U.S. seeks to restore gays to U.N. genocide protections

Sexual orientation was deleted from resolution condemning unjustified killing of minority groups; final vote set for Tuesday

ANITA SNOW  |  Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — A culture war has broken out at the United Nations over whether gays should be singled out for the same protections as other minorities whose lives are threatened.

The battle will come to a head on Tuesday, Dec. 21 when the General Assembly votes to renew its routine condemnation of the unjustified killing of various categories of vulnerable people.

It specifies killings for racial, national, ethnic, religious or linguistic reasons and includes refugees, indigenous people and other groups. But the resolution, because of a change promoted by Arab and African nations and approved at committee level, this time around drops “sexual orientation” and replaces it with “discriminatory reasons on any basis.”

The U.S. government says it is “incensed” at the change, as are gay rights campaigners.

“Even if those countries do not support gay rights, you would think they would support our right not to be killed,” said Jessica Stern of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Stern said gay people all over the world are frequent targets of violence because of their sexual orientation.

Authorities in Jamaica are investigating a possible hate crime in the slaying earlier this month of a man who belonged to the sole gay rights group in the conservative, largely Christian nation. Uganda, among 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality, is debating whether to join the five other countries in the world that consider it a capital crime.

The General Assembly is set for a final vote Tuesday on its biennial resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings — without the reference to sexual orientation for the first time since 1999. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice has said she was “incensed” the reference was removed and the United States will move Tuesday to restore it.

The battle over those two words underscores the historic split over gay rights among U.N. members and their diverse religious and cultural sensibilities. Activists say gay and lesbian issues got only minimal attention at the U.N. a decade ago.

“There has been slow, but steady progress on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights at the U.N.,” Stern said.

Stern cited as progress Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “landmark” speech during a gay rights forum at U.N. headquarters on Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, calling for an end to laws around the world that make it a crime to be homosexual.

But as gay rights gain more acceptance in the U.N. system, some member states are pushing back, said Mark Bromley, of the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, which aims to advance gay rights in American foreign policy. “I think some states are uncomfortable and they are organizing to limit engagement on the issue.”

“We are seeing a backlash,” agreed Stern. “This is an illustration of the tensions around culture at the United Nations, and how power plays out and alliances are made.”

Benin, on behalf of African countries, introduced the amendment deleting the specific reference to sexual orientation at a Nov. 16 General Assembly committee meeting. Benin’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request sent via e-mail for more information about why the amendment was introduced.

Benin, a largely Christian country of 8 million with a sizable Muslim population, argued that “sexual orientation had no legal foundation in any international human rights instruments.” Morocco, an Arab country in north Africa that is almost exclusively Muslim, asserted that such selectivity “accommodated particular interests and groups over others” and urged all U.N. member states “to devote special attention to the protection of the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society.”

Western nations opposed the move to delete the mention of sexual orientation.

Britain called it “an affront to human dignity,” and France and Norway said the move was “regrettable.” Sweden said the change amounted to “looking the other way” when people are killed for being gay.

The amendment narrowly passed 79-70, with 17 abstentions. The so-called Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues and includes all 192 U.N. member states, then approved the entire resolution on all unjustified killings for discriminatory reasons 165-0, with 10 abstentions.

General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but rather reflect the views of the majority of the world’s nations.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the United States will introduce an amendment next week to restore the previous language including the phrase “sexual orientation” because “this is an issue that is important to us.”

“We’ve also been doing a great deal of lobbying” to get the restoration of the phrase approved, Kornblau said.

Gay rights and human rights activists also have been lobbying missions to the U.N. in New York in recent days, urging especially those delegations that abstained on the amendment to help restore the mention of sexual orientation.

“We only need a few more countries and we can change this vote around,” said Boris O. Dittrich, who directs the program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights for the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

But gaining the world’s support for gay rights will take far longer.

More than two-thirds of U.N. members, many of them Muslim nations, are refusing to sign a separate United Nations statement condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, especially with regard to the application of the death penalty and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Under the Bush administration in 2008, even the United States refused to join all other Western nations in signing that declaration, arguing that the broad framing of the language in the statement might conflict with U.S. laws.

After President Barack Obama took office, the United States last year joined other member states to support the declaration, saying it found that the language did not conflict with American laws. Sixty-eight of the U.N.’s members have now signed the declaration. That leaves 124 countries that have not.

—  John Wright

Let’s all get aboard the crazy train!

Lately the crazy train has picked up speed. I don’t know if it’s the upcoming midterm elections or people are scared by gay court victories or what, but we’re in a period of nutty.

Take David Barton. Please.

An evangelical minister, teacher at (Glenn) Beck University and former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Barton — a self-styled historian — is the founder of WallBuilders, a group devoted to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

On his WallBuilders radio show recently, Barton discussed with Rick Green how health-conscious America is, regulating cigarettes and trans fats and salt, yet allowing something to slip through that is such an obvious threat to the health of Americans: Jersey Shore.

Okay, he didn’t say that. Instead, Barton reeled off fanciful statistics, like, “Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals,” and “nearly one-third [of homosexuals] admit to a thousand or more sex partners in a lifetime.”

Barton said, “I mean, you go through all this stuff, sounds to me like that’s not very healthy. Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?” That’s the moment he boarded the crazy train.

Barton, the quack historian, cited a 1920s study that found nations that “rejected sexual regulation like with homosexuality” didn’t last “past the third generation from the time that they embraced it.”

Have gays been embraced? When will the third generation appear? It’s important to know when we’re supposed to make this country collapse. We have a schedule to keep.

Rick Green’s role in this production was to be properly aghast that the breathtakingly unhealthy gay lifestyle is promoted and protected.

That makes Green — recently a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court — the porter on the crazy train.

If David Barton wants the government to regulate gay sex, Andrew Shirvell’s goal is much more modest. But Shirvell is the conductor on the crazy train. For almost six months, Shirvell has railed in a blog against Chris Armstrong, the openly gay University of Michigan student assembly president.

Shirvell, a Michigan grad, accused Armstrong of so many things — including being anti-Christian, hosting a gay orgy, trying to recruit freshmen to be gay and, my favorite, sexually seducing a conservative student and influencing him to the point that he “morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda.”

Good strategy, that seduction. Armstrong should be able to convert everybody on campus by the time he’s 106.
During his anti-Armstrong crusade, Shirvell protested outside Armstrong’s house, and called him “Satan’s representative on the student assembly.”Paranoid much? All this would be plenty bad enough, but the fact that Shirvell is a Michigan assistant attorney general launches the affair into the realm of the bizarre. Rod Serling couldn’t have made this up.

Shirvell’s boss, Attorney General Mike Cox, cited the guy’s right to free speech, while also telling CNN he’s a “bully.” Cox said that Shirvell’s “immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

This is more than a case of bad judgment. Shirvell is obsessed with Armstrong’s homosexuality. I have to wonder if Shirvell — now on a voluntary leave of absence — is an immense closet case, or a few ties short of a railroad track.

Either explanation or both might apply to Fred Phelps, leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, but it’s his daughters who recently clambered on the crazy train.

Margie Phelps recently represented Westboro at the Supreme Court in the dispute over protests at military funerals, and after, while addressing the press, she and sister Shirley Phelps-Roper broke into song. They warbled a few lines of a variation on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Osbourne declared his displeasure that they used his music to advance “despicable beliefs.”

When the Prince of Darkness looks civilized compared to you, your caboose is loose.

Leslie Robinson assumes the Phelps daughters will never sing Indigo Girls.  E-mail Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas