By Alexandra Alper and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a presidential memorandum aimed at expanding protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people worldwide, including potentially through the use of financial sanctions.
"All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love," said the memorandum, building on a 2011 directive issued when Biden was serving as vice president.
"The United States belongs at the forefront of this struggle - speaking out and standing strong for our most dearly held values," the memorandum said.
While a presidential memorandum is largely symbolic, Biden campaigned on a pledge to pass LGBTQ rights legislation known as the Equality Act in the first 100 days of his administration and to make LGBTQ rights a top priority.
The memo directs U.S. agencies working abroad to work harder to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQ status or conduct, and directs the State Department to include anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination and laws in its annual human rights report.
It calls for increased efforts to ensure that LGBTQ asylum seekers have equal access to protection, expanded training for U.S. federal personnel, and potential increased use of priority referrals to expedite resettlement of vulnerable people.
And it instructs agencies to consider appropriate responses, including the full range of diplomatic tools, and potentially financial sanctions and visa restrictions, when foreign governments restricted the rights of LGBTQ people.
Biden announced the push during a forceful speech at the State Department, vowing to rebuild U.S. credibility worldwide.
"To further repair our moral leadership, I'm also issuing a presidential memo to agencies to reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally," he said.
"We'll ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance are working to promote the rights of those individuals, included by combating criminalization and protecting LGBTQ refugees and asylum-seekers."
Biden's campaign pledge included protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, ensuring fair treatment in the justice system and advancing LGBTQ rights globally.
Biden has already issued an executive order that extends existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said Biden "stands by" his pledge to sign the Equality Act in his first 100 days but noted that Congress would need to take action to pass a bill first.
(Reporting By Alexandra Alper, Jarrett Renshaw and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel)