not going after ISIL,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Russia has defended its actions, and those of Assad, by saying that U.S.-backed opposition fighters are interwoven with Jabhat al-Nusra forces, especially around the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo.

While violations of the truce have escalated throughout Syria’s populated western third, Aleppo has become the epicenter of fighting. Jabhat al-Nusra forces are principally massed to the south of the city. While the administration has acknowledged some overlap in opposition-held areas to the north, officials charge that Russia’s principal interest in bombing there is to help Assad’s forces close rebel and humanitarian supply lines across the nearby Turkish border.

The advance of Islamic State fighters to areas close to Aleppo and other populated areas has also brought U.S. and Russian aircraft into closer proximity over the complicated Syrian battlefield. The Islamic State has rarely clashed with Assad.

In early May, as the cease-fire and U.N.-shepherded peace talks headed toward collapse, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to send senior military officers to “sit at the same table” in Geneva, where they set up a center to monitor violations.

Weeks later Russia — which has long sought more coordination with the West in Syria — proposed joint airstrikes against Jabhat-al-Nusra with the U.S.-led coalition that is bombing Islamic State positions.

Although U.S. officials were dismissive, the proposal unsettled U.S.-backed opposition representatives, who feared a backroom U.S.-Russia deal. They have said they will not return to the negotiating table until the violence abates.

Kerry and other U.S. officials have remained in close contact with their Russian counterparts, trying out a series of possible initiatives to revitalize the cease-fire, including the new offer of increased intelligence sharing on terrorist positions. Kerry is “fixated” on the Syria issue, “and he will stay so,” Kirby said.

Kerry has long advocated a more robust U.S. strategy to help the anti-Assad opposition, including additional weapons systems and the possible bombing of Assad’s military assets. Internal unhappiness with the current strategy, and the humanitarian disaster the war has brought to Syria, led 51 U.S. diplomats last month to write an internal “dissent channel” appeal for U.S. military action.

While President Obama has steadily increased U.S. attacks against the Islamic State in Syria, he has rejected entreaties for more direct involvement in the civil war, saying that he does not see how it would improve the situation. 
But Obama has blessed efforts to persuade Russia to change its policies, including the intelligence offer.

Administration officials believe that the Russians have no deep attachment to Assad himself but fear his removal would spark a collapse of Syrian institutions and allow terrorist expansion — something the Obama administration has said will happen if Assad remains.

In an address Thursday to Russian ambassadors gathered in Moscow from across the world, President Vladi­mir Putin said that he was “prepared to work with any future president” and was interested in closer cooperation with the United States in international affairs.

“However, we consider unacceptable the approach on the part of the American establishment, which believes that they can decide in what issues they will cooperate with us,” Putin said.

June 11, 2016

Pres.Obama and LGBT Rights

May 23,1912


March 21, 2016

President Obama Visit to Cuba Cauterizes a Fissure of History

90 years after a sitting President’s visits Cuba, President Obama made the trip Yesterday

People gather on the street in Old Havana. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the historic area shortly after his arrival late Sunday afternoon.
People gather on the street in Old Havana. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the historic area shortly after his arrival late Sunday afternoon. 
Mary Alice SalinasKatherine Gypson

Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to travel to Cuba in almost 90 years, will cap his visit with a direct address to the Cuban people outlining his vision for the future U.S.-Cuba relationship.
The White House said Obama's three-day visit, and his televised speech in Havana on Tuesday, represents a new beginning in the relationship between the former Cold War enemies, expanding on the formal restoration of their diplomatic ties eight months ago.
“Diplomacy, including having the courage to turn a page on the failed policies of the past, is how we’ve begun a new chapter of engagement with the people of Cuba,” Obama said during an appearance at the U.S. State Department several days before his departure.
Signature foreign policy
Obama has positioned the re-establishment of relations with Cuba as one of the signature foreign policy achievements of his administration, arguing the decades-old U.S. policy of isolating Cuba had failed.
FILE - President Barack Obama meets with members of his economic team at the White House, Washington, March 4, 2016. Obama leaves for a historic three-day visit to Cuba on Sunday.
FILE - President Barack Obama meets with members of his economic team at the White House, Washington, March 4, 2016. Obama leaves for a historic three-day visit to Cuba on Sunday.

Other US leaders: Former President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2011.
Sources: Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, U.S. Library of Congress, University of Virginia’s Miller Center, U.S. Department of State-Office of the Historian
"The old approach – trying to isolate Cuba, for more than 50 years – clearly didn’t work," Susan Rice, the president's national security advisor, said Thursday. "We believe that engagement, including greater trade, travel and ties between Americans and Cubans, is the best way to help create opportunity and spur progress for the Cuban people."
Obama and the first family are to visit cultural sites in Old Havana in the first hours after they arrive in Cuba late Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, he holds talks Cuban President Raul Castro, then meets with Cuban entrepreneurs to discuss business ties between the U.S. and Cuba. A state dinner at the Revolutionary Palace is scheduled for Monday evening.
Obama's speech to the Cuban people, the highlight of his trip, will be an opportunity to look back on the two countries' complicated history, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, told reporters in an advance briefing.
Speech to lay out vision
The president's address on Tuesday morning will "lay out his vision for how the United States and Cubans can work together, to how the Cuban people can pursue a better life,” Rhodes said.
Obama also plans to meet with members of Cuban civil society, including human rights activists, despite objections from the government in Havana.
The White House said the list of people invited to meet with the president during his visit was “non-negotiable.”
People line up on the sidewalk while waiting for a bus, on the outskirts of Havana.
People line up on the sidewalk while waiting for a bus, on the outskirts of Havana.
The Cuban government recently released some political prisoners and has taken small steps to open up Internet access. But a 2015 Human Rights Watch report found the Cuban government “continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights.”
The report found detentions have increased since the diplomatic thaw began, with arrests increasing from 2,900 to 7,188 in the first full year after the administration announced the resumption of relations. The thaw in relations could be an opportunity for the Cuban government to look at its internal laws on censorship, Internet freedom and freedom of assembly.
Continuing concerns about Cuba’s human rights abuses have prompted some Republicans on Capitol Hill to strongly criticize the Obama trip. Speaking of Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, Cuba's revolutionary hero Fidel Castro, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday, “This is a regime that provides safe harbor to terrorists and fugitives."
Ryan said he doubts whether Obama will adequately bring up the need for reforms in Cuba. He also reminded reporters that despite Obama's attempts to announce new commercial deals, the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba is “still intact and enforceable," almost 60 years after it went into effect.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce echoed those concerns in a statement declaring any easing of economic sanctions “will further prop up a communist regime in Cuba that has a long record of brutal human rights abuses.”
Workers make repairs on a road in Havana.
Workers make repairs on a road in Havana.
Only a majority vote by Congress can lift the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, and such a move is highly unlikely while Republicans hold majority control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, there have been signs that some lawmakers may be receptive to the president’s policies.
Five Republican lawmakers are traveling to Cuba with Obama, and at least 15 Senate Republicans have publicly backed a loosening of restrictions on Cuban travel and trade.
Senator Jeff Flake, a member of the presidential party in Cuba, told VOA: “It’s always bothered me that, as Republicans, we talk about engagement and travel and commerce as something that will nudge countries toward democracy. But with Cuba we tend to say, ‘No, no, it won’t work there.' But it will work. It is working.”
Push to make changes
Analysts say the presidential visit may help push the Cuban government to make changes.
“The Cuban people need to be in the driver’s seat for this thing to work, and the Cuban people are participating more freely in their economy,” said Marc Hanson of the Washington Office of Latin America, a human rights advocacy group. “They need to be able to participate in their politics as well.”
"I have everything, because I've learned to live without anything," reads a sign near Calabazar, on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.
“I have everything, because I've learned to live without anything," reads a sign near Calabazar, on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.
About Cuba
Geography: The Caribbean island, slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, lies 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Key West, Florida.
Government: Communist. Fidel Castro led a successful 1959 military coup, toppling U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and assuming control of the island nation. When he stepped down in 2008, younger brother Raul Castro became president. 
Population: Almost 11.4 million. Cuba's population skews old, with 13 percent 65 or older compared with 8 percent worldwide. Its under-15 age group accounts for 17 percent of islanders versus 26 percent globally. 
Life expectancy at birth (2013): 79 years in Cuba; 62 worldwide
Literacy: Universal
Economy: Socialist system in 2011 began introducing reforms such as enabling some private ownership and sales of real estate or permitting Cubans to buy cellphones and electronic appliances. Reforms also brought cuts in government jobs and approval for new retail service work, fostering entrepreneurship. About 476,000 Cubans have registered as self-employed.  
GDP contribution by sector (percent): agriculture, 4; industry, 23.5; services, 73. The chief crop is sugar cane, followed by tobacco for hand-crafted cigars.  

The success of the president’s visit depends largely on making the opening with Cuba irreversible, said William LeoGrande, an expert on Latin America and former dean of American University's School of Public Affairs.
LeoGrande, the co-author of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, said Obama has to show that his engagement with Cuba "brings results, so that the next president, whomever he or she may be, will look at what Obama has done with Cuba and say, ‘This works. It’s in the national interest. It works better than the old policy and so there’s no reason to go backward.' "
Long process
While the president’s visit will mark a key turning point in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, it will be just the start of a long process of recovery for the nation after decades of isolation, Hanson said.
"Reforms with Cuba will help create a relationship with Cuba where the Cuban people get to play a larger role in their own destiny and the Cuban government is willing to open up more space for people to do things,” he added.
The White House has just announced it is easing restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
The regulatory changes allow for “people-to-people” visits to Cuba, eliminate a ban on Cuban financial transactions going through U.S. banks and allow Cuban citizens to earn salaries in the United States.
First lady Michele Obama will meet with female Cuban students during her time in Havana and the entire first family will attend a baseball game before they leave late Tuesday for a three-day visit to Argentina.
VOA’s Senate Correspondent Michael Bowman contributed 
to this report.
This is a posting from VOICE OF AMERICA

November 24, 2015

Pres.Obama Busy Allowing Refugee Gay Couples thru Immigration

Gay couple in Florida received notice they no longer face being separated because one of them is not a U.S. citizen. Julian Marsh and Traian Povov’s green card approval was the first such approval ever in the United States at the time.No longer a rare occurrence.

Refugees and asylees from 23 countries can now ask to bring their same-sex partners with them to the U.S., even if they are not legally married.

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in an Oct. 1 letter to Congress notes it will “allow a qualifying individual” to request their same-sex partner receive refugee or asylee status under a provision of the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program known as P-3 that specifically deals with family reunification.

The new provision requires the petitioner to file an affidavit proving he or she has been in a relationship with their same-sex partner for at least a year outside the U.S. before submitting their application. The petitioner also needs to consider “that person to be his/her spouse or life partner, and that relationship is ongoing.”

The petitioner must also prove that “legal marriage” to their partner “was not an obtainable option due to social and/or legal prohibitions.”

Only refugees or asylees in the U.S. who are originally from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Uzbekistan can access the P-3 program.

The program allows a family member in the U.S. to apply “for a same-sex spouse if a legal marriage was conducted and documented.” The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in its letter to Congress that same-sex marriage “is not legal in the vast majority of refugee-producing and refugee-hosting countries.”

“The legal definition of ‘spouse’ remains unchanged,” State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “However, due to the administration’s recognition that marriage is not a legally viable option in many refugees’ countries of origin, we have granted access to the P-3 refugee family reunification process to the same-sex partners of LGBT individuals who do not have legal access to the institution of marriage in their home countries, provided that the refugee’s partner is otherwise admissible.”

Homosexuality criminalized in many P-3 countries

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration each year determines the specific refugees and asylum seekers who will be able to take advantage of the P-3 program. This determination is made based on whether a particular nationality “is of special humanitarian concern to the United States for the purpose of family-reunification refugee processing.”

Laws criminalizing homosexuality remain in place in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan.
Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, Sudan and portions of Somalia. Reports indicate the Islamic State has executed at least 30 men accused of sodomy in Iraq and Syria.

Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive throughout El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates with whom the Washington Blade has spoken over the last year say officials on the Communist island routinely harass them.
Maykel González Vivero, an independent Cuban LGBT advocate from the city of Sagua la Grande, told the Blade on Tuesday in an email that he welcomes the new P-3 program rule.
“It implies that the United States is willing to support LGBTI families that, for reasons that are no doubt political, are not recognized by the Cuban state,” he said.
Expanded provision ‘absolutely welcome’

The new rule under the P-3 program took effect against the backdrop of the continued influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria, Iraq and other countries.
Secretary of State John Kerry in September announced the U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees next year and another 100,000 in 2017.

President Obama in the same month said the U.S. will allow at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the country in 2016. The San Francisco-based Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration has called upon the White House to set aside 500 of these “slots” for those who are fleeing the war-torn country because of anti-LGBT persecution.

ORAM Executive Director Neil Grungras told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from Israel that the new rule under the P-3 program is “absolutely welcome.”
“It’s really forward thinking,” he said, noting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers are often unable to bring their partners with them to the U.S. “It’s about time.”
Immigration Equality Legal Director Aaron Morris shared a similar sentiment.

“The State Department’s decision to keep permanent partner P-3 refugees together is a cause for celebration because almost no LGBT refugees have access to marriage equality,” he told the Blade on Tuesday.

Advocates: Expand rule to more refugees, asylees

Matthew Corso, chair of Center Global, a program of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, noted to the Blade that less than 10 percent of all of the LGBT asylum seekers and refugees who have sought assistance from his group are from P-3 countries.
He said he would like to see the U.S. allow more refugees and asylees to take advantage of the new policy.

“While we are pleased to see the State Department moving the needle on reuniting same sex spouses for refugees and asylees from P-3 countries, it will be interesting to see whether or not USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) responds in kind to ensure many more LGBTI refugees and asylees from countries such as Uganda, Russia, Jamaica and others not on the P-3 list can be reunited with their loved ones who are still living abroad,” said Corso.
Morris expressed a similar concern.

“Because this rule will help a couple only if both partners have been designated as refugees, we are eager work with federal agencies to extend similar benefits to families where only one partner has been granted refugee status,” he told the Blade. “This is the reality for most LGBT asylees in the U.S., and no one should have to choose between their family and their own safety.”

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, an LGBT advocacy group in El Salvador known by the Spanish acronym ESMULES, told the Blade on Tuesday in an email that it would prove “difficult” for couples to prove their relationship to U.S. authorities. Gonz├ílez expressed a similar concern, but he still described the new policy as a “step forward.”

“It seems fair to me,” he told the Blade.

November 12, 2015

Another First Between Obama and the Gay Community: Front of Out Magazine


President Barack Obama is the first sitting president to cover an LGBT publication, a historic moment for both OUT magazine and the nation. The President was named "Ally of the Year" in the magazine's annual OUT100 issue due to his positive stance on marriage equality and his support for the LGBT community.

Not only is the President on the cover of the popular gay and lesbian magazine, the issue also features a candid interview with him about the people who influenced his positive relationship with the community, including his daughters. Obama states that Sasha and Malia, now 17 and 14, have shown him that there has been a big shift in how people address homosexuality across generations.

 "To Malia and Sasha and their friends, discrimination in any form against anyone doesn't make sense," the President tells OUT. "It doesn't dawn on them that friends who are gay or friends' parents who are same-sex couple should be treated any differently. That's powerful."

President Obama also talks about how his mother inspired his support for LGBT rights. He states that Dunham, who passed away in 1995, taught him that "every person was of equal worth," something that prompted him to focus on the rights of the gay and lesbian community during his administration.

Obama hasn't always been on board with same-sex marriage. According to CNN, the President has flip-flopped about it since he was a state Senate candidate in 1996. During his 2008 presidential campaign and up until 2012, he voiced his opposition to marriage equality, despite his support for it back in 1996.

It wasn't until 2012 that Obama fully supported the right of same-sex couples to get married in the United States. In an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, he stated that he initially "hesitated on gay marriage" because he thought civil unions would be good enough, but was "proud and happy" when the Supreme Court's decision came down.

"I was honored to stand in the Rose Garden and reiterate for every American that we are strongest, that we are most free when all of us are treated equally," Obama told Roberts. "I was proud to say that love is love."

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