Obama and Hillary Officially Care About Global Gay Rights, a.k.a. “Human Rights”

This week, President Obama announced that the US will begin taking into account the experiences and treatment of gays and lesbians in foreign countries when making decisions regarding aid for those nations. It’s a move not unlike David Cameron’s in October, when he said threatened countries that criminalize homosexuality with losing foreign aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech accompanying the announcement, in which she noted (among other things) that “gay rights are human rights.”

While queer people in the US aren’t guaranteed any real kind of personal safety, and are in fact under threat from both physical and emotional violence fairly regularly, it’s become increasingly clear over the past few years that the struggle for equal treatment and full equality for queers in other countries is often much more urgent — a matter of life or death. The international community was in an uproar earlier this year over Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, and South Africa’s pandemic of “corrective rape” against the lesbian community wasn’t even worth classifying as a hate crime. If a newly introduced bill passes in Nigeria, citizens could be jailed for same-sex cohabitation or even “organizing, operating or supporting gay clubs.” In many of these countries, activists don’t have the freedom to organize against these threats or fight for their rights. In Russia, almost any public display or action having to do with homosexuality could be criminalized by a new law; a rally or protest for human rights for queers would be even more out of the question than it is now.

While physical safety is still a major concern for many queer and especially trans people in the US, it’s telling that much of the public conversation around gay rights centers around marriage equality. With political rhetoric especially, it sometimes feels like not just the biggest issue, but the only issue for the gay community. With the recent epidemic of suicides of young gay people and subsequent discussion on bullying, the conversation has started to change, but the trickle of It Gets Better videos from politicians and local government officials aren’t the same as a firm and committed plan for protecting anyone’s personal health or wellbeing.

That’s why the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this week was historic — because not only did it establish a firm stance on human rights abuses, which is always an admirable thing for a group in authority to do, but it recognizes the ways in which being queer truly is a defining and terrifying fact of life for our global community. Although it hasn’t gotten much time in the spotlight, the Obama administration has quietly gone about addressing some of the more pressing day-to-day issues that face the more marginalized members of our community — like funding pilot programs to help homeless queer youth, or working towards ensuring that gay and lesbian parents have hospital visitation rights and medical decisionmaking powers for their children. And while DOMA is still hanging on, this statement from the White House is also part of a new kind of rhetoric around gays. It’s not about just tolerating us, or granting us symbolic freedoms, even very meaningful and important ones like marriage — it’s about keeping us alive. And in a move that’s surprisingly rare for any American administration, it’s recognizing that the experiences of people on a global scale are often much more extreme than those of people at home, and the US is in a position to possibly alleviate some of that.

There is, of course, a fine line between using the West’s power and influence to protect marginalized  communities, and using our power and influence to strongarm developing nations into obeying Western cultural standards — a claim that countries like Jamaica often make when experiencing pressure to treat their gay community differently. But while it’s worth questioning our relationships with developing nations with an eye to imperialism in general, there’s no question that what some citizens of Nigeria or Uganda have suffered are indeed human rights abuses. And Secretary of State Clinton is right — our rights are human rights. And while marriage is important, the question of our human rights and our actual human lives is a more important one, and a much harder one to answer. Whatever else one can say about the Obama administration, it’s hard not to be glad that someone is finally at least trying.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 761 articles for us.

25 Comments

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    I am elated that people are finally sitting up and taking some notice of these atrocities. However, who are actually going to be the ones that suffer from the lack of aid in these homophobic countries? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be these politicians putting these horrifying rules in place that will miss the food help, or the medical help. Realistically it’s just going to worsen the situation for those who are starving, who are sick and who are poor, and if these governments are happy to ignore basic human rights on the homosexual front, where will it stop if they stop receiving the aid? Aid which more than likely is what keeps some of our homogays, which need it due to being cast out from these communities, alive.

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    Another great thing about this speech was that she acknowledged that the US itself doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to LGBT rights.

    Also, um, I kind of hate to be that commenter, but the title of this post makes me think about the women’s studies courses I took where the professors decried the fact that men in the public eye are usually referred to by their last names while women are often referred to by their first, and all of the things about respect and formality and power that that implies. Sorry.

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      I can see where you’re coming from regarding “Obama and Hillary” but I think an additional aspect to this situation is that her last name is “Clinton.” Not to say that there isn’t a lack of formality, respect, and power with calling the Secretary of State “Hillary” but there was a President with that last name and for clarity’s sake, referring to her as Hillary.

      But ultimately I agree with you. I just wanted to add another perspective.

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        I agree that this probably comes into play, but I still don’t think you’d be as likely to see this if she were a male Secretary of State who happened to share the last name of a former president. I mean, Bill Clinton hasn’t done anything newsworthy in years, so I really don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to assume that most people would know who’s being referred to if she were simply called “Clinton”.

        For the record, I don’t think Rachel was being misogynist, given the context of this blog. But I’ve seen this before from other news sources and it irks me. *irk irk*

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    it’s a bit rich of the US government to be lecturing other countries on human rights. as much as i want to be happy about this, it just feels hypocritical. After all the human rights abuses we’ve inflicted on (and quietly ignored in) the world, are we really in a position to judge?

    I appreciate the sentiment. But I’m not sure I believe they’re going to follow through in every case.

    plus, i agree with mollie that it’s only going to hurt the most marginalized people.

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    @Mollie (et al)
    Yes, it will hurt those who need it. However, taking that into account would be a mistake. (In my opinion of course)

    Overly simplified example:

    Would you give financial aid to a guy who beats his family because they are starving since he spends all the money on alcohol? And what happens when he beats someone badly enough to kill them? Without the financial aid, maybe the family would have left him, or something else… The thing is, you are supporting an individual who abuses those in his power, and that should almost never happen. (Yes, “never” is a bad word to use… I know.)

    Even worse, how would you feel if you found out that the guy you had been giving money to killed his family? You directly supported a killer… sure, it helped his family. Until he killed them.

    Now maybe he would have killed them anyways, but then you wouldnt have supported it. And he might not have.

    This is over simplified, but at some level, I feel as though giving financial aid to countries that don’t address human rights only enables those countries to continue to abuse them… by supporting them. And we all know that corruption surrounding financial aid to 3rd world countries exists.

    Secondly, the line:

    “There is, of course, a fine line between using the West’s power and influence to protect marginalized communities, and using our power and influence to strongarm developing nations into obeying Western cultural standards — a claim that countries like Jamaica often make when experiencing pressure to treat their gay community differently.”

    I’m all for strong-arming cultures that regularly abuse their citizens. I only wish that our culture handled human rights better. But its definitely way better than african and middle eastern cultures.

    Nothing cultural should be allowed to exist if it causes pain for people.

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    This is all good news. One little parenthesis:
    I didn’t like how Hillary used “gay” and “LGBT” as synonyms in her speech. She would often say “LGBT people” or “gay people”. Sometimes she even said “gays”, instead of “gay people”, as if being gay was a full identity (“a gay”) rather than a quality (“gay person”). But she only used the word “transexual” once, when she talked about corrective rape as well, and she never ever said “bisexual”. But the “gay” in LGBT was quite loud.

    Now, I expect that the response of people in this forum is going to be “oh, but at least she mentioned “us”, so it’s ok, the distinctions between gay and bisexual or gay and transexual with come later”. Well, no. Bisexuals have for decades been accommodating to views like this, and this is why nowadays bisexuality is practically invisible and often discriminated by both gay and straight people. Did you know bisexuals face more stress and anxiety issues than gay/lesbians? That’s statistics. It’s the truth. Nevertheless, bisexuals have been part of the LGBT community and their struggles since the beginning. One of the big campaigners during the Stonewall protests was a bisexual woman. This not to mention transexuals, but I cannot talk for them because I am not one and I don’t know enough.

    My point: the LGBT community should be happy that people like Obama or Hillary Clinton are by our side but should also (in my belief), simultaneously, make firm to them or anyone else that the community is composed of Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual and Transexual, not just gay and lesbian. Thank you.

  6. Pingback: 2 Girls, 1 Podcast episode #3: Clinton speech, Lilo in Playboy & on Ellen, and more holigay | qPDX.com – Queer news, views and events for Portland

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    Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals commit crimes against God, against nature, against the Holy Bible and against the human race.
    After reading this story I now know why God wrote:
    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
    Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
    :26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    :27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

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