Participants hold a giant rainbow flag during the Brussels LGBT Pride Parade on May 17, 2014.
Photo by Francois Lenoir/Reuters

State Department names first-ever special envoy for LGBT rights

For the first time ever, the United States will have a “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.”

The State Department appointed Randy Berry, who previously served as U.S. Consul General in the Netherlands, to the new position on Monday. In his role as special envoy, Berry will work toward ending violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world.

The announcement marks the Obama administration’s latest step on behalf of LGBT equality, which has been a key priority for this president.

RELATED: Red state sees first gay marriage

“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally – the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press statement. “That’s why we’re working to overturn laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct in countries around the world. It’s why we’re building our capacity to respond rapidly to violence against LGBT persons, and it’s why we’re working with governments, civil society, and the private sector through the Global Equality Fund to support programs advancing the human rights of LGBT persons worldwide.”

Although the LGBT equality movement has seen significant gains in the U.S. recently, it’s an entirely different story in other parts of the world. Of the 76 countries where it is currently illegal to be gay, 10 have laws making same-sex conduct punishable by death, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Transphobic violence also remains a serious problem globally – there were more than 200 reported cases of trans killings in 2014 alone, according to the European-based research project Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide.

Human right advocates applauded the State Department’s appointment of Berry on Monday. “We look forward to working with him to promote equality for LGBT people around the world, to support the activists who are working for change at great risk to themselves, and to ensure that the United States continues to make the protection of the human rights of all people a key foreign policy priority,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord in a statement.