State Department to appoint special envoy for LGBT rights

The U.S. Department of State is currently vetting candidates to become a special envoy to advocate for the rights of LGBT people overseas, a StateUS Department of State seal Department official told the Boston Globe today (Thursday, Feb. 5). The official told the newspaper the person appointed to the position will be chosen from among openly LGBT current State Department officers, and the department will announce its choice by the end of February.

The new position will be an extension of the State Department’s recent initiatives to enhance and discuss LGBT rights in the U.S. and abroad.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, called the new position “a welcome development and historic moment the U.S. government’s progress in promoting the dignity and equality of LGBT people around the world.”

Stern continued, “The creation of the special envoy position is a significant advance in the increasing institutionalization of LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy. With opponents in both houses of Congress and in countries around the world, the potential of this position to heighten credibility and increase resources for LGBT issues in international development and cooperation comes just in time. We hope that the special envoy will act with strategy, with sensitivity and with meaningful input from grassroots LGBTI communities. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has long supported creation of this position, and we look forward to engaging with the State Department’s chosen nominee to make a difference in the lives of individuals by affirming their basic human rights.”

—  Tammye Nash

WATCH: Barney Frank announces retirement, slams Newt Gingrich over ‘sanctity of marriage’

Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, confirmed at a press conference this afternoon that he won’t seek re-election in 2012.

Frank said he decided to retire in part because he would have faced a tough campaign next year after his district was redrawn to include more conservative areas. Frank said the district would be almost half new.

“If I were to run again, I would be engaged full-fledged in a campaign, which is entirely appropriate — nobody ought to expect to get re-elected without a contest — but the fact that it is so new makes it harder, in terms of learning about new areas, introducing myself to new people.”

Frank also took a jab at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has climbed to the top of GOP presidential polls.

“I did not think I had lived a good enough life to be rewarded by Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee. It still is unlikely, but I have hopes,” Frank said.

“I look forward to debating, to take one important example, the Defense of Marriage Act with Mr. Gingrich,” Frank said. “I think he is an ideal opponent for us when we talk about who it is that is threatening the sanctity of marriage. … He would be the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Barry Goldwater.”

Watch a clip of Frank’s comments about Gingrich above.

Below are reactions to Frank’s retirement from President Barack Obama and others.

—  John Wright

Perry, Romney and gays in the Boy Scouts

The Boston Globe reports today on what is said to be the “bitter personal feud” between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination. The Globe claims the spate between Perry and Romney dates back to 2002, when Romney refused to allow members of Perry’s beloved Boy Scouts to serve as official volunteers at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

In his 2008 book On My Honor, Perry suggested that Romney’s decision to bar the Scouts from serving as official volunteers was based on the fact that the organization doesn’t allow gay troop masters. But Romney has insisted that he barred the Scouts from serving as volunteers simply because they didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 18. From The Globe:

Perry used the incident to cast Romney as a New England moderate, someone willing to cave under pressure, and as a political opportunist.

“Whether pressure from gay rights groups caused Olympic organizers to resist volunteer assistance from the scouts, we know that Romney, as a political candidate in the politically liberals [sic] state of Massachusetts, has parted ways with the scouts on its policies over the involvement of gay individuals in scout activities,’’ Perry wrote in his book. “He once said during a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, ‘I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.’ ’’

Romney, though, cast the decision as a pragmatic one. He told reporters in 2000 that the Boy Scouts were not being excluded for any reason other than that they didn’t meet the age restrictions. He also said the scouts were given a list of possible volunteer opportunities, most of which involved activities before the Olympics began or were behind the scenes.

“We’re very pleased to have Scouts help out,’’ Romney told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City in 2000.

—  John Wright