(J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters)
The Obama administration will not be cutting off foreign aid to countries that persecute gays and lesbians. But it will be using such assistance to advance the LGBT cause, according to an unnamed official responding to questions about today's speech in Geneva by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a presidential memorandum on gay rights released today. The U.S. anti-gay brigade has not yet released its certain-to-come barrage of attacks.
Here is the entire memorandum. Some highlights:
By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Specifically, I direct the following actions, consistent with applicable law:
Sec 1. Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad: Agencies engaged abroad are directed 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.
Sec. 2. Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Sec. 3. Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination.
Sec. 4. Swift and Meaningful U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad.
Sec. 5. Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination.
In her forceful speech, Clinton said “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” The full transcript here. And here is an excerpt:
Now there is still as you all know much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality and progress for all people. Today I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose Human Rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or too often even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.
I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and tran[s]gender people. Human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity who have a right to claim that which is now one of the remaining Human Rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on Human Rights for gay people is far from perfect until 2003 it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many Lateasha Barbour Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives and for some including many young people bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect Human Rights at home. Now raising this issue I know is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural and religious beliefs. ...
Being gay is not a western invention. It is a human reality. And protecting the Human Rights of all people gay or straight is not something that only western governments do. South Africa's constitution written in the aftermath of apartheid protects the equality of all citizens including gay people. In Columbia in Argentina the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle discrimination. A luxury only wealthy nations can afford, in fact in all countries there are costs to not protecting these rights. In both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities and ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. ...
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey thanked Clinton for:
“taking to the world stage to send the unequivocal message that LGBT people everywhere should be able to live freely and with dignity.”
Clinton’s speech, Carey added, “made it clear that the fair and equal treatment of LGBT people worldwide is a moral imperative and a priority and legitimate concern in U.S. foreign policy.”
Clinton also announced the launching of a $3 million fund that will back human rights organizations around the planet working on LGBT issues. It will, she said, help groups “record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups.”
Before giving her speech, Clinton met with LGBT advocates, including some from Uganda, Cameroon and Nigeria, which have egregious human rights abuses and outlaw homosexuality.
These steps forward will no doubt be met with distaste in many quarters. Gays, lesbians and transgendered people face brutal violence and just being LGBT can get you imprisoned in many countries. But as Secretary Clinton noted, the U.S. has a ways to go in its own front yard as far as ending discrimination against LGBTs.
In more than half the states, being gay or lesbian or transgendered can get you fired and there is no legal remedy. Same-sex partners face discrimination at every turn, including tax law and obtaining employer-based health insurance. The perfect complement to today's welcome speech and memorandum would be a full-throated initiative to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. That would tell the nations of the world that the United States plans to clean up its own act while working to get them to clean up theirs.