Clinton makes history with speech to the U.N.

Secretary of State calls on all nations to make sure LGBTs are treated with respect, dignity; president directs agencies to protect LGBT rights

GREETING THE CROWD  |  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands after her speech on human rights issues at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, Dec 6. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

GREETING THE CROWD | U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands after her speech on human rights issues at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, Dec 6. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an historic speech on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva, called on the governments of all nations to ensure that their LGBT citizens are treated with respect and dignity.

Her speech came shortly after the White House Press Office released a statement announcing that President Barack Obama had issued a memorandum directing the State Department to lead an interagency group to provide a “swift and meaningful response” by the U.S. government to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.”

The memorandum and speech represent a dramatic escalation in the Obama administration’s support for the human rights and respectful treatment of LGBT people worldwide.

President Obama’s memorandum directs federal agencies involved with dispensing aid and assistance to foreign countries to “enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular federal government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

It also directs federal agencies to ensure that LGBT people seeking asylum or status as refugees have “equal access” to protections. And it calls on agencies engaged in activities in other countries to “strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.”

A senior State Department official, who on the condition that he or she not be identified, told a group of reporters en route to Geneva Tuesday that the administration had “instructed ambassadors to challenge laws that criminalize LGBT status or conduct.”

“We’re putting some money into it,” said the official, of the memorandum’s aim. “We’re setting up a global equality fund, $3 million, to support [non-governmental organizational] activists working on this subject.”

The State Department released a transcript of the press briefing, including a question from a reporter who asked, “How does the administration reconcile the fact that the president won’t explicitly endorse marriage for gay couples at home, but here you are touting human rights, of which marriage is one?”

The official responded that Clinton’s speech in Geneva and the administration’s global policy on civil rights for LGBT people are “dealing with the first iteration of questions.”

“You don’t attack, you don’t commit a violent act, against somebody because of their sexual orientation. You don’t criminalize conduct,” said the official. “And so, we’re here, trying to, again, broadly speaking, identify a human right, a global human right, which starts with those fundamental principles and which is consistent with everything we’re doing across the board.”

The State Department official characterized the president’s memorandum and Clinton’s speech as “the most expansive articulation of what has … been a policy of the administration from the get-go.”

Clinton’s speech was delivered at the Palais at United Nations headquarters in Geneva to an audience of invited members. She spoke in recognition of the 63rd anniversary of Human Rights Day, coming up on Dec. 10, the date when the United Nations adopted a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948. The speech, webstreamed live, took place before an audience of about 500 people that gave Clinton and her speech a prolonged and warm reception. But Clinton made clear she knew she was speaking to a tougher audience.

“Raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people,” said Clinton, “and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held person, political, cultural and religious beliefs. So, I come here before you with respect, understanding and humility.”

Clinton acknowledged that “my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect,” noting that, “until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country.”

She even seemed to make an elliptical reference to President Obama’s famous statement that his opinion about same-sex marriages is “evolving.”But she said she is hopeful that “opinion will converge once again with the inevitable truth — all persons are created equal.”

She said that the “perhaps most challenging” argument against treating LGBT people with respect “arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate, or not to protect, the human rights of LGBT citizens.”

She likened such justifications to ones used against women and other minorities, adding that slavery, once justified as “sanctioned by God, is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”

She closed her speech by telling LGBT people, “You are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers that you face. … You have an ally in the United States of America.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Perry says Obama’s push for LGBT rights abroad part of ‘war on traditional American values’

Gov. Rick Perry

Still polling in the single digits in Iowa and faced with the prospect that the Republican presidential primary is becoming a two-man race between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is desperately resorting to extreme anti-gay tactics. In response to President Barack Obama’s memorandum today saying the U.S. will use foreign aid to promote LGBT rights abroad, Perry issued this statement:

“Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights.

“This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop.

“I have proposed a foreign aid budget that starts at zero. From that zero baseline, we will consider aid requests based solely on America’s national security interests. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.

“But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea. This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.

“President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake.”

Also condemning Obama’s memorandum was GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, according to CNN:

“I would suggest that we give out humanitarian aid based on humanitarian need, not based on whether people are promoting their particular agenda,” Santorum said. “Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel its their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars.”

Santorum, who has long been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, said Obama needed to clarify his stance on marriage rights. Obama has said he is “evolving” on the issue, but does not currently support the rights of gays to marry.

“He said he’s for traditional marriage, and now he’s promoting gay lifestyles and gay rights, and he’s fighting against traditional marriage within the courts, and I think he needs to be honest,” Santorum said.

UPDATE: According to the Washington Blade, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued a statement in response to Perry’s remarks.

“Rick Perry has made no secret of his dislike for LGBT Americans – but his most recent remarks are outrageous even by his own standards,” Solmonese said. “It is bewildering that someone who wants to be President of the United States wouldn’t want to see our nation be a global leader in universal human rights. This is further proof that Rick Perry doesn’t want to represent the best interests of all Americans — he wants to advance an extremist, anti-gay agenda that represents the fringe views of a very small few.”

UPDATE NO. 2: Log Cabin Republicans also issued a statement:

“With all due respect, Governor Perry is wrong. Speaking out for the basic human rights of LGBT people to life and liberty is anything but ‘at war with American values,’” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans executive director. “Throughout his administration, President George W. Bush was strongly committed to supporting and protecting dissident and minority voices abroad. Our nation can be proud of its long, bipartisan legacy of promoting freedom for all. Around the globe today, gay and lesbian people are often subject to ‘corrective’ rape, state-sponsored torture, imprisonment and execution. Combatting these injustices is not advocating for any kind of ‘special rights,’ and it is shameful for Governor Perry to suggest that American people of faith do not support protecting vulnerable populations from brutality.”

—  John Wright