Yesterday in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a memo from President Obama, the White House laid out its new commitment to promoting gay and transgender rights worldwide. While many are applauding the announcement, some say Obama has ulterior political motives. The move has already affected the 2012 campaign by giving Rick Perry an opportunity to catch up to the other Republican candidates, who seem to be in some kind of contest to see who can make the most horrifically homophobic comment.
The New York Times reports that while speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Clinton declared that the protection of LGBT people is a human rights issue, and the U.S. plans to push the cause abroad, including through the promise of foreign aid (though a spokeswoman says the agency isn't "cutting or tying" aid to countries that won't shape up on gay rights issues).
In his memo, President Obama said embassies have been ordered to increase efforts to discourage the criminalization of homosexuality abroad, to work with human rights organizations to promote LGBT rights, and to protect LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers. He added:
"I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world…No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere ... 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."
Clinton and Obama's remarks didn't specify how this will change our relationship with countries where homosexual and transgender people are persecuted, including American allies like Saudi Arabia, where homosexual sex is punishable by flogging or even death. Clinton also noted:
"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 the United States. . . . We, like all other nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home."
As if to prove her point, the Family Research Council, whose leader has called for "criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior," attacked the Obama administration for putting the United States' reputation behind the "promotion overseas of the radical ideology of the sexual revolution." Rick Perry also lashed out at the President, saying, "Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money." In other words, don't think that just because you're gay you have some special right to not be beaten and/or murdered. Perry continued:
"This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many [Americans] of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong. President Obama has again mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake."
Hear that gay people? Occasionally conservative Americans will do you a favor by agreeing to tolerate your disgusting lifestyle, but don't think for a second that they're okay with the idea of people loving whoever the want.
Some believe that President Obama's main goal isn't to end LGBT discrimination abroad, but to bolster support among his base. Even if Obama is trying to make up for his shortcomings on gay rights, having two top U.S. officials declare on the international stage that violence and discrimination against gay and transgender people won't be tolerated is still a major step, and Perry's comments prove that. Sadly, we're living in a time when even some U.S. presidential candidates still think it's acceptable to publicly condemn people for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and don't consider it a given that the U.S. should work to protect those people from violence and abuse.
U.S. To Aid Gay Rights Abroad, Obama And Clinton Say [NYT]
Conservatives Bash Obama For Gay Rights Stand [Reuters]
Obama Administration Targets Anti-Gay Discrimination Abroad [Washington Post]
Rick Perry Says Human Rights for Gays ‘Not in America's Interests' [ABC News]