Introducing USAID’s New Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator

Jay Gilliam shares how he will support the Biden-Harris Administration and Administrator Power in advancing global LGBTQI+ rights and inclusive development

In 2019, Jay Gilliam joined LGBTQI+ advocates from Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to share strategies in support of LGBTQI+ youth. / Courtesy of Jay Gilliam

USAID is recommitting to LGBTQI+ inclusive development. Jay Gilliam (he/him/his) was recently appointed to lead these renewed efforts to advance protections, human rights, and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities in the Agency’s global development and humanitarian assistance work. Jay brings his previous experiences from around the world, at USAID, and as a civil society advocate to this role.

USAID recently sat down with Jay to learn more about why the Biden-Harris Administration and Administrator Power value advancing global LGBTQI+ human rights and inclusive development, along with his vision for leading the Agency’s work in this space. He also shared lessons learned from his prior time at USAID and his work with the global LGBTQI+ community.

Why is the Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator position important for USAID?

From day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has communicated clear, unequivocal support for advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world. In February, President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum to mandate that USAID and all agencies involved in foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ people.

Administrator Power, who has been a long-time champion of LGBTQI+ human rights, also fully supports this work at the Agency. Since she joined USAID, she has continually reiterated the importance of USAID’s work to advance LGBTQI+ inclusive development, most recently in a speech outlining her New Vision for Global Development. In that speech, she announced goals to make USAID programs more accessible and equitable by pushing forward with changes that will enable our staff to better focus our programs so they reach marginalized groups, including LGBTQI people.

So, this position will ensure we are making tangible progress on the Presidential Memorandum and Administrator Power’s vision for LGBTQI+ inclusive development.

Jay gave a talk in the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi to Vietnamese citizens about the history of the social movement in the U.S. to advance LGBTQI+ human rights. / Courtesy of Jay Gilliam

What is your experience in this space?

As a member of the LGBTQI+ community, I have long sought to advocate for safe and inclusive spaces for us. That started in college and moved beyond our borders when I first traveled abroad — to Tokyo. Since then, I have been fortunate to formally work on global LGBTQI+ issues from a variety of vantage points. During the Obama Administration, I led USAID communications and public engagement efforts on LGBTQI+ inclusive development work. I also served as the Director of Global Programs at the Human Rights Campaign, where I worked alongside advocates, organizations, and movements around the world to advance equality for LGBTQI+ people everywhere.

Growing up in religiously conservative Texas and not seeing Black queer people recognized and applauded for being their full, authentic selves — whether in Black or queer communities — has given me unique insights into this work. When thinking about the global LGBTQI+ space, I often think about all of the different identities that people bring to the fight to be visible and valued.

What is the history of LGBTQI+ inclusive development at USAID?

USAID programs have always, in some form, strived to reach marginalized populations, including LGBTQI+ people. Yet only in the past decade has there been an intentional, explicit focus on how our programs impact LGBTQI+ people. President Obama’s historic Memorandum from Dec. 6, 2011 first directed the U.S. Government to engage on LGBTQI+ issues abroad.

USAID made a number of advancements during the Obama-Biden Administration, including supporting research and programs like in 2013 the first-of-its-kind LGBTI Global Development Partnership, and in 2014 the appointment of a Senior LGBTI Coordinator, the launch of the policy document LGBT Vision for Action, and the hosting of the LGBTI donor conference.

Now, we have renewed opportunities to work on LGBTQI+ inclusive development after the last Administration deemphasized it. We can build on work that endured, like human rights grant support, continued partnerships, and new sectoral guidance in education and resilience and food security.

What is your vision for advancing LGBTQI+ inclusive development?

First, I am grateful for the work being done by our existing LGBTQI+ team. They have continued to find ways to maintain and make new inroads under challenging circumstances. I am also mindful that my vision must be co-created and shared with all of those who have been and are working in this space — both global LGBTQI+ activists and USAID staff in Washington and Missions around the world. So these ideas come with the humility that my initial vision will grow and change.

My vision for advancing LGBTQI+ inclusive development includes:

  • Ensuring USAID’s programs and work are more accessible to LGBTQI+ people.
  • Accelerating and revitalizing integration efforts across development sector programs and policies.
  • Increasing visibility and leadership.
  • Transforming recommendations from research and reports into action.
In 2018, Jay Gilliam joined LGBTQI+ advocates and allies from across Africa and the world at the Pan-Africa ILGA conference, including Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. / Courtesy of Jay Gilliam

USAID will continue to support efforts to protect the LGBTQI+ community from violence, discrimination, stigma, and criminalization. We will also support LGBTQI+ livelihoods, health, quality education, access to justice, and so much more.

Anything more you’d like to share?

As a gay Black kid from Texas who barely left the state — let alone the U.S. — until college, I’m humbled to serve in this position advancing fundamental human dignity.

I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves to lead, grow, and elevate USAID’s work to advance LGBTQI+ inclusive development.

About the Author

Jay Gilliam is USAID’s Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator, serving as the Agency’s lead to elevate issues concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other people of diverse genders and sexualities.

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