LGBT Rights as Human Rights

Kenneth Kero Mentz
Alumnus Leads at Department of State
March 01, 2013

“I serve as a cheerleader for LGBT rights as human rights throughout the State Department by developing new ideas and pushing embassies overseas to protect and promote the rights of gay people,” said Kenneth Kero-Mentz, MPA ’98, the Senior Advisor on LGBT Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State.

As a member of the Foreign Service since January of 2000, Kero-Mentz has lived and worked in Brazil, Baghdad, Sri Lanka, Germany and Washington, D.C.

His current tour of duty in the State Department headquarters recently resulted in the department issuing its first LGBT Travel Advisory. It addresses such issues as what documents LGBT individuals and families should carry when traveling abroad, the policy of the U.S. Department of State regarding the passport identity of transgender travelers, and the HIV entry requirements of foreign countries. Additionally, because of the work of Kero-Mentz and his colleagues, the State Department is in the process of updating its Country Specific Information documents to reflect information about attitudes, harassment or arrests relating to LGBT travelers.

“There are many places in the world where you can be jailed or killed for having consensual sex with a partner of the same sex,” Kero-Mentz explained. His job is to make the world safer for LGBT people.

He credits his time at GW with helping him figure out his strengths and hone them. For Kero-Mentz, that meant an ability to diplomatically manage bureaucracy, succeed in challenging environments, work across groups and agencies and find those people who are ready to do the work to get things done.

“There are three kinds of people in any bureaucracy: the lazies, the crazies, and the people who get stuff done,” he said. “I’m good at finding the people who get things done and figuring out how we can work together to make things change.”

Kero-Mentz recently used his connections to send Judy and Dennis Shepard to five different countries in Europe to tell their story of losing their 21 year-old son, Matthew, to a murder motivated by anti-gay hate in 1998. Determined to prevent others from suffering their son’s fate, Judy and Dennis work toward the causes championed by Matthew during his life: social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

The Shepard’s tour and other ideas from Kero-Mentz are designed to help humanize LGBT issues for countries that have been slow to act on behalf of LGBT human rights.

“My job is to think outside the box and figure out the best ways to get our embassies to encourage their counterparts in other countries to also think outside the box so we can influence change,” he said.

Kero-Mentz can trace his outside the box thinking to his graduate school lessons.

“The MPA program taught me how review programs, initiatives, and projects critically, with an eye toward getting the most of individuals’ talents, and to always remember that everything we do is supported by taxpayer dollars,” he said. “Kathy Newcomer always reminded us: Make them count.  We have to get the biggest bang for our buck, with limited human resources, and on a tight schedule.”

For his next challenge, Kero-Mentz is planning to spend a year on a detail to the U.S. Congress encouraging representatives and senators to apply even more pressure on foreign governments to ensure that LGBT rights are seen as human rights around the world.

“It’s more cheerleading,” he explained. “Members of Congress can be extremely bold in calling for change. I can’t wait to see what we can do.”