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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Thank you for this article. It seems like a long term battle to do away with the system & provide safe housing. But, in the short term do you think training guards to be better & have some fucking humanity be an acceptable stop gap? It feels like dems sometimes are their own worst enemy even when they have controlling power(see the $2k stimulus).
Great points, thanks for writing this!
This article made me donate to Autostraddle!
thank youuuuuuu!!!! <3 an A+ member
I just want to point out that this memo grants equal protection for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers: “In order to improve protection for LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum.”
This is huge as far as asylum to the US is concerned, particularly coming out of the Trump administration. Here’s an article from Human Rights Watch from last October when there were concerns that asylum on the basis of gender identity & sexual orientation were no longer going to be granted: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/13/do-lgbtq-asylum-seekers-have-future-united-states
So it goes well beyond providing mere training for DHS officials. Also, the training isn’t just about pronoun usage, it explicitly states potentially expediting the process for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers: “appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively identify and respond to the particular needs of LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government takes all appropriate steps, such as potential increased use of Embassy Priority-1 referrals, to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.”
Thank you for this clarification!
Interesting article – thank you very much for sharing your view! I agree with almost everything. As an outside viewer it’s also puzzling to see the state of lgbtq+ rights in the US – it’s a mess! And it’s really scary to see how Christian and conservative groups constantly using their money and influence on undermining or even outright doing away with basic human rights!
Also thank you very much for pointing out the role of the US, Christians and colonialism to the desolate state of lgbtq+ rights abroad. This can’t be stressed enough! The US and the west (e.g. Britain) is directly responsible for the rise of homophobia in many countries – including China – over the past centuries. American exceptionalism blurs and hides this and instead panders a narrative in which the human rights in the US are the most advanced in the world and the US “have” to save the rest of the world. This hides the reality of the desolate state within the US and inspires inaction within the country…
“rhetoric links queerness to yet another way that African agency over identity and culture will be taken”
As an Indian, I feel this fear so strongly. This saviour complex has not changed a bit in its reportage on India since 19th century. Christian west calls my people regressive for not being as mental as they are. ideas of progress in this lgbt context are incorrigibly tied in with liberation theology.
Only Indian people, gay and straight, can make India nicer for lgbt people.
“The world has seen what American intervention looks like. The world is tired.” breaks my heart to see young, lgb Indians disown our ancestral legacy to behave like a CIA agent is sitting in their brains.
thanks for putting this in context and demanding what is really needed Chinelo!
Love my Nigerian people waking up and spreading a good message. I’m re-reading Instead of Prisons and your article is a perfect supplement today.
This article sounds an awful lot like sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of gun violence but not actually doing anything to stop the violence. Conservative Christians will continue to spread hate in Africa but the US government should not actually do anything to counter that message? We should continue to send aid to countries whose governments oppressive LGBT* folks but perhaps attach rainbow flags to all the aid packages to show our passive, non imperialist, restrained objections to such practices. I am quite happy to see the US government take a strong stand for LGBT rights around the world and here at home too. It is a wonderful change from the prior administration.
I may be misunderstanding something, but it seems like the article is in agreement with what you’re saying?
“[The Biden administration’s] 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.” So the article is saying we SHOULD continue sending aid to countries that criminalize sexuality.
And: “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.” To me, this sounds not like sending thoughts and prayers, but like a call for political action.
I’m curious where you got the sense that this article was calling for the US not to do anything?
I’m realizing my first sentence was meant to say, “…it seems like the article is in agreement with what you’re saying about the importance of sending aid abroad and taking action to counter hateful messages.”
This article sounds an awful lot like sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of gun violence but not actually doing anything to stop the violence.