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Topics In the News
Obama Administration: Gay Rights Are Human Rights
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/06/11
Last updated on: 12/07/11
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On December 6, 2011, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum instructing federal agencies abroad to defend glbtq rights. The issuance of the memorandum was timed to coincide with a historic speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland in which she called on all nations to respect the human rights of gay people. "Being LGBT does not make you less human," she declared.

In his "Memorandum for The Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies," President Obama asserted that "The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights."

"I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world--whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation," he continued. "That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, '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.' Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere."

The President goes on to direct all agencies engaged abroad "to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons."

In her speech, Secretary Clinton conceded that the United States has its own failings in ensuring equal civil rights for its glbtq citizens, and echoed the President's contention that ending discrimination is a common cause for all countries.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Obama Administration's embrace of gay rights as human rights is that it aligns the U.S. with recent statements by the U.K.'s David Cameron that British foreign aid will be conditioned on an end to the persecution of sexual minorities, a stance that has also been urged by other European countries, such as Norway and Sweden.

However, it is likely that the approach of the United States will be to use foreign aid to reward countries that respect the human rights of its glbtq citizens rather than deny aid to those who do not.

Thus, Secretary Clinton announced the formation of a fund to assist advocacy groups working on glbtq rights.

The new policy enunciated by the President and the Secretary of State will make a tangible difference in the treatment of glbtq refugees and asylum seekers, as well as in the support the U.S. extends to those advocating for equal rights across the globe.

Prior to her speech, Secretary Clinton met with activists from countries such as Uganda, Cameroon, and Nigeria, all of which have been criticized for deplorable human rights records and laws that criminalize homosexuality.

Before her speech, Clinton also met with Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solomonese. He issued a statement lauding the leadership exhibited by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, "Today's actions by President Obama 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. . . . There is no question that the administration's record of advancing equality for LGBT people has been enhanced by the leadership of Secretary Clinton who consistently underscores the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights."

Also at the meeting with Secretary Clinton were Michael Guest, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, and South African Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty.

Here is a link to President Obama's Memorandum: 2011lgbt_mem_rel.pdf.

Here is a video of Secretary Clinton's historic speech:

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