Obama steps up global push on LGBT rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today (Tuesday, December 6) called on the governments of all nations to ensure that their LGBT citizens are treated with respect and dignity. In doing so, she also announced that President Obama was issuing a memorandum directing the State Department to lead an interagency group to provide a “swift and meaningful response” by the U.S. government to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.”

The memorandum and speech represent a dramatic escalation in the Obama administration’s support for the human rights and respectful treatment of LGBT people worldwide. And a State Department official said it was a follow-up to a statement signed in March by the United States and 85 other countries, calling for an end to violence and persecution against LGBT people.

President Obama’s memorandum directs federal agencies involved with dispensing aid and assistance to foreign countries to “enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

It also directs federal agencies to ensure that LGBT people seeking asylum or status as refugees have “equal access” to protections. And it calls on agencies engaged in activities in other countries to “strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.”

A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that he or she was not identified, told a group of reporters en route to Geneva Tuesday that the administration had “instructed ambassadors to challenge laws that criminalize LGBT status or conduct.”

“We’re putting some money into it,” said the official, of the memorandum’s aim. “We’re setting up a global equality fund, $3 million, to support [non-governmental organizational] activists working on this subject.”

The State Department released a transcript of the press briefing, including a question from a reporter who asked, “How does the Administration reconcile the fact that the President won’t explicitly endorse marriage for gay couples at home, but here you are touting human rights, of which marriage is one?”

The State Department official responded that Clinton’s speech in Geneva and the administration’s global policy on civil rights for LGBT people are “dealing with the first iteration of questions.”

“You don’t attack, you don’t commit a violent act, against somebody because of their sexual orientation. You don’t criminalize conduct,” said the official. “And so, we’re here, trying to, again, broadly speaking, identify a human right, a global human right, which starts with those fundamental principles and which is consistent with everything we’re doing across the board.”

The State Department official characterized the President’s memorandum and Clinton’s speech as “the most expansive articulation of what has…been a policy of the Administration from the get-go.”

The State Department official said the speech was being delivered at the Palais at United Nations headquarters in Geneva to an audience of invited members of “the diplomatic community and nongovernmental community and others….”

The speech was delivered in recognition of the 63rd anniversary of Human Rights Day, December 10, the date when the United Nations adopted a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It was webstreamed live at noon EDT Tuesday and appeared to take place before a relatively young and mostly white audience of about 500 people in a large auditorium. The audience gave Clinton and her speech a prolonged and warm reception.

But Clinton made clear she knew she was speaking to a tougher audience.

“Raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people,” said Clinton, “and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held person, political, cultural and religious beliefs. So, I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility.”

She acknowledged that “my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect,” noting that, “until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country.”

She even seemed to make an elliptical reference to President Obama’s famous statement that his opinion about same-sex marriages is “evolving.”

“Opinions are still evolving” on the issue of rights for LGBT people, said Clinton, but she said she is hopeful that “opinion will converge once again with the inevitable truth –all persons are created equal.”

Clinton said she understands “some believe homosexuality is a western phenomenon,” but that it is not.

She said that the “perhaps most challenging” argument against treating LGBT people with respect “arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate, or not to protect, the human rights of LGBT citizens.” She likened such justifications to ones used against women and other minorities.

“Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition,” said Clinton, who had just rattled off such practices as genital mutilation and widow burning, used against women in some countries. “But violence toward women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal.” Slavery, once justified as “sanctioned by god,” said Clinton, “is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”

She closed her speech, saying to LGBT people, “you are not alone.”

“People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers that you face…. You have an ally in the United States of America.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the actions today “make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people.”

But some conservative commentators suggested the U.S. will have a hard time enforcing its plan in some countries, including ones that are strategically important to U.S. interests.

One Response to Obama steps up global push on LGBT rights

  1. People should be more tolerant to LGBT. It’s a good thing they try to attract the attention of other countries.

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