Tony Blinken on the Putin summit and why the ‘democratic recession’ matters for LGBTQI rights

From refugee policy to foreign aid to an upcoming side event at the United Nations, protections for LGBTQI people are a focus of the Biden administration’s foreign policy, said Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. “This is a core human-rights issue, and we believe the United States belongs at the forefront of the fight, speaking out and standing up for our values,” Blinken said Monday at an Atlantic Council Front Page event in honor of Pride Month.

In a conversation with journalist Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post and MSNBC, while also fielding questions from State Department employees and others from around the world, Blinken set out the department’s priorities on LGBTQI issues both in its dealings with friends and foes abroad and with regard to improving LGBTQI diversity within the department’s workforce.

You can read the full transcript here. Below are some key takeaways from the discussion:

What really happened with Putin?

  • While the State Department has raised concerns over the case of two brothers in the LGBTQI community who were arrested on terrorism charges and returned to Chechnya, Blinken said, “We didn’t get into specific cases in that meeting, but we made very clear to President Putin that this is fundamentally who we are.”
  • When asked about Putin’s response, Blinken replied: “Well, it wouldn’t be fair of me to say what [Putin] said or didn’t say. But I think it’s fair to say that there was at least an acknowledgement of that basic fact of life: This is what an American president should do,” in advocating for LGBTQI individuals.  

Watch the full event

  • Reflecting more broadly on the “democratic recession” around the world, Blinken noted that “one of the markers of that recession” is, for LGBTQI people, “in a number of cases actual regression, moving backwards, when it comes to violence, when it comes to discrimination, when it comes to legal frameworks.”
  • Fighting back “really starts with putting democracy and human rights—including the rights of the LGBTQI communities—at the heart of our foreign policy,” Blinken said.
  • That means pushing back against discriminatory laws at the country level, with a special focus on what Blinken called “the plight of transgender people, especially people of color” who face disproportaionate violence.
  • Progress on this issue is “not like flipping a light switch,” Blinken said. “But if we’re doing it in a sustained, focused, and determined way, my hope is that over the next few years we’ll actually start to turn the corner and see progress again, not regression.”

Letting the flag fly

  • After former US President Donald Trump halted the practice of US embassies flying pride flags during the month of June, Blinken confirmed that in-country American diplomats are authorized to fly the flags once again. “When we’re trying to advance/defend/support the protection of LGBTQI persons around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that takes into account the specific situation/conditions in a given country,” Blinken said.
  • Blinken added that the State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom will fly the “progress flag” later this month, which is a variation on the pride flag that adds representation for trans people, people of color, and those living with HIV/AIDS. 
  • The flag is “a symbol that encompasses the diversity and intersectionality of LGBTQI persons and communities around the world,” Blinken said, adding that it will fly from June 26-28 in honor of the anniversaries of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide (June 26, 2015) and the Stonewall riots (June 28, 1969).

News on Afghanistan

  • Aside from the Pride Month-themed discussion, Blinken weighed in on special visas for Afghans who helped US troops, following a New York Times report about a bipartisan push in Congress to accelerate the visa process ahead of the full withdrawal of US forces from the country.
  • Blinken said he’s added fifty people to the team in Foggy Bottom processing these applications to ease the backlog, as about 9,000 Afghans have filled out paperwork for Special Immigrant Visas. “We’re going to Congress to get more of these visa allowances,” Blinken said. 
  • Asked whether these people, who often face threats for collaborating with the United States, could be evacuated to a third country while they await visas, Blinken said “we continue to look at every possible contingency to make sure that one way or another we can accommodate the demand. We haven’t ruled anything out.”

Daniel Malloy is the deputy managing editor at the Atlantic Council.

Read the transcript


Jun 21, 2021

Tony Blinken on putting the US ‘at the forefront of the fight’ for LGBTQI rights around the world

By Atlantic Council

The US secretary of state appeared at an Atlantic Council Front Page event in honor of Pride Month. Here’s the transcript.

Human Rights Politics & Diplomacy

Further reading

Image: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington on January 27, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria/Pool via Reuters.