Panelists discuss global LGBTQ+ rights, from persecutions in Russia to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, as well as the role of U.S. foreign policy in advancing and protecting LGBTQ+ rights internationally.
MASSEY: Thank you so much and good morning, or good afternoon, wherever you are today. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations meeting on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Rights: Snapshots From Around the World. I'm delighted that we have such a terrific turnout today, although it's not surprising given the superb lineup of speakers and the importance of today's topic. This meeting is on the record. I'm Camille Massey, founding executive director of the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.
And happy Pride! Pride is celebrated during the month of June in the U.S. and many countries around the world to coincide with the catalysts of the gay liberation movement, the Stonewall uprising on Christopher Street in New York. Pride month is a time to celebrate how far we've come in the struggle for human rights of LGBTIQ persons, while addressing challenges that remain, and many do. Many people across our nation and around the world face discrimination, hate, and violence, especially Black and brown transgender women.
Before welcoming our speakers, I'll mention that this week is a historic of firsts. I just want to name a few, the first ever side meeting at the United Nations focused on trans rights was held two days ago cosponsored by the permanent missions of the United States, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ukraine, over forty like-minded countries, the EU as well as civil society organizations. Yesterday, the first ever House Committee on Foreign Affairs session on advancing and protecting LGBTIQ rights abroad. Now, we are together participating in CFR's first general meeting for members devoted exclusively to LGBTIQ rights and foreign policy.
With us today, we are fortunate to have Jennifer Lu, of the Taiwan Equality Campaign. It's late there in Taiwan, thank you so much, Jennifer. Jennifer has been involved with the LGBTIQ movement in Taiwan for over fifteen years. She was chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan. Julie Dorf, senior director for the Council for Global Equality. Welcome, Julie. A coalition of thirty organizations working together for an inclusive U.S. foreign policy, she cofounded that in 2008. And also founded and served as the director of OutRight Action International in 1990 until 2000. And welcome Masha Gessen, a Russian-American award winning journalist, and author of eleven books, most recently Surviving Autocracy. They are a staff member at the New Yorker and reported from Russia for over twenty years and, I believe, around thirteen of those with Putin in power.
I'm looking forward to beginning this discussion and hearing your snapshots, before we turn to U.S. foreign policy, and open to questions from others participating in the discussion. I see from the roster we have many with expertise in our virtual room here.
Jennifer, let's start with you. Your work led to Taiwan becoming the first country in Asia to allow same-sex marriage that was on May 17, 2019. As a board member of OutRight Action International, I've had the opportunity to hear you speak about the work that went into that. But also remember seeing a video of you on the stage outside Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, and give us a sense of what that day was like but also the work behind the achievement. And, just secondly, you've been quoted as saying, "It's a very important moment, but we are going to keep on fighting." Share with us your thoughts.
LU: Hello, everybody. I'm Jennifer, and I'm honored to be here to share our experience in Taiwan and Asia. I believe in not just me but also including Julie, we have been working together for those past years, fighting for equality in Taiwan. Indeed, in 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The day the law passed, it was raining, raining very hugely. I think over 550,000 participants were in our rally and waiting for the law passed. From that moment, I think LGBT community seems finally to be seen and recognized by our government through this thirty-year long fight. We now have our choice to decide if we want to enter this marriage system. Also, I believe the conversations and dialogue start over and over again, in private and public areas as well.
We have seen so many touching stories because of these important changes, but I believe the work towards equality indeed takes a lot of efforts. Taiwan went through several times of legalization process, Constitutional Court interpretation, and national referendum within three and a half years. So we have countless huge rallies, press conferences, internal and external meetings, making the videos to tell our stories, and so on. Even that we haven't achieved equality yet, like a lot of countries, including the U.S., around the world. It was extremely intense, but also created an opportunity for all Taiwanese. We did some amazing research to understand what's the common values in Taiwan society, and also shifted our narratives based on the research, so we learned this strategy from our USA friends. Finally, we found the common values and languages with the ordinary people, and the politicians. The passage of the law actually also relied on the community's communication, trust, and solidarity, not only nationally but also internationally.
So I can say Taiwan's victory is not only our victory. Solidarity internationally in our community is extremely important. I believe we are facing the same opposition, and the conservatives and authoritarian regime, and those two powers actually work very closely and well in Taiwan. LGBT community was one of their prioritized targets to attack and surprise our young democratic system by spreading fake news, fake information, and stigmatizing LGBT community during the marriage campaign. And now they are working very hard to target other issues such as the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health prevention and gender equity education, including LGBT inclusive curriculum. Even in Taiwan we have the law to protect that, the LGBT inclusive curriculum, but in 2018, in the referendum, we actually lost. I believe Julie still has very clear memory, like me, about our heartbreaking loss. We still could have the same-sex marriage right now because we have the Constitutional Court interpretation to protect our bottom line. We have made a lot of compromise to ensure the bill was passed. Although the Parliament managed to uphold our rights to marriage, the bill didn't include the rights to adoption and also the artificial reproduction, and also other equal rights. So this result, I believe, shows that the opposition are still very powerful politically and we need to prepare for any backlash for the future.
MASSEY: Thank you, Jennifer. I hope we can get into in the Q&A period some of what you said, particularly around the importance of research and data and collaborative solidarity efforts.
Masha, let's now turn to Hungary. Ahead of the 2022 election, Viktor Orbán's ruling party intensified its campaign against LGBT rights. Jennifer was just talking about the curriculum. On June 15, Hungary's Parliament passed a law banning content featuring gay people in school educational materials, on television shows for those under eighteen years old, and these restrictions extend to advertisements and even sexual education. Some have been drawing a parallel between Russia's 2013 anti-gay propaganda law. Now we see movement in Poland and elsewhere, including a series of constitutional amendments signed by President Putin in April. As we look at these trends, and you've written so much about it, including in your most recent book, what is your analysis of the connection between the rise of autocratic regimes and the decline of human rights?
GESSEN: Thank you. So yeah, let me try to put this in context. As I was listening to you introduce this panel, I was thinking that I have such conflicted associations with the month of June now. Because we talk about historic firsts in June and we always talk about Pride and we remember about LGBT rights, especially in June. But it's also the month when, eight years ago, Russia passed its federal ban on so-called "gay propaganda" and also its ban on same-sex adoptions and empowering social services to remove children from same-sex households. Since then, we've seen a spread in the region and beyond. We've seen Poland create all sorts of "LGBT-free zones." We've seen, most recently, Hungary, again in the month of June, passing its ban on so-called "gay propaganda."
These laws, they all have a few things in common. One is, of course, they center this idea of children and the specter of the danger that gay people pose to children tapping into all kinds of old tropes that conflates gay people and pedophiles and create the specter of gay people recruiting. They serve two distinct functions. One, of course, has to do with enforcement, and in Russia we've seen a bit of enforcement. Most significantly, we've seen the authorities go after same-sex families with children, because, of course, the ban on propaganda of homosexuality to minors also applies to families, right? You are in violation, if you have children, you're constantly propagandizing. Because one of the things that the law in Russia bans is creating in children the erroneous impression of social equality of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations. So as a queer parent, I'm always in violation of that particular ban.
But, of course, a bigger function that they serve is a signaling function. They serve to encourage anti-gay violence. In Russia, we have seen it, we saw a rise in anti-gay violence immediately, we saw murders. And we have seen the most extreme expression of it in Chechnya, which is a region of Russia, where the local state has run a concerted campaign, now for three years, of rounding up gay men and lesbians and torturing them, getting them to give up names of other gay men and lesbians, and either killing them or delegating it to their families to kill them. Russian LGBT activists have heroically extracted more than a hundred people from Chechnya to the rest of Russia and then ultimately abroad. But that's an extremely difficult, extremely dangerous process, and a process that often fails. A lot of people are kidnapped back by their families or by the authorities and a lot of people don't get to get out in the first place.
But the other kind of signaling that these kinds of laws perform is the autocratic signaling. Autocrats always, or the autocrats that we see in the contemporary world, they always have a past-oriented politics, their promise, always explicit, is I'll take you back to an imaginary past, right? Make America great again. Everybody has a version of that line. To do that, I'm going to reverse social change. I'm going to create a world that doesn't make you uncomfortable, that feels like the imaginary world in which you felt centered and safe. And the most recent social change, all over the Western world, and not just the Western world, is LGBT rights, right? So it's an incredibly effective propaganda tool to start reversing advances in LGBT rights. That's why it's so popular and it almost looks coordinated. When we saw Donald Trump come into office, among the first things he did was reverse Justice Department measures on LGBT rights. The ban on transgender people in the military was a huge sort of signaling, right? There's a reason it went out by tweet because it was a way of signaling that we're reversing LGBT rights.
But it also creates a really unfamiliar situation for LGBT people. This is something that we've been learning to deal with over the last eight or nine years, which is the reversal of rights. Because LGBT people in countries where they have felt safer and have become visible. We have felt safe and have become visible. Have had to go back into nonexistent closets. You end up exposed when your rights are reversed. This happened to transgender people in the military in the U.S., this happened to LGBT people in Russia, who did not feel like things were great, but they felt like there were a lot of places in the country where they could be safe enough being out. You know, I certainly experienced that personally, it was known to everybody that my family was an LGBT family with three children and then we have to get out of the country in a hurry because we're exposed and suddenly outside the law. Thank you.
MASSEY: Thank you so much, Masha. Again, I hope we can come back and also talk a bit more about your experiences and as a refugee, I think it's another issue that we want to get into in the discussion in the Q&A period and what's being done about asylum seekers here in the U.S.
This is a perfect segue to you, Julie, because here in the U.S., we have a lot of work to do, but the Biden-Harris administration has certainly taken off with great speed. On the first day, President Biden in office, signed the most comprehensive executive orders on LGBTIQ rights, and then in February, he signed a sweeping presidential memorandum, a comprehensive one, advancing the human rights of LGBTIQ people around the world, and directing all agencies to become engaged abroad, so diplomacy, foreign assistance. We've heard more this week from U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who spoke at that UN trans event. And then in the middle of the night here, we heard the great news that was leaked, that our friend and amazing activist Jessica Stern will become only the second U.S. Special Envoy for LGBTIQ Rights. How is the U.S. doing overall? In what ways, Julie, do you recommend, given your quarter of a century of incredible work in this area, that the State Department, that USAID operationalize this engagement and do so with as much credibility that will make it effective?
DORF: Well, I have a lot to say on all of those fronts, but thanks for having me. Thanks to CFR for hosting this first member meeting on the topic, that's exciting, and hope it's the beginning of many more that we can answer those questions in even greater depth and detail over this Biden administration period and beyond. You know, it is a great start, we're delighted with the presidential memorandum, with the Bostock executive order, with a number of the really exciting and excellent nominations, including today's fantastic announcement about Jessica Stern as our next Special Envoy. We have a lot more to do even just making sure that this administration makes good on campaign promises, such as nonbinary passports, and expedited resettlement for LGBT refugees, and all kinds of things that are absolutely the right policies for this government but take some time to put into effect. I think that's part of the problem with the way that our particular democracy functions is that our political cycles are very short, honestly. Between the time that the president is elected, you know, four years is a short period, but the midterm elections could determine a lot of what is possible. So it feels a little bit like we're in a race with time to get things done because particularly regulatory change takes a very long time and getting laws passed is next to impossible with the partisan politics of our country right now. So folks need to be really bold and fearless and just keep moving things forward. I'm very hopeful that once the frenzy of Pride Month is over, we'll be able to see even more deliverables from this government.
But there's still a lot left to do even among our fabulous allies in the State Department. You know, there's been a focus, and even in the presidential memorandum you can see it, on decriminalization, for example, which is obviously a very important goal. We should get rid of the horrible sodomy laws. We should help activists around the world to get rid of those bad laws. But there's lots of other bad laws, there's forced sterilization for trans people in order to change their gender identity, there's conversion therapy, there's cross-dressing laws around the world. I mean, there's plenty of things in addition to the colonial-era sodomy laws that exist around the world.
The memorandum talks a lot about protecting and promoting the human rights of LGBT people. We do a lot on the protection side, as we should, because of the horrific human rights abuses. The Chechnya situation that Masha talked about. But any given week of any given year, we could have a laundry list of horrible human rights abuses to address. But how do we make kind of longer-term change and make some systemic shifts in the way that LGBTQ people are treated around the world? I think lies with a little more effort on the protective side.
And, Jennifer, your extraordinary work in Taiwan getting marriage equality to be the law of the land. I mean, to me, the most important piece of your story is the Taiwanese government poll that just came out, like, I don't know, two months ago, with a 20-point shift in how LGBT people are perceived by Taiwanese society post the marriage equality law being the law of the land. I mean, that is such a phenomenal data point in terms of how you actually change hearts and minds. How do people start to understand us as actual human beings who, therefore, deserve to be treated well, not just in law but in society? I think it's time for our country to get behind this kind of more protective agenda of supporting the many activists around the world who are pushing for marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws and just inclusion.
Just to end on the inclusion point in terms of our government. We've done a very good job, starting with the Obama administration, even slightly through the Trump administration, and today with beginning to open our foreign assistance to really meet the needs of LGBTQI people, primarily in the human rights space. In the sort of political rights sectors, but not so much in the actual more traditional development sectors. COVID showed that just so blatantly how LGBTQ people are very underemployed and primarily around the world employed in informal economic sectors, which makes them incredibly vulnerable when you have a situation like COVID. But humanitarian assistance in many parts of the world is actually deployed based on your gender—transgender people couldn't get food during COVID in certain countries because they didn't fit the binary. You know, there's a lot to do to actually address poverty, education, and just basic access to the things that matter in life for real people's lives. We have a big project to be truly inclusive in our foreign assistance and development programs. I'll stop there.
MASSEY: Thank you. Before we turn to members and participants and open it up, I want to circle back, Masha, to you and Jennifer, after hearing what Julie spoke about and ask really a two-part question. One is, what governments do you see as ones who are taking leadership roles and making a difference? But also thinking about the power of storytelling in civil society, that could be through the media, it could be through civil society's promotion and telling of their own stories, as you use so effectively, Jennifer, in Taiwan. What are you finding is the most effective in the regions where you've been most focused?
LU: Sure. I think storytelling is one of the most important strategies for LGBT community to be seen and to change people's hearts and minds. And, I think, especially for Taiwanese same-sex couples to be seen in the region, a lot of activists from other Asian countries in their feedback to me say, it's very rare for them to see someone like them on the videos or on the international news and as same-sex couples and they can formally get married. So I think Taiwan has shifted the whole narrative in Asia, and around the world, about LGBT movement because a lot of people before always said, "Oh, we don't have LGBT people in Asia" or "the LGBT culture just doesn't fit in our Asian traditional culture." So I think the same-sex marriage passing in Taiwan sends a very important message to the world, that the LGBT community is not breaking into the Asian countries. We are existing in our countries, and we need to find a way to coexist peacefully with the traditional Asian values. And I believe, if we change the law, we can change the hearts and minds together.
GESSEN: I'm not the right person to ask about governments that lead the way in LGBT rights, that's not my area of specialty, but storytelling certainly is. I think that this is something that we have known about LGBT rights since at least the early 20th century, that LGBT people historically have been invisible in a lot of countries. It is becoming visible and communicating to people that they have LGBT people in their own lives already that invariably makes the difference. It's no coincidence that these anti-propaganda laws are both so effective and so directly targeted at exactly that. They're created to make people invisible. The violence stems from them, but these are not laws that make homosexuality even criminally punishable. Sort of on the face of it, they're kind of minor legislative measures, right? But what they do is they force people into hiding and they force people to stop telling their stories, they make it dangerous to be a LGBT person in the world. They make that itself a crime. That's exactly because it is so powerful to tell your story. When we look at public opinion polls, of course, in Russia the support for the propaganda law directly correlated with the fact that most Russians believe they didn't know any LGBT people personally. They thought they were abstractions. It's very easy to ban, to hate, and to call for violence against abstractions. It's much harder to do that when it's somebody in your own family, in your own neighborhood, in your own apartment building.
MASSEY: Thank you. Let's now open it up. It's 11:30 here and we want to make sure we get some questions in for those who are participating. So, Carrie over to you.
STAFF: (Gives queueing instructions.) At the moment, we don't have any questions, so Ms. Massey, I'll turn it back over to you and let you know when we do.
MASSEY: Wonderful. Well while you all are thinking, Masha, let me follow up with something that you said. What about other social movements? What about Black Lives Matter? Are there a power in numbers of momentum that you're seeing and you're reporting that's just relevant to today's discussion?
GESSEN: I'm sorry. I'm not sure I understand the question.
MASSEY: I am curious about other movements. So racial justice and what we saw after George Floyd's murder and the galvanizing effect and the power of activism. I'm curious if you in your own reporting, have a sense of - you talked about the push as a way to have people silenced and in the shadows with the threat. Are there some things that we can in solidarity, the LGBTQ movement, with other movements, with the women's justice, with racial justice? Is there a strength in that solidarity? Obviously, Jennifer and Julie would love to hear from you too.
GESSEN: Well, yeah, the answer is, of course. And the answer is also that in this country, in large part because of the gains that we made in the 1990s and the noughties, queer people are in the vanguard of the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, in the vanguard of progressive social movements in general. I wouldn't even call it solidarity, right? It's one movement. And we actually see that everywhere. We see that in Poland, where the huge feminist protests that broke out in the fall, again, LGBT people were at the center of those mass protests. Both to the people leading the movement and participating in the movement, but also to the other side, you know, these issues are almost indistinguishable. We are, in fact, talking about the future versus the past. In a sense, it's not an oversimplification. All of these things go - social progress is a vast agenda and one issue is inseparable from the other and the autocrats understand that as well. It is beneficial for them to focus on LGBT people. Because it's such a specific, and to a lot of people such an alien thing, that you can very quickly other it. But it's a standard for social progress in general.
MASSEY: Yes, inextricably linked, for sure. I think it also speaks to the power of storytelling that sometimes those connections aren't so clear, some of those stories aren't told, and some of the leadership, the early leadership, are not as visible and that's changing now.
I hear we have some questions. So, Carrie, over to you.
STAFF: We'll take our first question from Ricardo Tavares.
Q: Can you hear me well?
Q: Thank you. I have a question for each of the speakers. So Camille can manage how she wants to allocate that. For Jennifer, what do you see the conditions for LGBT rights in mainland China? Masha, how do you compare the situation in Russia today to the days of the Soviet Union? And for Julie, we have seen that the EU has taken a stand on the Hungary anti-LGBT law, do you see the U.S. able to make a contribution on that issue as well? Thank you.
MASSEY: Thank you. Excellent trio question. Julie, since we've already discussed this law, let's hear what your thoughts are?
DORF: Well, my understanding from the folks at the State Department is that they have weighed in at senior levels. That's often about as much external information as we're privy to because mostly the sort of quiet diplomacy that happens behind the scenes is not something that, you know, it's quiet. They don't put it out. They don't tweet about it, typically, although I think we did have one public statement from both the press secretary in D.C. and also from the embassy.
But, honestly, I think that this is - I mean, there needs to be a lot of pressure on Hungary, but Hungary doesn't particularly care about our position right now. And, in fact, having the U.S., make a big deal about it kind of just is exactly what they want. It just feeds this, I guess, to use Masha's past versus present orientation, the conflict that they actually want to be able to utilize politically. So, I think it's a tough one. I think it's a very tough one in terms of what the U.S. could do.
I think one thing the U.S. could do more of is actually put money into the Global Equality Fund for civil society groups who are fighting for social change in the country. I think there's plenty there, the Hungarian movement is smart, it's sophisticated. Another thing the U.S. could be doing more of is tracking our own homophobic, typically what I would call anti-LGBT extremists, who feed both with resources and with rhetoric, extremism, and the growth of transnational extremism is intense. There's like forty Proud Boy chapters around the world today, as opposed to last year. I think there is more that our country could do to try to stem some of that type of influence. But it's a tough one and I think the EU really needs to be smart about how they handle Hungary and Poland.
MASSEY: Thank you, Julie. Good points. I know you've done some work particularly on Uganda and Kenya about those U.S. influences and perhaps we'll have a chance to talk about that as well.
Masha, I remember after the 2008 elections, there was an article you had written on autocracy, and I think it was the New York Review of Books. I was one of many trying to read the article and couldn't even get in there were so many pings. But let's hear your thoughts on the question.
GESSEN: So, it's hard to compare the current moment to an entire seventy-year period of history. And so I'm going to choose a way to go with this question, which is that the seventy-years of Soviet totalitarianism were an indescribably horrible time for humanity, LGBT people obviously included. I'd say, a generation before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a sense that people could create sort of below the radar communities. There was a lot of that all over the country, people carved out spaces of safety for themselves. Certainly starting in the late 1980s and probably through the 2010s, there was a sense that while LGBT people certainly didn't have the rights, with actually the notable exception of some rights for trans people, did not have the rights that their counterparts in the United States and Western Europe did. But there was a movement forward, there was a greater openness, you could compare one year to a period of a couple of years ago and see that there were more people in the public sphere, there were more people in your workplace, you felt safer on a daily level, and you might even have come out to your family. I think that one of the most difficult things about the developments of the last ten years or so, is this sense of reversal of sort of history being thrown into reverse, which takes an incredible psychological toll. I think it is, in some ways, harder to live in a society that's foreclosing your future, and where you actively see it happening, than to live in a society where you know things are pretty awful for everybody, but it is a kind of timeless space in which you carve out a sense of safety. I'm trying to phrase this carefully to not romanticize the Soviet period in any way, far be it for me to do that. But I do want to convey this sense that things are getting worse and the sense that hope is being taken away from you from one day to the next. That's really, really devastating.
MASSEY: Now, let's turn to Jennifer. I think what we've heard from what you've done in Taiwan, there is also a feeling right now that you're carefully watching China. How are you thinking about this and what are you seeing about any changes on the mainland?
LU: Okay, so, first, I think it's very interesting that every time I share our LGBT movement in Taiwan, always the question related to China. (Laughs.) I think it's an interesting point that we can like deeper, have some more discussion afterwards. But I believe, especially in this event, I believe a lot of people understand that China and Taiwan we have very conflicting relationship recently. I think especially our current government when won the elections in 2016, and which the marriage equality campaign started. So I believe the passage of the marriage law shows that our civil society and our current government choose a different direction from the Beijing government right now, which is democracy. So because our democracy - I think the marriage equality campaign strengthened our democratic system. I believe that whole civil society and the Taiwanese society practiced over and over again through the campaign. I believe, also, the law passed impacts not only other Asian countries, including China.
So internationally, a lot of people suddenly saw Taiwan and a lot of people ask me, "Why can Taiwan achieve this milestone?" I would say civil society and democracy are the most fundamental reason that we can be the first in Asia. Also, I see that at least first in Asia, is Taiwan's opportunity for participating in international affairs more. On the one hand, being the first has created huge visibility for Taiwan internationally. Other Asian countries also see the hope, including China, because we do share some cultures and the languages. The Beijing government really hard to answer the international journalists about Taiwan's marriage law, when we passed the law, and they don't know how to explain this complicated situation. But we do impact people, and not only people in Taiwan, but around Asia. On the other hand, Taiwan has been excluded from international participation for a really, really long time. So the U.S. foreign policy has shifted the direction to support LGBT community globally more, I think. We can use, as Taiwanese government or our Taiwanese activists, use this topic as one of our tools or the platform to create more collaboration in the region and internationally.
MASSEY: Thank you, all. Carrie, do we have another question?
STAFF: We'll take our next question from Ari Shaw.
Q: Thank you. Thanks Camille and thanks to this incredible panel. I'm Ari Shaw with the Williams Institute. Julie, you mentioned the work to be done especially in the development and foreign assistance space. I think one of the challenges is the lack of data on the particular impact of social and economic exclusion of LGBTIQ people. So often policymakers are making decisions in the dark or based on stereotypes. What more can the U.S. government be doing as part of this renewed commitment to advance LGBTIQ rights in terms of data collection and really bolstering the evidence base for this work?
MASSEY: Thank you, Ari.
DORF: There's a ton. This is not my area of great expertise, but I know lots of people are requesting disaggregated data in a number of spaces. We've been requesting it in terms of the State Department, relative to immigration and refugee work, as well as in the PEPFAR space, and then writ large in the development space. You know, there's a lot of hesitancy around the issue of asking people to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. There's a fear. There's a motto, a very important one of "do no harm." But sometimes do no harm becomes an excuse for not doing anything and that's a big one in the data world. There are amazing best practices out there on how to anonymize data and how to not get people in trouble for self-disclosing. And, of course, making questions optional but giving people the opportunity to disclose makes it so much more useful for - just take the refugee situation, if we don't know if a refugee is LGBT when they come into our country and we decide that they are going to go be resettled in a state that has no anti-discrimination laws, we're actually not doing them any service. We want to be able to know who people are and we want to be able to have our services and our programs be appropriate and effective.
So there's an enormous road to climb to be integrating data. One of the things that the U.S. government does in, I think it's over ninety countries in the world, we do these big demographic surveys. We fund actual kind of census style data collection in a lot of countries for health purposes, primarily. I'm excited to see some sexual orientation, gender identity questions get included in that. It would be enormous amount of information for those countries and folks in those countries, but also for the global movement. So thanks for the question, Ari, and thanks for all that the Williams Institute does to do data collection and document the situation around the world.
MASSEY: Agree a lot of expertise there at the Williams Institute, and at OutRight, and a number of organizations. I think this is so critically important. Do we have another question, Carrie?
STAFF: We'll take our next question from Robert Kushen.
Q: Thanks. And Julia and Masha, our paths crossed at Open Society Foundation, once upon a time. I now work for Porticus Foundation, which sometimes describes itself as "faith inspired." And it's a little dismaying for me to see the negative role that so many faith organizations played in promoting anti-LGBTQ ideology around the world. I'm hoping you could cheer me up and give me some examples where faith organizations and communities have played a positive role or if you have any thoughts about how we could engage faith communities to try to promote the respect for human rights of LGBT communities around the world? Thanks.
MASSEY: Wonderful. Julie, would you like to start with that? Or Jennifer?
LU: I think we need to encourage each other. (Laughs.) It's extremely difficult. Even in Taiwan, we have two different groups of Christian churches. They usually don't work together, and they speak in different local languages and they support different political parties. But during the marriage campaign, they became like hand-in-hand working closely, like they never hated each other, against LGBT community. But even we experienced that. We think we find the strength to work together to face the reality and the reality is a lot of them still don't really understand and know someone who is LGBT, and they have a lot of fears. So for me, although I do not belong to any faith community, but I have a lot of very good friends, they are suffering and they try to build up a support system for themselves within the churches, different kinds of churches. So it's a very difficult period of time. But like what I said, the conservatives, they work very hard against us. I think to find an ally is the most important thing we are doing here right now. But just want to let you know, even in Taiwan, we are like twelve hours difference, but we're still working very hard. So don't give up.
DORF: You know, I think that the most important thing is to really lift up more moderate voices across all the faiths. I think the vast majority of people of faith are not homophobes and it's really the voices of the extremes that take up a very disproportionate amount of space. Part of our job is to make sure that we don't actually pit LGBT rights against freedom of religion rights, which is another scare tactic that's used by our opposition to discredit and make people afraid of progress. And, in fact, the vast majority of LGBT people are also people of faith, who belong to different faith traditions and are often denied their own ability to enact that side of their lives because of intolerance. But it really is the extremes of religion that are the problem, and it's important that we lift up the affirming voices wherever possible.
MASSEY: Carrie, do we have another question?
STAFF: The next question from Ryan Kaminski.
Q: Thank you so much. It's been a terrific panel and very, very informative. A fairly general question, just seeing if anyone has thoughts on recent trends with business engagement or partnerships on global LGBTI human rights? Thank you so much.
MASSEY: Wonderful. Who's eager to take that? Unmute.
LU: Sorry, can I clarify the question? Can you say that again?
MASSEY: Yes, Ryan?
Q: Sure. So engagement with the private sector or the role of the private sector specifically on promoting LGBTI human rights. Looking at recent trends of certain companies, whether on Twitter, or what have you, everyone changing the icon to a rainbow but then finding out there's been donations to certain anti-LGBTI politicians or just anything more generally in this area? Thank you so much.
MASSEY: Important question.
DORF: You know, when business is at its best on LGBT rights, it's not so much about product promotion during Pride, but it's more about, for example, in Japan, which also has a very significant marriage campaign going on right now, when businesses actually take the lead and say to the Japanese government that actually marriage equality would be good for us, it's helpful to our work, it's helpful to be able to have our employees be able to work across borders, and it's actually more productive in our companies to have people feel free and affirmed. That's a very useful contribution to the movement. Yeah, I'll just leave it at that. Jennifer?
GESSEN: Well, yeah, I'd like to add something. I think this is where American LGBT organizations could play a very important role and have failed to play an important role. A lot of multinational companies that enjoy sterling reputations in the United States as LGBT friendly, in large part thanks to the various ratings that major U.S. LGBT organizations create of LGBT friendly companies. And yet they have disparate policies across the world. And where it actually comes the most, in countries where LGBT people are under attack, they do not protect their LGBT employees. We could help people in those countries by demanding that multinational corporations institute uniform policies for their employees around the world. Very simple things like providing health insurance for same-sex partners, regardless of whether this is in the United States, or in Russia, where it's much cheaper to provide health insurance and matters a whole lot. And it's up to U.S.-based LGBT organizations to demand that of multinational corporations, it wouldn't be a very heavy lift, and I haven't seen anybody pick that up.
LU: Yeah, I just want to echo Masha because we do see a lot of multinational companies they promote a lot of LGBT rights in the States, but for their other like different companies locally, they always say, "Oh, they need to respect the local culture and need to respect the local policies." But there are still a lot of things they can do within the company, including the same-sex partnership benefits and also take leadership. I think Julie mentioned a very good example in Japan. But in Taiwan, our multinational companies in the past, they usually want to not to pick a side, or they think during the marriage campaign, they thought it was a very sensitive topic so they want to wait and see what's going on next. But right after we passed the law, you can see like everybody celebrating, like everybody has the rainbow products, like everybody wants to participate in Pride. But during those three and a half years, this topic become very sensitive it was. So it's a little bit sad but, I will say, for other countries, I encourage people do better work to treat your employees equally. I think that's the very first step you can do.
MASSEY: Well, I want to take this moment to thank you all for participating and especially our speakers who have done some very deep thinking and really incredible work in this area. We've covered a lot of territory today, and we're ending on that hopeful encouragement note of much more to come. So thanks to the Council. And again, thank you all for joining us today.