Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gay Rights are Human Rights

Gay Rights Are Human Rights
By Maria Otero

About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

I remember meeting with Val from Uganda, an activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, last year. Val told me about how she and others activists in her country faced possible persecution for speaking out against policies that criminalized an entire class of people based on sexual orientation. I believe that we have a duty not only to speak out against harmful policies, but also to ensure that people like Val, who are trying to exercise their basic rights as human beings, are protected from possible violence.

Val's story is never far from my mind and is one of the reasons I met yesterday with representatives of the Council for Global Equality, a coalition of 19 human rights organizations that advocate for a stronger U.S. government voice on behalf of the equality and fair treatment of LGBT individuals in the United States and overseas. We had an open and engaging discussion of the State Department's efforts to elevate and integrate inclusion and protection of LGBT individuals into our human rights agenda. These efforts build upon the Obama Administration's commitment to these issues, and further Secretary Clinton's statement that "human rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights."

Representatives from around the State Department offered their perspective on prioritizing this human rights issue among embassies around the world. The Bureau of African Affairs explained how it has responded to violence committed against the LGBT community in Uganda, Malawi, and elsewhere. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs outlined its work to incorporate LGBT protection into the agenda of the Organization of American States and explained how it seeks out regional partners, such as Brazil. The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration explained its work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure protection for LGBT refugees, while our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor described its work on training officers in the field, including plans to roll out a "toolkit” to human rights officers globally.

Led by Ambassador Michael Guest, a retired Foreign Service officer, the Council for Global Equality expressed its willingness for further cooperation and asked excellent questions about the reaction of our partner governments, opportunities for cooperation with European allies, priorities for foreign assistance, future public diplomacy opportunities around LGBT issues, and other important topics. We obviously have much more work to do in our human rights advocacy around LGBT issues, but I left feeling encouraged by these impressive and dedicated activists and their leadership. These are not single-issue advocates, but a group of dedicated human rights professionals who seem well-prepared to effectively carry their concerns into our democracy and overseas as an integrated part of our overall human rights diplomacy. And, hopefully, through our joint efforts, Val and others like her will be able to live freely and without fear of persecution.

You can view Secretary Clinton's "It Gets Better" video and remarks here.

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