Out in the World: US LGBTQ special envoy takes first international trips

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday June 3, 2022
Share this Post:
Jessica Stern is the U.S. Department of State's special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons. Photo: State Dept./D.A. Peterson
Jessica Stern is the U.S. Department of State's special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons. Photo: State Dept./D.A. Peterson

The United States' LGBTQ expert, Jessica Stern, recently embarked on her first two international trips to Asia and Europe to meet with government and civil society leaders, the State Department announced.

President Joe Biden appointed Stern, a lesbian, last June as the second U.S. special envoy for international LGBTQ rights. She assumed her new job at the State Department September 27. She previously served as executive director of OutRight Action International, a globally-focused LGBTQ human rights nonprofit organization based in New York City.

Stern is currently traveling to Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Sweden, in a trip that began May 31 and ends June 8. She previously went to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, May 21-27.

During her European trip, Stern is engaging with local human rights defenders and civil society representatives regarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally, with a specific focus on LGBTQI+ refugees from Ukraine, according to the State Department.

Stern is scheduled to speak in a panel discussion "Equality, Diversity, Inclusion: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities" and engage with youth at an informal Q&A session at Baltic Pride's Proud Cities Summit in Lithuania, according to the announcement.

On June 1, to mark the start of Pride Month, the U.S. Embassy for The Hague in Amsterdam posted a brief video of Stern discussing her reasons for being in Europe.

"We can fight for the safety, security and pride of LGBTQI+ people around the world," Stern says in the 41-second clip.

In Asia, Stern spoke at a collaborative and international workshop "Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" in Hanoi, Vietnam, according to the State Department's May 21 announcement of that trip.

During both trips, she discussed advancing LGBTQ human rights through diplomatic tools and public-private partnerships, such as the State Department's Global Equality Fund, with government and civil society organizations, according to the statement.

At the end of April, the State Department released an interagency report detailing the accomplishments of Biden's administration implementing LGBTQ rights globally since he took office. In 2021, Biden placed LGBTQ rights at the forefront of his administration's foreign policy, soon after he took office, the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Stern reiterated in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade prior to her departure to Asia the Biden-Harris administration's multiple accomplishments for LGBTQ rights around the world. She noted most recently the U.S. delivered antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS and received Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's pledge in August 2021 to continue to fight against LGBTQ discrimination.

Other examples she pointed to were the State Department issuing gender-neutral passports for transgender and nonbinary U.S. travelers; condemning violence against LGBTQ people; and Chantale Wong becoming the first openly lesbian person of color appointed to an ambassador-level position for the U.S. as director of the Asian Development Bank. Biden appointed Wong last July.

Stern told the Blade the "only thing that holds us back is hatred and intolerance" noting the global rise of autocracy and the undermining of democratic institutions and democracies where "we see LGBTQI+ people are often the canary in the coal mine."

Australia gets 1st Asian lesbian foreign minister

Penelope Ying-Yen "Penny" Wong was sworn in as Australia's new foreign minister May 23. Also taking office were Australia's new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and fellow cabinet members Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher.

The Labor leaders took power for the first time after nine years of the conservative National Party being in power.

This is the latest "first" for Wong, who has broken through many barriers during her political career. In this role, she is the first Asian-born and foreign-born person and out lesbian to serve as foreign minister and hold an Australian cabinet position.

Since 2016, she has been the shadow foreign affairs minister.

In 2022, Wong was voted Australia's most trusted politician in a Roy Morgan poll in March, reported the Australian LGBTQ news site, Star Observer.

Wong told the Star Observer that she never set out to be a role model but, as she faced her share of misogyny, homophobia, and racism, she said, "I have come to understand that you can't be what you can't see."

Wong came out in 2002 while she served in the country's Senate.

In an interview with the Star Observer in April, Wong said she believed her being in the office as Australia's foreign minister would "send a pretty powerful message to the world about where Australia is as a nation."

Human rights - including LGBTQ rights - were going to be the cornerstone of the Albanese Labor government and her tenure as foreign minister, if appointed, she said at the time.

"The approach we take is to see the world as it is and seek to change it for the better," she told the paper, talking about utilizing the resources and relationships they have and strongly advocating for human rights on the global stage to "raise the costs of human rights abuses."

"This requires an active foreign policy to deliver for our interests and our values - including human rights for all people," she said.

Wong started her career working for trade unions before she was elected to the Senate for the Australian Labor Party in 2001. She was reelected in 2007 and 2013. She was minister for climate change and water (2007) and minister for finance and deregulation (2010). After the Labor Party's defeat to the National Party in the federal elections in 2013, Wong became deputy leader of the government in the Senate. She was appointed the opposition party leader at the time, becoming the first woman to serve in that role. As the first out LGBTQ Australian federal parliamentarian, she played a significant role in Australia's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2017. Weddings began in 2018.

Albanese and Wong wasted no time getting into their new roles. The two leaders immediately flew that day to Tokyo for their first quad summit meeting with U.S., Japanese, and Indian leaders.

One of Wong's top priorities is to repair Australia's relationship with China, which has disintegrated since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

Wong was born in Malaysia to an Australian mother and Malaysian father. She moved to Australia in 1976 after her parents divorced. She was raised in Adelaide and earned her law degree at the University of Adelaide.

Wong lives with her partner, Sophie Allouache, and the couple's two children.

OUTBermuda hires its 1st ED

OUTBermuda announced May 26 that it has hired Tiffany Paynter as the organization's first-ever executive director.

The Bermudian social entrepreneur and longtime advocate for the local LGBTQ+ community started in her new role May 23, according to the organization's news release.

Paynter's hiring "represents a new chapter for the charity," stated Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, OUTBermuda's chair. The part-time position is funded for the next three years by an undisclosed grant.

The Caribbean island's LGBTQ rights organization expanded its volunteer board of directors with four new members, doubling its size, at the beginning of the year, reported the Royal Gazette.

"We have such an opportunity to make a real impact but couldn't do so solely as a volunteer-led organization," stated Hartnett-Beasley, welcoming Paynter to OUTBermuda. "She's just the leader we need as we look to the future."

Paynter will be responsible for expanding the organization's impact and strengthening its sustainability as a resource. She will oversee the organization's day-to-day operations and longer-term strategy to grow its volunteer base, community outreach, and educational programs as well as work with businesses and the government.

She will also oversee Bermuda Pride, now in its fourth year. OUTBermuda, which was the pride event's first sponsor, has officially taken over the management and production of the event, the release announced.

Bermuda Pride was founded by Liz Christopher, Chen Foley, and David Northcott.

"I'm excited to join OUTBermuda at such an important time for LGBTQ+ equality," stated Paynter, adding that she looked forward to working with the board and the community, "to establish priorities and drive momentum toward our goals."

Prior to joining OUTBermuda, she spent five years as community center manager for the Department of Youth, Sport, and Recreation.

Paynter is also well-known island-wide as a yoga teacher, spoken-word poet, and volunteer for organizations, including Spirithouse Bermuda and the Family Center, the release noted.

TGEU interim ED stepping down

Transgender Europe announced May 25 the departure of interim executive director Masen Davis and the launch of the organization's search for a new leader.

An American transgender man, Davis has led the organization for more than two and a half years, according to TGEU's announcement on the Trans-Info-Europe listserve.

Davis will assume his new role as executive director at Funders Concerned About AIDS following TGEU's European & Central Asian Trans Council 2022 (September 29-October 2), according to the announcement.

Davis was formerly executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland for nearly eight years. He also served as interim executive director of the Global Action for Trans* Equality, and senior director of special projects at the Gill Foundation. Prior to stepping into leading TGEU, Davis served as CEO of Freedom for All Americans in Washington, D.C.

"Masen has provided truly engaged and caring leadership for TGEU in the past years. We are most grateful for his guidance and commitment," stated TGEU Co-Chair Jovan Džoli Ulićević. "We are confident that wherever he goes, Masen will be a part of the historic changes for our communities."

TGEU is expected to use an executive search firm to help find the organization's next leader, according to the announcement.

Ulićević said the organization is looking forward to finding its next executive director "who will lead our resilient, diverse, and inspiring movements in the challenging times ahead of us."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.