News / USA

Obama Elevates Gay Rights as a Foreign Policy Priority

President Obama in Kansas, December 6, 2011
President Obama in Kansas, December 6, 2011

President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a directive elevating the the rights and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people abroad as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

A memorandum Mr. Obama sent to government agencies directs them to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, or LGBT persons.

He said he has been "deeply concerned" by violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons.  He cited foreign laws criminalizing LGBT status, the beating of LGBT citizens for joining peaceful celebrations, and the killing of men, women and children for their perceived sexual orientation.

Mr. Obama said America's commitment to advancing human rights for all people is strengthened when it vigorously advances the goal of promoting LGBT rights.  Mr. Obama raised the issue at the United Nations General Assembly in September. "No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere," he said.

Treatment of LGBT people in other countries is already mentioned in annual State Department country human rights assessments.  Mr. Obama's directive elevates the issue's importance as a foreign policy priority.

In an address in Geneva on Tuesday, where the U.N. Human Rights Council is based, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the importance of defending gay rights.  And she criticized nations that criminalize homosexuality or tolerate abuse of LGBT people. "No practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.  And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing," he said.

Mr. Obama has directed the State Department and other agencies to fight the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and ensure "swift and meaningful" U.S. responses to "serious incidents" that threaten the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people abroad.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called the administration's decision "the first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating the abuse of LGBT people abroad."

Darlene Nipper,  the organization's Deputy Executive Director, said "I think it is a fantastic culmination of what is clearly a progressive position on the White House's part to make a clear stance, and to take a leadership role on these issues internationally and worldwide."

But Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council criticized Mr. Obama's decision, saying it "throws the full weight and reputation of the U.S. behind the promotion overseas of the radical ideology of the sexual revolution." "President Obama is acting as if homosexual conduct has been universally-accepted as a human right, and that is simply not the case.  There is no treaty; there is no universally-accepted international statement, which declares homosexual conduct to be a human right.  So he is really acting on a fiction here," he said.

Texas Governor and Republican presidential contender Rick Perry called the announcement part of the Obama administration's "war on traditional American values," saying that Mr. Obama had "mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles."

Mr. Obama's directive on protecting LGBT rights globally will likely bolster the strong support he already enjoys from the LGBT community.

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