On February 4th, the Biden Administration released a Memorandum with the goal of “advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World”. This Memorandum is building off the Obama Administration’s Memorandum of a similar nature. If this isn’t already ringing alarm bells, let me take you through it.
The Memorandum starts by asserting inherent human dignity, and a few items on the Memorandum support that: Section two talks about increasing protections for LGBT asylum seekers and training Department of State and Homeland Security personnel to meet the needs of Queer asylum seekers. While those could seem like great things on paper, training violent agents of the state to respect pronouns is not going to prevent them from being violent. Not to mention, I’m not sure what kind of training a government that still doesn’t support it’s queer community could give.
The problem in the first place is the carceral system, adopting its nature for asylum, and state violence. Section one suggests that the Department of State report the abuses experienced by LGBTQ people globally, but then connects this report to Foreign Assistance. Section three reaffirms that, “agencies involved with foreign aid…should consider the impact of programs funded by the Federal Government on…the rights of LGBTQI+ persons, when making funding decisions.” This memorandum is suggesting that we penalize countries for criminalizing sexuality by reducing access to aid. Not only is this repugnant, queer people living in a country that criminalises sexuality or expressions of it — like my birth country Nigeria — will be economically disadvantaged. Additionally, they might be restricted from local aid on account of their sexuality. The Biden administration would be cutting people off from one of the few resources they have access to.
Section four blatantly threatens, “financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and other actions” as appropriate responses. The vagueness of the power — military and economic — the administration is foisting on itself is scary, since we already know what US intervention looks like historically and now. And yes, it is power that Biden is operating from. A narrative of imperialism and supremacy that not only places the US in a saviour role, but furthers harm by refusing to acknowledge the U.S.’s responsibility. The language Biden uses places this memorandum as a reclamation of the United States’ positionality, at ” at the forefront ” of the fight for LGBTQI equality worldwide. This is a misrepresentation of the truth. A lot of the legislation around the world today is tied to colonization, and in places like my country Nigeria, and other African countries – homophobia is imported. This is not to say that Africans aren’t homophobic, but that the language around homophobia and the way it functions is rooted in colonial systems. The criminalisation of homosexuality is tied to British Victorian laws, and continuing on in their spirit, newer laws in Africa are influenced by American Evengelican Christianity.
In Uganda, “US Christian groups have since spent millions on schools, hospitals and orphanages” which allow hate ministers like Mike Bickle, Scott Lively, and Lou Engle to export their homophobia as religion. The rhetoric they push is common in Nigeria as well. Growing up, I watched my father learn the language that these ministers use. They ascribe monstrosity to queerness in ways that would be familiar to Americans, but was foreign and jarring on my fathers tongue: that queer people functioned as a cult out to recruit, turn, and harm people. This rhetoric links queerness to yet another way that African agency over identity and culture will be taken. The Biden Administrations choice to respond to the treatment of Queer people globaly through threats, is their choice to operate through the same oppressive dynamics that some Africans are trying to reject when they reject queerness.
Rather than that, Biden could take stronger stances against Homophobia in the US by calling hate ministers like Mike Bickle into account. Biden could expand on aspects of the memorandum that call for communal work, and amplify the resources of queer organizations globally. Africans are best suited to fight for the rights of queer Africans, not the Biden Administration. Rather than train prison guards to be less homophobic or transphobic jailers, Bidens Administration could do away with a system that incarcerates people and focus on providing housing, safety and stability. It is important to push back against the narrative that we are being fed of America as a champion. We need to examine who it serves.
This is how power works y’all. White supremacist power. Biden is channeling an American identity of supremacy, masked as leadership. America — the country — is a White Settler Nation, and it has never been anything but. The world outside of America is not just countries of people that need saving and there is no hypothetical past to return to that would make that saviour narrative real. It just obscures harm. The world has seen what American intervention looks like. The world is tired. If the US does seek to play a role in the global fight for human rights, it should be one of truth, where the government acknowledges our harm, and accountability, where we fix what we broke.
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