NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rights advocates on Thursday praised a new U.S. government rule barring its foreign aid contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, as violence against the community continues globally.
The new rule by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the world's largest government aid agency, requires that organizations adhere to its standards of inclusiveness in the way they carry out services it funds.
U.S. groups advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights lauded the move which affects more than $20 billion in aid programs in over 100 countries.
"We're very pleased with the rule and with the effort," said Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, a Washington D.C.-based group that promotes LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy.
"This will make a difference - there are some U.S. implementers, particularly sub-contractors, in countries that are very hostile to LGBT individuals who have clearly discriminatory positions," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Discrimination against LGBT people has faced increased scrutiny globally in recent years.
The United States cut aid to Uganda in 2014 in response to a Ugandan law that imposed harsh penalties on homosexuality.
Last month, the United Nations appointed its first independent investigator to help protect the community worldwide from violence and discrimination.
And a U.N. report said last year that hundreds of LGBT people have been killed and thousands injured in recent years, in violence that included knife attacks, anal rape and genital mutilation.
In announcing the rule, Gayle Smith, USAID's head, said in a statement on Wednesday that it was "explicitly" turning into policy the established practice of working to ensure the agency's aid beneficiaries were not discriminated against.
Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Global Development, said that although the order was "more of a symbolic act" it was "sending an important signal".
Organizations delivering U.S. aid would particularly feel pressure in countries where USAID spends large sums of money but where discriminatory laws or policies against LGBT persons exist, Kenny said. He gave Afghanistan, Uganda and Ethiopia as examples.
Rules by government foreign aid agencies banning discrimination against LGBT people have precedents, namely in the United Kingdom and Sweden, said Tanvi Nagpal, associate director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C.
Despite welcoming the new rule, LGBT advocates called for USAID to go a step further in future rulemaking.
"Now, the priority for next administration must be to expand this rule to bar contractors ... from discriminating against LGBT people in employment," said Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, a New York City-based group that advocates for LGBT rights globally.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)