United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently concluded a speech to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in celebration of International Human Rights Day in which she called for the advancement of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world.
Clinton compared the struggle to recognize the human rights of GLBT people to the struggle for other historically oppressed groups, and said that the meaning of human rights has slowly evolved to include them.
“(W)e understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them,” she 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.”
During the speech she admitted that America has not yet fully secured the rights of GLBT people.
“Many (GLBT) 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. ”
However, she said continued conversations between countries around the world and the people within it will help progress understanding and eventual legal and cultural integration of GLBT people into society.
The White House also issued a memorandum directing all federal agencies abroad to use U.S. diplomacy and assistance to foreign countries to promote and protect the human rights of GLBT persons.
Reactions were quickly provided by numerous groups in support of the speech, as well as against it.
Kate Kendell, executive directorof the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the speech “left (her) with a lump in my throat and tears in (her) eyes.”
“It seems possible that LGBT people could become, as the Secretary put it, “free and equal in dignity and rights” around the world,” she said. “This is a day to remember, and one that will mark the beginning of a new era in the international recognition of our community.”
Others, including Texas governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry, saw the speech as an effort by the government to force religious people to conform to an antithetical belief.
“This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country,” he said. “Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americans of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.
“President (Barack) Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles.”
Clinton recognized the issues that people of faith and different cultures would have regarding GLBT people, but said an open dialogue would help promote understanding.
“Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech,” she said. “It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it.”
She encouraged people who oppose equal rights for GLBT people to consider the effect such discrimination would have on their own lives.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?’ ” she said. “This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.”
She also offered words of hope to GLBT people around the world who are facing discrimination and abuse.
“People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face,” she said. “That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America, and you have millions of friends among the American people.”