Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Obama Administration Paradox

Clinton at the Human Rights Council, Associated Press
Quite a monumental pledge came from the Obama administration yesterday, when Secretary of State Clinton announced in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that the US would be spending $3 million to support LGBTQ rights organizations to do international gay advocacy work. According to an Obama administration official, the money could go to things like relocation aid for LGBTQ refugees or journalists covering LGBTQ persecution.

This is huge. It is an unequivocal statement about the importance of seeing LGBTQ rights as human rights, as equally deserving of foreign aid as any other type of persecuted group. But it also strikes a funny chord for LGBTQ Americans and their allies who very much feel that the US government (and the Obama administration) has much more to do to uphold our equal rights domestically.

At least Clinton didn't totally pretend this wasn't the case, saying in her speech:
"I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home."
And I agree with the sentiment that we should prioritize combating violence, murder and repression towards LGBTQ people wherever it exists. But the US also needs to step it up and become a model nation, showing what it looks like when a country extends full equality under the law to all its people, regardless of sexual orientation--something we are very, very far away from.

What Julia M., a commenter on the NYT article, wrote about Obama's slippery position of LGBTQ issues is spot-on:

"After hearing Secretary Clinton's speech, a part of me felt uplifted and relieved to see someone in her position finally stepping up to the plate. The pride I felt from seeing her stand up for LGBT rights, however, was quickly punctured by the realization that the person with arguably the most powerful sway over public opinion in the U.S. is still "working" on this issue. I admire and respect Secretary Clinton's dedication to this cause, but I can neither admire nor respect her assertion that "the Obama administration defends the rights of LGBT people" as a "priority." I am certainly not the only listener who saw the clear discrepancy between this statement and those of the President himself on this matter. It is not enough for the President to claim respect and support for the LGBT community without supporting the issue that defines LGBT rights in America: gay marriage. To give LGBT couples anything less than the marital status that heterosexual couples enjoy is to afford them second-class citizenship, a status in obvious discord with Clinton's message. So please, President Obama, in the spirit of Human Rights Day, show the LGBT community that you truly believe they deserve the human rights outlined by the U.N.'s declaration, instead of balking at the issue as you have before. Show this country that your own policies are in harmony with Clinton's honorable message, and that your administration is not simply blowing smoke, as politicians of late have been all too eager to do."

You can watch Clinton's speech here and see what you think.

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