The U.S. Agency for International Development has appointed Jay Gilliam to lead its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights around the world.
Gilliam was previously the director of the Human Rights Campaign Global program.
The Texas native worked at USAID from 2012-2016. Todd Larson, a retired U.N. official who became USAID’s senior LGBTQ coordinator in 2014, is among those with whom Gilliam worked.
“Both of those experiences taught me about the importance of being able to really talk about this work and amplify it and the ways to do that safely, but also the ways that it’s really important for the U.S. government to be able to lead in this space,” Gilliam told the Washington Blade on Dec. 15 during a telephone interview.
“Being in touch with so many strong advocates and leaders from around the world through that position I think gives me a stronger sense of the needs of the community, the connections,” he added, referring to his HRC work. “Hopefully I can bring into the work that USAID is doing and open doors and get support and resources to those advocates and leaders.”
Gilliam’s position, senior LGBTQI+ coordinator, is within USAID’s Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation. He said he has “an open line to” USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who is a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights.
Power on Dec. 6 tweeted a picture of her meeting with Gilliam.
“With decades of global human rights experience, including many years at USAID and HRC, Jay has trained advocates across the globe to advance LGBTQI+ equality,” tweeted Power. “We’re thrilled to have his expertise in this role.”
Gilliam told the Blade his “overall vision” is to “make it easier for USAID staff and our partners” to advance LGBTQ-specific issues and to “make it easier” for activists around the world “to engage with the agency.”
“For me, this kind of means helping us to recognize advocates better understand USAID’s work,” he said. “This means learning from LGBTQI+ people around the world about their needs and co-creating and resourcing projects that best respond to those needs.”
“This means creating and sharing tools necessary for those of us at USAID and our partners, as well as the broader global development community and global LGBTQI+ community, to better integrate the needs identified for LGBTQI+ persons,” added Gilliam.
Gilliam said he will work to ensure USAID is “giving rightful attention to all parts of our community, the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q and I and all those along the spectrum so that we can really understand and help and support and get people or maybe more attention to those that haven’t gotten it yet.” Gilliam also told the Blade that he is committed to intersectionality.
“I always like to think about it from my own perspective of being black and gay and sitting in many different communities and seeing the way that I am included or not included in that work,” he said. “And I think about that in relation to the needs from the global LGBTQI+ community and the way that they might have multiple identities that include privileges, that include being marginalized by broader society.”
“There’s thinking through and working with colleagues at USAID who are also working with marginalized communities and making sure that we are also paying attention to where our work intersects and being able to shine a spotlight and address the needs coming out of those intersectional communities,” added Gilliam. “For me, it actually also means working in an integrated way across our development space. And so, while there is clearly a need to focus on human rights efforts with LGBTQI+ community and addressing needs of violence, stigma, discrimination, criminalization, there’s also lots of other ways and needs that our community has that USAID is working on.”
Gilliam said expanding economic and educational opportunities are among the other aspects of USAID’s work that directly impact LGBTQ people.
“Focusing on the way that we are integrating LGBTQI+ issues across the agency and the work that it does, it’s also for me and intersectional way to look at this work,” he told the Blade.
The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Gilliam told the Blade his position “is a reflection of how USAID is able to” implement the directive.
“It gives me the opportunity to engage with people around the agency to say that this is an administration priority that is really important for folks to be able to work on,” said Gilliam.