Trump administration embarrasses U.S. again by appointing hate group members to U.N. women’s rights meeting

OutRight International Executive Director Jessica Stern

If anyone’s even bothering to keep score anymore, they can mark up yet another time the Trump administration has embarrassed our country in the presence of the rest of the world.

On Monday, March 13, Trump’s Department of State announced that the U.S.’s official delegation to the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women “includes representatives of two organizations known to oppose the U.N. human rights system,” according to a statement released today (Wednesday, March 15) by the international LGBT rights organization, OutRight International.

U.S. delegation members are Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S.’ ambassador to the U.N., who is head of the delegation; Ambassador Michele J. Sison, deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N.; Lisa Correnti, executive vice president of the Center for Family and Human Rights; Grace Melton with The Heritage Foundation, and technical experts from the departments of State, Labor and Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A statement from the U.S. Department of State announcing the delegation members included acknowledgment that the Commission on the Status of Women is “the most important annual meeting on women’s issues at the United Nations.” But Outright International condemned both C-FAM and The Heritage Foundation as stridently anti-equality organizations. And a report in the British newspaper The Guardian warns, “U.S. may go cheek by jowl with women’s rights abusers at U.N. gender talks.”

The newspaper notes: “Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the ‘global gag rule’ and his proposed funding cuts to the U.N. are expected to embolden right-wing conservative groups seeking to undermine women’s rights during the CSW talks … . the U.S. delegation may find itself firmly aligned with conservative countries including Iran, Sudan and Syria — among the six countries targeted in Trump’s revised travel ban.”

The Guardian quotes Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, as saying, “It’s very likely we will see the U.S. standing shoulder to shoulder with Russia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Sudan … some of the worst abusers of women’s rights around the world.”

Jessica Stern, OutRight International’s executive director, pointed out that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Haley have both “repeatedly pledged to uphold the right to be free from discrimination as an American value,” but suggested that including Correnti and Melton in the delegation sends a completely different message.

“Fundamentalist notions about how women and girls should behave should never be the basis of advising or negotiating U.S. foreign policy,” Stern said. “It is also a bad sign that two organizations that have tried to delegitimize the United Nations and human rights internationally now sit on the official U.S. delegation. Maybe the violent mentality that got C-Fam labeled as a hate group successfully p/anders to their base, but the U.S. government must ensure protection for the world’s most vulnerable people.”

According to OutRight, C-FAM regularly posts “homophobic vitriol” on its website, has called for the criminalization of homosexuality and “has even espoused violence.” C-FAM President Austin Ruse has reportedly said the U.S. should have laws criminalizing “homosexual behavior” because even if they aren’t enforced, such laws “would help society to teach what is good, and also would prevent such truly harmful practices as homosexual marriage and adoption.”

Ruse has also claimed that “the homosexual lifestyle is harmful to public health and morals” and in a 2014 interview said he wanted his children to attend private colleges “to keep them so far away from the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities, who should all be taken out and shot.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed C-FAM as a hate group since 2014.

OutRight also said that The Heritage Foundation and “its sister organizations [have] at least 11 past employees now working in the Trump administration” and that the Heritage Foundation “has provided much of the domestic and foreign policy blueprint the Trump administration used in its first days in office.”

The Heritage Foundation has called for a cut in funding to programs fighting violence against women, calling such programs a “misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that are truly the province of the federal government.”

OutRight said The Heritage Foundation “continually purports that anti-discrimination laws inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity are unjustified” and that such laws “grant special privileges” to LGBT people. The organization also “steadfastly rallies against the rights of transgender people,” OutRight said.

Stern continued, “Practically speaking, the U.S. should support CSW conclusions that condemn discrimination on any basis, support family diversity, and support the full range of conditions that enable women’s economic empowerment, including comprehensive family planning. While these ideas might seem like a leap of faith after the appointment of these organizations, these positions are the logical application of the principle of non-discrimination.

“Human rights are based on indivisibility, which also means that the U.S. cannot credibly support non-discrimination for LGBTI people while opposing family planning,” she said. “Women’s rights, reproductive choice, LGBTI rights, climate justice and the strength of the international human rights system all go hand-in-hand.

“The same groups advocating against women’s rights, immigrants, Muslims, the Affordable Care Act and LGBTI rights in the U.S. are taking these views to the international stage,” Stern said. “What the U.S. says about women from around the world at the CSW will be a sign of things to come for American women … . Domestic and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin.”


—  Tammye Nash

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

Playing the waiting game — again

For the second time, RafiQ Salleh sits in Singapore waiting for a visa renewal as his business, his spouse in Dallas suffer from the separation

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

FORCED SEPARATION  |  Cannon Flowers, left, is back home in Dallas, waiting for the U.S. Embassy in Singapore to once again clear his partner RafiQ Salleh, right, to return to the U.S. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
FORCED SEPARATION | Cannon Flowers, left, is back home in Dallas, waiting for the U.S. Embassy in Singapore to once again clear his partner RafiQ Salleh, right, to return to the U.S. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

RafiQ Salleh has lived in the United States legally since moving here in 1998 with his partner Cannon Flowers. But now, for the second time in two years, Salleh has been prevented from returning to the U.S. after returning to his native Singapore to pick up his visa.

In 2008, Salleh opened Chill Bubble Tea across the Tollway from the Galleria in North Dallas. He was approved for an E2 entrepreneurial visa, had to return to his home country to pick it up.

He traveled to Singapore but was stopped before returning because his name appeared on the terrorist watch list.

Flowers, who had accompanied his partner to Singapore, was forced to return to Dallas alone. He said after his return, it only took 20 minutes researching online to discover that the RafiQ Salleh on the terrorist watch list is a Pakistani who was already being held in Guantanamo.

It took the State Department almost two months to figure out the same information.

Flowers met Salleh when he was working for Texas Instruments and was based in Singapore. When Flowers moved back to Dallas, Salleh accompanied him on a student visa.  His stay was extended on a practical training visa and then again on an H1B three-year work visa, which he could renew once.

Flowers emphasizes now that Salleh’s residence in this country has always been legal.

To remain in the U.S., Salleh invested in a new business and qualified for an E2 entrepreneurial visa. That document can be renewed an unlimited number of times but expires every two years.

To renew it, Salleh must travel to Singapore for an interview at the consulate where the visa is issued.

The 2008 trip delayed the opening of his business — a costly setback — and it took congressional intervention and pressure before the embassy acknowledged that the Guantanamo prisoner from Pakistan and the gay entrepreneur from Singapore were two different people.

In April of this year, Salleh applied to renew his visa again.

“RafiQ and I traveled to Singapore on Sept. 7,” Flowers said. “RafiQ appeared before the U.S. consulate in Singapore on Sept. 14. An interview was conducted and he was informed that he would hear back from the consulate within four to six weeks but processing could take up to six months.”

And once again, because his shares a name with an incarcerated terrorist suspect, Salleh was not able to return.

“I feel it is even pointless to inquire about my status,” Salleh said, speaking this week from Singapore.

The consulate made it clear to not contact them for at least the first four weeks, Flowers said, because doing so would slow down the process and cause the embassy to view Salleh’s application in a less than favorable light.

“Homeland Security has already approved the visa, stateside,” Flowers said. “However the consulate has the final say and there is no appeal process to their decision.”

He said the problem is the two-track visa approval process between the State Department and Homeland Security. Neither wants to be accused of being the gatekeeper who let terrorists into the country, Flowers said.

“There needs to be one immigration approval process,” he said.

The current system that could keep a businessman out of the country up to six months once every two years makes running a business in this country extremely difficult.

“Physically I assumed I could take care of business from this end,” Salleh said. “But realistically it is affecting me [and]  I can honestly say I am so out of touch.”

He said it is difficult to run a business when he’s starting his day just as his employees are ending theirs. He has tried to adjust his schedule to Dallas time.

“It is possible but physically draining,” Salleh said.

Flowers said the waiting period is emotionally difficult. Salleh has been trying to keep busy in Singapore.

“The first two weeks I was focused on taking care of my family matters for my dad,” Salleh said.

His mother died earlier this year and he helped his father change the title on her property in neighboring Malaysia.

“RafiQ has been doing volunteer teaching at the art academy he once attended,” Flowers said. “He is also spending time with his many nieces and nephews.”

But Salleh acknowledged that the long wait is disheartening.

“Slowly as it creeps into the third, fourth, and now fifth week, I felt very discouraged,” he said.

Although family and friends in Singapore surround him, they have no idea “how much it is affecting my emotional well-being,” Salleh said.

Immigration problems are common for binational same-sex couples. About 40,000 such couples live in the United States.

According to the group Immigration Equality, 19 nations allow their citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration benefits. The U.S. is not among them.

Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver were married in Connecticut in August. That state allows same-sex marriage. However, the marriage is recognized only on a state level and not by the federal government under the Defense of Marriage Act.

A ruling by a Massachusetts judge declared DOMA unconstitutional but that rulling has little effect so far as it is making its way through the appeals process.

Vandiver was born in Venezuela and his residency visa has expired. He will appear before an immigration judge on Nov. 17. The couple hopes deportation will be delayed until after the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of DOMA.

“Asking for a stay is a good strategy,” Flowers said. “I believe they’ll get it.”

“The judge and the government attorney have discretion here,” said Lavi Soloway, Velandia’s attorney.

He said that the couple has not made contingency plans if Velandia is forced to leave the United States.

“For many couples, the only option is finding a third country and becoming refugees,” he said.

Flowers said he and Salleh will be together even if they have to find another place to live.

The Uniting American Families Act would prevent this type of deportation. American citizens would be allowed to sponsor a same-sex partner for residency and citizenship. Heterosexual couples who marry can apply for permanent residency for their spouse. This would give same-sex couples an equal right.

That bill along with the Dream Act, which would give people who came to this country illegally as minors a path to citizenship, are stalled in Congress.

Soloway said his focus right now is on DOMA. If the Supreme Court finds that law unconstitutional, marriages such as his clients’ would be recognized and Vandiver could sponsor his spouse.

Flowers said the treatment of binational couples amounts to nothing more than another form of bullying.

“I believe those that bullied us when we were young have simply grown up and continue to bully us in our grown up lives,” he said.

He said there are many forms of bullying including “don’t ask, don’t tell” and employment discrimination as well as forced separation due to discriminatory immigration laws.

Flowers said he always wakes up at 4 a.m. and that’s when he feels loneliest. It’s 5 p.m. in Singapore, the time when the U.S. embassy closes. If he hasn’t heard anything by then, it will be at least another 24 hours before he hears whether he and his partner of 14 years will be reunited.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Arkansas officials, right-wing group appeal judge’s ruling striking down gay adoption ban

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state Department of Human Services and a conservative group have appealed a judge’s ruling that struck down Arkansas’ voter-approved ban on unmarried couples serving as foster or adoptive parents.

The case is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court, after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in April that the ban is unconstitutional. The high court set a Sept. 21 deadline for legal briefs in the case after the state and the Family Action Council Committee appealed the ruling.

Voters approved the ban in November 2008. It bars unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children, and effectively prohibits gays and lesbians from doing so because same-sex marriage is illegal in Arkansas.

The high court could hear oral arguments in the case as soon as this fall.

—  John Wright

Secretary Clinton addresses State Department for Pride, saying gay rights are human rights

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed members of the State Department at an event celebrating LGBT Pride Month.

She recognized “with gratitude the contributions made by LGBT members of the State Department family every single day.”

She mentioned that 10 years ago, she was the first first lady to march in a Pride Parade.

As a senator she was a sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination and hate crimes legislation.

Addressing the dangers many LGBT people face around the world, Clinton said, “These dangers are not ‘gay’ issues. This is a human rights issue.”

Clinton said: “So here at the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She added that in countries where Pride parades are new, members of the American Foreign Service are marching. In countries where citizens come out publicly, American officials are expressing their support.

Click here to see watch Clinton’s address.

—  David Taffet