Wednesday, December 07, 2011

An extraordinary and good day

Today the Obama Administration did one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen the US government do in my lifetime: It put the US Government fully on the side of the human rights of GLBT people around the world. There was a time I thought I’d never live to see such a thing.

To be sure, other administrations have done good things for GLBT people within the USA: The Hate Crime Statistics Act was signed by the first President George Bush. Despite severe setbacks, the Clinton Administration nevertheless also made progress. The Obama Administration had previously denounced Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill, along with similar heinous acts of other countries.

Yet until today, the prestige of the United States had never been put behind the struggle of GLBT people to achieve their full human rights. That’s why today is so extraordinary.

President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum that directs US federal agencies to:
  • Combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
  • Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • Engage International Organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.
  • Report on progress.
A Fact Sheet issued along with the Memorandum lists some of what the State Department is doing, noting:
“Even before today’s memo, U.S. agencies have been working to protect and promote the rights of LBGT persons around the world. Since January 2009, Secretary Clinton has directed the Department of State to champion a comprehensive human rights agenda—one that includes the protection of LGBT people.”
Then, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Secretary of State Clinton made remarks in recognition of Human Rights Day and elaborated on this subject, declaring “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Her remarks were the strongest and clearest statement in support of the human rights of GLBT people I’ve ever heard from a US Government official (the link to the speech text, above, also has video of her speech).

Secretary Clinton acknowledged that the US has been guilty of the some of the same abuses of human rights she urged other countries to abandon. She advocated an open and honest dialogue so that it can lead to the change she advocated, and that has helped the US move forward.

To me, the most moving part was when she declared:
“To LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”
When I began my activism on GLBT issues in the Reagan years, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible for a US Government official to make such a speech. I never would have believed we could have a strong advocate in the White House. I never would have believed that the US would be declared our ally. To put it more simply, I never would’ve believed that the US would start to honour its promise of freedom and liberty to GLBT people, too.

There is much work to be done, in the US as well as around the world. Everyone knows that. The vitriolic venom spewed by the bigots of the US’ anti-gay industry in reaction to today’s events demonstrates how far we have yet to go.

Even so, we should celebrate world leaders who got something so very, very right. We should also imagine what might be possible over the next thirty years if we all, as the Obama Administration does, recognise that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Others may continue to dwell on the negatives, on all the incomplete work or on the hate-filled bigots who stand in our way. But this was an extraordinary and good day for human rights, and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

And we must never give up the fight.

No comments: