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US Envoy Welcomes Advances in LGBT Rights

FILE - Randy Berry, the U.S. State Department’s first international envoy for LGBT rights.

FILE - Randy Berry, the U.S. State Department’s first international envoy for LGBT rights.

Washington's first envoy for gay rights says there is an "emerging consensus worldwide that LGBT persons should enjoy the same rights as everyone else."

Randy Berry said Wednesday that his first year on the job was "extraordinary," with countries around the world taking positive steps to ensure the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

He notably welcomed advances in Vietnam, Nepal, Mozambique and Botswana.

"Nepal made history for its new constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — the first country in Asia to take that step," he said. Vietnam revised its civil code to make it easier for transgender persons to alter their legal identity. Mozambique decriminalized consensual adult same-sex relations, and courts in Botswana affirmed the right of an LGBT association to register as a formal organization.

But, despite the positive notes, Berry warned "we live in a world where nearly 80 countries still criminalize LGBT conduct or relations."

He singled out Russia and Nigeria as examples where "governments use LGBTI issues as a political wedge to bolster their own positions."

And "in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, lesbians and transgender persons face incredibly high rates of violence and rape."

Given this ongoing violence and discrimination, he said, "it’s no surprise that LGBTI individuals are fleeing their homes and their countries to avoid imprisonment, harassment, persecution, and at times, an almost certain death," as is the case in places under Islamic State control.

Berry is tasked with helping countries coordinate U.S. strategy on rights for the LGBT community, as well as to highlight such issues around the world.