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Latest News

  • AmeriCorps Expands Presence in Tribal Communities

    During his June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in Cannonball, North Dakota, the President re-emphasized the Administration’s focus on strengthening Native American communities through education and economic development. Thus, as part of the Obama administration’s commitment to create lasting change in Indian Country, we are pleased to announce $3 million in AmeriCorps grants to support Native American communities. 

    These funds will bolster President Obama’s priorities for tribal communities and increase the number of AmeriCorps members serving these communities by 41 percent. AmeriCorps members serving in these programs – most of whom will be recruited from Indian Country – will be eligible to earn $1 million in education scholarships to help pay for college or repay their student loans -- putting them on track for greater economic opportunity in the future.

    Through these 17 tribal grants – the highest number approved in the past decade – the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will support more than 250 AmeriCorps members serving with tribal organizations in 13 states. AmeriCorps members will serve side-by-side with tribal elders and local leaders. They will work to tackle key issues facing Native American communities:

  • President Obama Hosts Iftar Dinner at the White House

    President Obama hosts 2014 Iftar dinner

    President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room of the White House, July 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the White House Blog. See the original post here.

    Last night, President Obama hosted his sixth Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan at the White House, an annual tradition started by First Lady Hillary Clinton when she hosted a Ramadan Eid celebration dinner in 1996. Many consider President Thomas Jefferson to be the first President to host an Iftar dinner, as he hosted a sunset dinner to accommodate the fasts of an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago.

    The Iftar is the meal after sunset that concludes the day of fasting during the month of Ramadan, a time to pray and reflect, to be reminded that we are equals in humanity, and to reaffirm commitments to helping the less fortunate, including those struggling from economic hardship and inequality.

    Last night, guests were welcomed into the East Wing where a copy of the Quran owned by President Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was on display from the Library of Congress. At sunset, guests gathered in the Grand Foyer to break their fast with a date following the traditional melodic Muslim call to prayer led by a local student from the University of Maryland. Then finally, after a 16-hour day of fasting since sunrise, guests gathered in the State Dining Room for a halal meal with the President.

  • Moving Forward with USAID's LGBT Vision for Action

    Ed. note: This blog is cross posted on the USAID Blog. See the original post here.

    Rainbow Pride Rally in Kolkata

    India: A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag during a Rainbow Pride rally in Kolkata on July 15, 2012. More than 500 people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and supporters participated in the annual event to show solidarity and to create awareness about their basic rights. June 15, 2014. (by Dibyangshu Sarkar)

    With June’s Pride month celebrations behind us, I reflect on the reasons I celebrated.

    Reverberations continue from President Obama’s ground-breaking Memorandum of December 2011, which outlined the U.S. Government’s commitment to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks around the world. USAID continues to take a lead among foreign affairs agencies in fulfilling the tenets of the Presidential Memorandum, recently issuing its own document: USAID LGBT Vision for Action.

    USAID’s vision is a world in which the basic and universal human rights of LGBT persons are respected and they are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination, persecution and violence. In this world, LGBT persons are able to participate fully in democratic decision-making in their households, communities and countries; have equal access to sustainable livelihoods, economic assets and resources; are not barred from accessing the basic education, health and other services that are enjoyed by their fellow citizens and that are essential for personal well-being and growth.

    In Colombia, for example, USAID has worked hard to build the skills of LGBT leaders so they can participate fully and effectively in democratic processes. We are supporting a project designed to extend democratic governance and respect for human rights to all Colombians, as well as mainstream LGBT and other vulnerable populations’ rights (e.g. through improving relations with law enforcement and pursuing legal cases to enforce human rights). Our Colombian civil society partners are developing advocacy and policy strategies, improving relations with law enforcement, pursuing legal cases to enforce human rights abuses, and raising awareness to institutionalize a culture of respect for LGBT rights.

    Demonstrator Holding Rainbow Flag in Bratislava

    Slovakia: A demonstrator holds a rainbow flag in Bratislava on June 9, 2012, during the Rainbow Pride Parade, a march for the human rights of non-heterosexual people and the celebration of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) pride in Slovakia. June 9, 2014. (by Samuel Kubani)

    The first Pride celebration I attended, decades ago, was small, apologetic and attended by only a furtive few. My calendar this past June couldn’t possibly have accommodated all the events hosted by the White House and federal agencies across Washington, D.C., let alone the numerous events hosted by USAID missions across the more than 80 countries in which we work. Near the end of June, I co-moderated a session at the first ever White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights.

    When I first engaged as an American in the struggle for the human rights of LGBT folks around the world, it was often difficult to identify local LGBT representatives with whom to interface. Today they have bravely and proudly organized in most countries. They guide us, and trust us to join forces with them, shoulder to shoulder, as they live and breathe and move their cultures and countries toward realization of the Martin Luther King Jr. teaching: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

    Participant in LGBT Flashmob in Vietnam

    Vietnam: A participant dances during a flashmob organised by the local LGBT community in Hanoi on September 23, 2012. Two first ever flashmobs by LGBT communities were held at the same time in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two largest cities. September 23, 2013. (by Dinh Nam)

    Soon after arriving at USAID, four months ago, I travelled to Uganda to meet with some of these brave, proud individuals. I came away not only bowed by the enormity of their challenges and the urgency and critical importance of supporting them, but also – by virtue, above all, of their brilliance and tenacity – convinced of the inevitability of their success.

    While many of us celebrated this June openly and joyously, others of us were forced to do so behind closed doors, shielding ourselves from hostile environments. In some 80 countries around the world, same-gender consensual relations are criminalized; in a half dozen countries, same-gender consensual relations are punishable by death. In countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, this past year saw backsliding of enormous and tragic proportions.

    To say that there is a lot of work ahead is to state the obvious. At the same time, more than ever before in my lifetime, I understood and joined in the celebrations of Pride month 2014.  I look forward to Pride month 2015, and celebrating the further achievements of our global community.

    Todd Larson is the Senior Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Coordinator at USAID.

  • We Read, We Moved, We Volunteered!

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the Corporation for National & Community Service blog. See the original post here.

    We had a great time today as we kicked off Let’s Read! Let’s Move! for the summer. CEO Wendy Spencer teamed up with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to take a field trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, celebrating its 10th birthday this year.

    Wendy, Secretary Duncan, and friends read a book called The Butterfly Dance to the students, who had just been introduced to native culture and traditions in an interactive activity that included dancing, music, and a horse-dressing demo. After the reading (which Wendy also acted out!), the students got active again with fun, physical challenges led by The Washington Kastles, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, and AmeriCorps members. Students got to try such activities as Iglu Building, ‘Ulu Maika Hawaiian Bowling, Yup’ik Yo-Yo, and tennis — and enjoyed healthy snacks along the way.

    Museum Director Kevin Gover welcomed everyone along with special guests Broderick Johnson, assistant to the President and cabinet secretary; Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior policy advisor for nutrition policy; and the Washington Kastles with Head Coach Murphy Jensen.

  • Justice and Identity

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Labor's blog. See the original post here.

    As we celebrate Pride Month and approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Labor Department is reaffirming its commitment to equal opportunity for all. That’s why we are updating enforcement protocols and anti-discrimination guidance to clarify that we provide the full protection of the federal non-discrimination laws that we enforce to transgender individuals.

    These changes reflect current law. In Macy v. Holder, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that discrimination because a person is transgender is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and Civil Rights Center, along with the Employment and Training Administration, will issue guidance to make clear that discrimination on the basis of transgender status is discrimination based on sex. While the department has long protected employees from sex-based discrimination, its guidance to workers and employers will explicitly clarify that this includes workers who identify as transgender. The department will continue to examine its programs to identify additional opportunities to extend the law’s full protection against discrimination to transgender workers.

    Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American Dream excludes no one.

    Tom Perez is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

  • Let’s Move! in Indian Country Celebrates Third Anniversary

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the Let's Move! blog. See the original post here.

    Earlier this month, Let’s Move! in Indian Country (LMIC) celebrated its third anniversary at the Pueblo of Zuni in New Mexico. The Pueblo of Zuni exemplifies a community-driven effort to prevent childhood obesity by implementing innovative programming that is firmly based on their traditions and culture. The Zuni commitment to improving the health of youth and families is also evidenced by their partnerships with the IHS, Nike N7 Fund, and the Notah Begay III Foundation.

    Zuni Youth Traditional Dancers kick off LMIC 3rd Anniversary events in Zuni with Butterfly Dance

    Zuni Youth Traditional Dancers kick off LMIC 3rd Anniversary events in Zuni with Butterfly Dance. In honor of the First Lady’s Pollinator Garden, the dance recognized the butterfly for its beauty and its contribution in pollinating plant life.

  • President Obama Meets with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Jeria

    Today, the President hosted Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Jeria at the White House. The meeting was an opportunity to reinforce the long-standing partnership between the United States and Chile and deepen our cooperation in areas such as trade and economic integration; energy, education, and science and technology; and peacekeeping, global security, and socioeconomic development. 

    Building off the successful 2004 U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement and Chile’s designation into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program earlier this year, the United States and Chile will sign a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA).  The agreement will facilitate trade by fostering information exchanges to prevent customs offenses.  Moving forward, the United States and Chile are both committed to concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which will set the bar for 21st century trade and investment standards and create new opportunities for our exporters.

    We are also breaking new ground in our small business development cooperation. The Bachelet Administration’s decision to establish 50 Small Business Development Centers throughout Chile is laudable and the United States stands ready to support Chile’s efforts.  The United States Small Business Administration and Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Chilean Ministry of Economy, will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Promoting Entrepreneurship and the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. This will enhance economic integration and job creation by connecting our countries’ small business support infrastructure.  On energy, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation is providing a loan of almost a quarter billion dollars to assist in the construction of a solar power plant in northern Chile.  This project will support over 400 jobs in the United States, and create roughly 70 jobs in Chile.

    Presidents Obama and Bachelet also understand the importance of collaborating together to build a safer and more secure hemisphere.  Our development agencies are launching a new partnership in the Caribbean that will begin by combining assets and expertise to work together in areas such as youth employment, good governance, and countering gender-based violence.  In addition to development cooperation, the United States and Chile stand together in support of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the Global Health Security Agenda, and the Nuclear Security Summit.

    The best investment in the future of countries will be in our people, which is why President Obama is excited to continue promoting the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, which he announced during his visit to Chile in 2011.  This initiative seeks to increase educational exchanges between U.S. and Latin American students, and Chile is one of our most supportive and promising partners in this regard. 

    Working with President Bachelet, we will increase the level of academic exchanges beyond the 3,000 Americans that study in Chile and 2,000 Chileans that study in the United States per year. There is no better way to foster collaboration between the new and upcoming generations.

    This partnership between the US and Chile is one that the Administration is excited to see continue and flourish. 

  • Securing the Rights of All American Families

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Labor's blog. See the original post here.

    I like to call the Department of Labor the Department of Opportunity, and that means opportunity for everyone – no matter whom you love. As a civil rights attorney, I have dedicated much of my career to advancing LGBT equality, so this administration’s commitment to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the mainstream of American life is of critical importance to me. And there is nothing more mainstream than ensuring that all families get the respect and protection they deserve.

    It was a year ago today, June 26, that the Supreme Court issued its decision in U.S. vs. Windsor repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (known as DOMA). Since then, President Obama has instructed all Cabinet members to review relevant federal statutes and regulations to ensure full implementation of Windsor, and we have responded accordingly. Covered retirement and health employee benefit plans now have to extend otherwise eligible same-sex spouses the same protections as opposite-sex spouses. And we’ve updated our Family and Medical Leave Act guidance materials to remove all references to DOMA provisions that denied federal benefits to legally married, same-sex couples.