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

N. Texas’ 1st Human Rights Run set Saturday

HRI CEO Cannon Flowers, left, and his partner RafiQ Salleh

The Human Rights Initiative is holding North Texas’ first Human Rights Run on Saturday, April 16 at Bachman Lake.

“We have provided free legal services to the global gay community for people seeking asylum in the United States due to their sexual orientation and the threat of death if they returned to their home country,” said HRI CEO Cannon Flowers.

HRI provides a variety of services to people who have experiences human rights abuses.

HRI supports equality in immigration laws for the LGBT community. Married heterosexual couples may keep a non-citizen spouse in the United States while married gay or lesbian couples do not have that right.

—  David Taffet

Gay couple separated by immigration law as one fights cancer; congressman won’t help

Aurelio Tolentino, left, and his partner, Roi Whaley

Roi Whaley and Aurelio Tolentino, both HIV-positive, met in 2004 through a support group for people living with AIDS. Roi is a native of Gulfport, Miss., and Tolentino, a registered nurse, had come to the U.S. on a work visa from his home in the Philipines.

Then, during the process of applying for his green card, authorities discovered Tolentino’s HIV-positive status, and immigration officials informed him he would have to leave the country. That was back in 2006, before President Barack Obama rescinded the policy prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering the U.S., either as immigrants or tourists.

Tolentino wasn’t too keen on going back to the Philipines. For one thing, it would mean leaving his partner, Whaley. On top of that, he had already been attacked and beaten for being gay in his home country, and if he were to return, it would likely happen again.

So Tolentino applied for asylum in the U.S. That application was denied because he had been in this country already for more than a year, and U.S. policy says anyone seeking asylum must apply within one year of entering the country.

Left with no other option, Tolention moved to Canada to live with his mother, who already has legal status as a permanent resident. He applied for asylum there and, once again, was denied. Now he may have no other choice than to return to the Philipines where he would possibly face harassment, violence and even death.

To make matters, Whaley was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He left for Seattle on Friday, Sept. 3, for a visit to his oncologist, after which he planned to fly on to Canada to spend the month of September with Tolentino and his mother. It will likely be the last time the partners see each other, since Tolentino faces deportation to the Phillipines, and Whaley’s deteriorating health rules out the possibility of him visiting Tolentino there.

There is one hope: a plea to the Department of Homeland Security to grant Tolentino a humanitarian parole that would allow him to return to the U.S temporarily to be with his dying partner. But that’s not likely to happen, either, especially without intervention from Whaley’s congressman, Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

With the help of Immigration Equality, based in Washington, D.C., Whaley and Tolentino have already asked once for Taylor’s help. An aide in Taylor’s office told Whaley no, the congressman wasn’t going to intervene. And Taylor’s office has failed so far to even return calls from Immigration Equality.

But Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, said Friday that neither the couple nor Immigration Equality is ready to give up yet. They are asking for the public’s help in lobbying Congressman Taylor to intervene and get Homeland Security to grant the humanitarian parole that will let Whaley spend his final days with the man he loves.

“Were Roi and Aurelio a married heterosexual couple, Roi would be eligible to apply to sponsor Aurelio for residency in the United States. Because they are a gay couple, however, that option is not open to them,” Ralls said in a press release sent out Friday. “Now, with Roi’s health deteriorating and Aurelio facing a move to the Philipines — where it would be nearly impossible for Roi to travel and be with him — the couple face impending separation. They are one of 36,000 such couples, according to an analysis of the 2000 Census data, facing this kind of situation.

“Despite having followed every immigration rule and voluntarily leaving the U.S. when immigration asked him to do so, Aurelio is now being punished under the law for following the law,” Ralls said.

If you want to help Immigration Equality fight for Roi and Aurelio, or if you are yourself part of an international same-sex couple trying to negotiate immigration law, contact the organization at 202-347-7007.

If you want to contact Congressman Taylor and encourage him to intervene on behalf of this couple, go to his website here to find addresses and phone numbers for his office in Washington, D.C., and all five of his offices in his district.

—  admin