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

VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech today on LGBT rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today delivered what LGBT advocates are calling a historic speech, in which Clinton declared unequivocally that LGBT rights are the same as racial equality and rights for women.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Speaking at the United Nations human rights programs headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in honor of International Human Rights Day — which is Saturday, Dec. 10 — Clinton also announced that the U.S., under the Obama administration, will from now on consider a country’s treatment of its LGBT citizens when deciding on foreign aid for that country.

Here is the full transcript of Clinton’s address:

“Good evening, and let me express my deep honor and pleasure at being here. I want to thank Director General Tokayev and Ms. Wyden along with other ministers, ambassadors, excellencies, and UN partners. This weekend, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century.

“Beginning in 1947, delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere.  In the aftermath of World War II, many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations and individuals around the world.

“At three o’clock in the morning on Dec. 10, 1948, after nearly two years of drafting and one last long night of debate, the president of the U.N. General Assembly called for a vote on the final text.

“Forty-eight nations voted in favor; eight abstained; none dissented. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people.

“It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.

—  admin

Ellen DeGeneres named special envoy for global AIDS awareness

Ellen DeGeneres

While speaking today on HIV/AIDS issues at the National Institutes of Health, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that out, proud lesbian comedian, actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has been named a special envoy for global AIDS awareness.

In a statement in response to the announcement, DeGeneres said she is honored to have been chosen by Secretary Clinton for the position.

“The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart.  And I’m happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope,” DeGeneres said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look up what ‘envoy’ means.”

In a letter to DeGeneres, Clinton said the talk show host’s “energy, compassion and star power” will make her an effective voice for AIDS awareness.

“Your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The enormous platform of your television show and your social media channels will enable you to reach millions of people with the strong and hopeful message that we can win this fight,” Clinton wrote.

In addition to her studio and television audience for her talk show each day, DeGeneres reaches 8 million followers on Twitter and 5.8 million people through Facebook. She has been outspoken advocate on anti-bullying issues and an advocate on animal rescue and rehabilitation and breast cancer issues. DeGeneres previously worked with the advocacy organization ONE to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS issues.

Clinton’s speech today is expected to be the first in a series of speeches and messages from the Obama administration leading up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

—  admin

Overjoyed, yet full of consternation

HATE LIVES ON | Like the Ku Klux Klan that vilified all minorities in its terroristic oppression of people and also operated under the guise of Christianity, today’s militant Christian Rights groups target LGBT people for scapegoating.

UN resolution on LGBT equality is a victory, but also a reminder of how far we have left to go toward equality

DAVID WEBB |  The Rare Reporter

The passage of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council last month declaring that LGBT people around the world should be afforded equal protections with all other human beings left me overjoyed — yet still full of consternation.

The measure’s passage represented a great victory for human rights advocates who pressed for it. But the very need for such an action underscored how dangerous it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in many parts of the world, including the United States of America.

Homosexuality remains illegal in 76 of the globe’s countries, and it is punishable by death in five of them.

In the United States, where the Texas sodomy law — and in effect, all sodomy laws in the country — were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, discrimination and violence against LGBT people continues to run rampant. An analysis of 14 years of FBI hate crime data by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project in late 2010 revealed that LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be violently attacked as Jews and blacks, more than four times as likely as Muslims and 14 times as likely as Latinos.

In a press release by the U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the U.N. resolution an “historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that LGBT people face around the world based solely on whom they are and whom they love.”

She noted that torture, rape, criminal proceedings and killings are sanctioned all over the world by religions that condemn anyone who does not adhere to traditional heterosexual norms regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

The controversial resolution, which was proposed by South Africa, passed narrowly on a vote of 23 to 19. Although the measure was supported by the U.S. and other Western countries, it was opposed by African and Arab countries where the prosecution and persecution of LGBT individuals is the most severe.

Three countries, including China, abstained from voting.

Reaction to the U.N. resolution from opponents of LGBT rights was telling.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, denounced it as a maneuver in an international agenda to restrict the freedom of churches.

Tomasi claimed the church opposes violence against homosexual behavior and punishment based on a person’s “feelings and thoughts,” but he condemned the measure as detrimental to society and likened laws against homosexuality to prohibitions against incest, pedophilia and rape.

In Ghana, the Rev. Joseph Bosoma of the Sunyani Central Ebenezer Presbyterian Church called on President John Evans Atta Mills to crack down on homosexuality in the country, warning that society was on the verge of a punishment similar to what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah in Biblical times.

The president assured the pastor that the government would take action to check homosexual activity.

Similarly, Alex McFarland of the American Family Association, the group that is sponsoring Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s The Response Prayer Rally in Houston on Aug. 6, declared recently that the world is now in “The Latter Days,” in response to the passage of marriage equality in New York.

He argued that LGBT rights are not the equivalent of human rights.

Soulforce, an LGBT group that monitors conservative religious groups, noted that another host of Perry’s rally, Lou Engle, the leader of The Call, is one of three evangelical leaders in the U.S. who supported the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.

For three decades, the greatest impediment to the LGBT rights movement has been Christian Rights groups and their leaders who have seized on the concept of a “homosexual agenda” bent on destroying American culture and society. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, declared the fight against LGBT rights to be a “second civil war.”

Some of these Christian Rights groups have earned the distinction of being identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center because they have resorted to crude name-calling and spreading false information about LGBT people in an effort to draw support to their cause.

Like the Ku Klux Klan that vilified all minorities in its terroristic oppression of people and also operated under the guise of Christianity, today’s militant Christian Rights groups target LGBT people for scapegoating.

LGBT people comprise the last minority group left that it is politically correct in some quarters to attack, and Christian Rights groups and politicians like Gov. Perry are making the most of it.

The beginning of this summer marked the 16th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention’s apology to black people for its abominable treatment of that race over the years, and some gay activists, such as Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, petitioned the church group to issue a similar apology to LGBT people.

That, of course, did not happen, but one day perhaps it will.

Until groups like the Southern Baptist Convention, which urges followers to “go the extra mile when witnessing to gay people,” recognize LGBT people as equal, freedom will continue to be a worldwide challenge.

The U.N. resolution was a milestone in that journey to equality, but the road ahead for LGBT people will continue to be a long and difficult one. The U.S., which admittedly is far behind some countries, will likely see success long before LGBT people in some parts of the world feel free.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

UN passes historic resolution in support of LGBT equality

FRANK JORDANS  |  Associated Press

GENEVA—  The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.

The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing “grave concern” about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.

But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration’s push for gay rights at home and abroad.

“This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.

Backers included the U.S., the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn’t vote and Libya was suspended from the rights body earlier.

The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

More important, activists said, it also established a formal U.N. process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries worldwide, while harassment and discrimination are common in many more.

“Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said John Fisher of the gay rights advocacy group ARC International.

The White House in a statement strongly backed the declaration.

“This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings.”

The resolution calls for a panel discussion next spring with “constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against” gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The prospect of having their laws scrutinized in this way went too far for many of the council’s 47-member states.

“We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation,” said Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania called the resolution “an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”

Boris Dittrich of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch said it was important for the U.S. and Western Europe to persuade South Africa to take the lead on the resolution so that other non-Western countries would be less able to claim the West was imposing its values.

At the same time, he noted that the U.N. has no enforcement mechanism to back up the resolution. “It’s up to civil society to name and shame those governments that continue abuses,” Dittrich said.

The Obama administration has been pushing for gay rights both domestically and internationally.

In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. In addition, Congress recently repealed the ban on gays openly serving in the military, and the Obama administration said it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the U.S. law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The vote in Geneva came at a momentous time for the gay rights debate in the U.S. Activists across the political spectrum were on edge Friday as New York legislators considered a bill that would make the state the sixth — and by far the biggest — to allow same-sex marriage.

Asked what good the U.N. resolution would do for gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer said it was a signal “that there are many people in the international community who stand with them and who support them, and that change will come.”

“It’s a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone,” he said. “One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone.”

 

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: LGBT leaders meet with SBC president; Weiner tells friends he’ll resign

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. All eyes remain on the New York State Senate, which is still one vote short of the majority needed to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s third-largest state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s marriage equality bill cleared the Assembly on Wednesday night but must pass the Senate before the session ends next week. The Williams Institute reports that the bill would affect more than 42,000 same-sex couples.

2. After hand-delivering  a petition calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for its anti-gay positions, LGBT leaders met for more than 30 minutes Wednesday with SBC President Bryant Wright. From the Baptist Press: The remarkable meeting — cordial the entire time — took place between the morning and afternoon sessions of the SBC in Wright’s annual meeting office at the Phoenix Convention Center. The nine-person coalition included representatives of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Faith in America and Truth Wins Out. They protested outside the convention hall and requested to deliver petitions to Wright, who decided to turn the event into a dialogue. Several members of the media also attended.

3. Congressman Anthony Weiner has told friends he plans to resign. From the New York Times: The news comes as Democratic leaders prepared to hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss whether to strip the 46-year-old Congressman of his committee assignments, a blow which would severely damage his effectiveness. Mr. Weiner, a Democrat, came to the conclusion that he could no longer serve after having long discussions with his wife,  Huma Abedin, when she returned home on Tuesday after traveling abroad with her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

—  John Wright