The Obama administration issued a rule on Tuesday that would bar contractors administering foreign aid programs through USAID from discriminating against LGBT people in providing services.
"This rule means that any organization that contracts with USAID must ensure that all people can benefit from its federally funded programs," National Security Advisor Susan Rice said during an event Wednesday at American University in Washington. "It's a major step towards ensuring that American assistance is provided in a fair and equitable manner."
The rule does not apply to discrimination against LGBT people in employment, however. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2014 banning federal contractors working within the US from discriminating against LGBT people, but the order did not cover groups working overseas. The rule also only applies to the foreign aid dollars distributed by USAID, which accounts for roughly half of the annual foreign aid budget.
Organizations that support LGBT rights applauded the new rule, but some urged the Obama administration to apply the same nondiscrimination standards for contractors regardless of where they work.
"It's an important first step, but we are still looking for full employment protection to parallel the protections that already exist domestically," Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, which promotes LGBT rights in US foreign policy, told BuzzFeed News.
It's not immediately clear how broadly this rule will be applied, but it could potentially touch on some of the most sensitive areas of US foreign aid. For example, Bromley said, it could be used to argue that US HIV-prevention dollars cannot go to organizations that advocate against LGBT rights, such as the religious organizations that ran HIV programs in Uganda while simultaneously campaigning for a sweeping Anti-Homosexuality Act enacted in 2014. (It was later struck down by the country's Constitutional Court.)
Some major foreign aid contractors are faith based, including the evangelical Christian organization World Vision and agencies affiliated with the Catholic Church.
"The new Obama administration rule has no impact to World Vision because we do not discriminate in our administration of aid," said spokesperson Cynthia Colin. "World Vision US programs serve the world’s poor regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation."
US Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to request for comment.
Ambassador Rice also called for expanding the representation of LGBT people in the national security workforce and continuing to promote for LGBT rights in international organizations and in relationships with foreign governments.
"To every person who might still be struggling with who they are trying to reconcile who they love with the faith and traditions that love," Rice said, "I know this: We see you, we hear you, we are here for you."