Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers historic LGBT rights speech in Geneva

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy to promote LGBT rights around the world. President Obama issued a memorandum in Washington, D.C. and Secretary of State Clinton gave the following speech in which the administration vowed to actively combat efforts by nations who criminalize homosexuality conduct and deny LGBT citizens equal rights.


“Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct,” Secy. Clinton said at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, “but in fact they are one and the same.”

The speech and memo is aimed at raising LGBT equality on the administration’s foreign policy agenda. I particularly value the connection of social justice issues to human rights language. It’s a powerful statement. This language and the leverage of American diplomatic efforts are vitally important, they give the issue visibility and legitimacy. I particularly appreciated Secretary Clinton’s call for the freedom of expression. She said,

“It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.”

Some great elements of the administration’s strategy, from the NYTimes:

Secretary Clinton asked American diplomats to raise the issue wherever harassment or abuse arises and required a record of them in the State Department’s annual report on human rights. She also announced a $3 million program to finance gay-rights organizations to combat discrimination, violence and other abuses. A senior administration official said that the money could be used, for example, to finance a lawyers’ group that is defending gays or to pay for the training of journalists who cover the persecution of gays. It could also provide relocation aid to refugees fleeing violence or persecution.

However, it’s really important to note that there’s a lot more to be clarified and specified, if we’re going to see real change. Caitlin Hayden, the National Security Council’s deputy spokeswoman, said the Obama administration was “not cutting or tying” foreign aid to changes in other nation’s practices.

Also! It would be great to have a clear strategy about the administration’s strategy on the host of  LGBT rights issues that remain unresolved here in the US of A. To name a few: employment discrimination, access to health care, the ability to parent, economic and health disparities, and not least but often said first,  the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and marriage equality.

A symbolic and historic move? Certainly, and a very moving one.  In this moment, though, let’s keep urging our leaders to put some compelling legislation on the books to protect the rights of LGBTIQ folks. Let’s urge clear accountability and make sure that our laws reflect our values. I’ll end with some of Secretary Clinton’s own words from yesterday:

…Progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate…

Now, we must go further and work here and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of the LGBT community. To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.”

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