December 10, Saturday, was Human Rights Day 2011, and I reported on its origns, history, and background, noted the important role Eleanor Roosevelt played in drafting The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and delved into the direct connections between human rights and sexual freedom contained in the Declaration.
Last week, on December 6, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton surprised a lot of people all around the globe when she made an historic address to international diplomats gathered at The United Nations Office at Geneva (Switzerland) about the specific intersection between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and human rights. The Secretary said, “Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
Secretary Clinton gave a powerful and moving address, in which she put the world on notice that:
It is a 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. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.
In response to Secretary Clinton’s statements, as well as a coordinated proclamation from President Obama on the same day, religious bigots and certain Republicans gave the expected outcry, claiming this amounted to the United States using tax-payer dollars to forward what they call “a homosexual agenda.” But her comments are already making a difference in the international community: the country of Malawi has already announced that they will re-examine their laws as they relate to the LGBT community.
Unfortunately, the condition of human rights as they relate to LGBT rights in Secretary Clinton’s own United States is pretty deplorable. In most states, LGBT citizens are not protected from discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodations. Same-sex couples are prohibited from marrying in most states, and even in the few states where they are allow to marry, there is no federal recognition of such marriages due to the misnamed “Defense of Marriage Act” (ironically, signed into law by a President who was cheating on his wife at the time). This law is a blatant violation of the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution, and as a direct result of this single law, same-sex couples are discriminated against under at least 1,138 separate Federal laws that cover everything from taxes to immigration and beyond.
What do you think can be done to bring the United States more into compliance with the kinds of LGBT protections Secretary Clinton called for in the rest of the world? America likes to think of itself as “the land of the free,” but when it comes to sexual freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, is this a hollow and hypocritical promise?
Studies show that the younger people are, the more likely they are to support the kinds of changes that Secretary Clinton has called for in her historic speech. What does this mean in terms of how soon the LGBT community can hope to achieve full equality under the laws of the United States, and in other countries around the world?
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Flag image by Julyo, used pursuant to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.