BY ROB SALERNO – Yesterday, we drew your attention to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s landmark gay rights speech at the UN Human Rights Council. While it’s great that Hillary acknowledged the struggles gay people face around the world, her speech and a simultaneously released White House executive order also lay out some landmark commitments that the US government is making in the global fight for gay equality.
First, what this order doesn’t do is tie US foreign aid to recipient countries’ attitudes on gay rights, an action UK Prime Minister David Cameron has recently committed to taking. Despite speculation in a lot of media sources and even from politicians in Nigeria and Uganda, both US allies, that the bill would threaten their bottom lines because of their recent anti-gay legislation, it’s not clear that the US will go that far.
What the Obama administration has directed the US government to do is fight the criminalization of queer status or conduct abroad, protect vulnerable queer refugees and asylum seekers, use foreign aid to protect human rights, ensure swift and meaningful responses to human rights abuses of queer persons, work to fight for queer equality in international forums (ie, the UN), and deliver progress reports annually, with the first report coming in six months.
Clinton gave some concrete examples of how the US is stepping up: providing queer-safe spaces and programming in US embassies around the world; establishing a fund for the training of queer activists; and lobbying directly for queer rights.
While these sound like baby steps, they’re actually major commitments that could have a lasting impact on the fight for queer rights. The US is stepping up to provide space for discussion of queer rights in some of the most hostile places on earth.
But the new US stance is not without controversy. Candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were swift to denounce Obama’s announcement. Texas Governor Rick Perry said the order “promotes a lifestyle” that Americans “tolerate” but don’t “endorse” and announced that as president he’d go even further, reducing the foreign aid budget to zero, ending the promotion of homosexuality, and . . . some third thing he forgot. Oops.
Meanwhile, some activists cautioned that the US needs to tread carefully with gay rights abroad, lest the situation is made worse. In Pakistan earlier this year, riots broke out when the US embassy announced it was hosting a Pride event. That concern appears to be borne out by statements coming from conservative politicians in Nigeria and Uganda.
Some say that the US is in no position to lecture others on gay rights, given that gay rights are far from universal or safe across the country. While remarkable progress has been made, gay rights are still routine targets of politicians trying to score cheap points.
In fact, just this week, Puerto Rico — which is a commonwealth of the US — is considering removing sections in its penal code that aim to protect queer people from hate crimes. Even Ricky Martin came out against his homeland’s legislators. (Come to think of it, the fact that Martin defected to Spain this year because he can’t get married in the US also undermines this new US campaign . . .)
Still, it’s hard to criticize the spirit of this order. We’ll be following this story as it develops and the first reports from US departments in six months.
Who wants to guess whether our own government will join the cause?