Obama Adminstration Steps Up Defense of LGBT Rights Abroad

December 7, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday strongly defended equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons, in what many are calling a "historic" speech that marked International Human Rights Day at the United Nations in Geneva.

"Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct," Clinton told the Human Rights Council, "but in fact they are one and the same."

As reported by the blog Religion Clause, Clinton rejected religious objections to LGBT equality, stating that religious belief should not trump "the human rights that belong to all of us." From her address:

Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. ...

The ... perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. ...

The full text of Clinton's speech can be found here.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama issued a first-of-its-kind memorandum "directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons."

Put together, the speech and directive show the Obama administration is vowing "to actively combat efforts by other nations that criminalize homosexual conduct, abuse gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people, or ignore abuse against them," according to the New York Times.

There is no word yet on how these initiatives will be enforced -- foreign aid figures to play a key role -- but nonetheless, they are enormous symbolic steps forward for both LGBT persons and those concerned with protecting basic rights for all human beings.