Back to the Bully Pulpit

After eight years of avoidance by the Bush administration, will Obama or McCain champion gay rights in American foreign policy?

BY Ryan Richard Thoreson

October 08 2008 12:00 AM ET

In 1995,
then–first lady Hillary Clinton famously declared
that women’s rights are human rights at a
United Nations conference in Beijing. With more than a
decade under our belts since then, the question arises: Will
the next president (or first lady) make a similar statement
about gay rights on the international stage?

After eight years
in which the Bush administration has failed to support
gay rights stateside, let alone around the world, the
opportunity is there for the next president to use his
bully pulpit to champion equality and decry
state-sanctioned oppression of gay people. As a superpower
and beacon of democracy, human rights activists say,
this country should use its influence to lobby against
LGBT-related abuses. For starters: working with the 86
United Nations member countries that consider homosexuality
a crime, including the seven that punish it by death,
to change their minds.

“The U.S.
hasn’t been as clear and insistent on LGBT issues as
it has on issues like violence against women and human
trafficking,” says Michael Guest, the gay
former ambassador to Romania who now serves as senior
adviser to the Council for Global Equality (formerly the
LGBT Foreign Policy Project). “By giving the
level of support to LGBT groups that it allocates for
women, the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, and the
disabled, the U.S. could pull off a hat trick: It could
financially support the work of those groups, send a
clear signal that they’re being taken
seriously, and show repressive governments that it’s
keeping tabs on those who subject their citizens to
arbitrary arrest and abuse.”

But it’s
up to the next president to lead the way. One of the key
uses of presidential power is “to show moral
leadership,” says Scott Long, head of the LGBT
program at Human Rights Watch. “Saying something
about [gay rights] would be an incredibly powerful
message.”

There’s no
shortage of places where such a stand could make a
difference. Just this summer, officials in Saudi
Arabia, a longtime American ally, arrested 21 men for
allegedly being gay—an offense punishable by flogging
or imprisonment in the kingdom—and police in Dubai
arrested 17 foreigners on charges of cross-dressing or
otherwise violating gender norms. And in many
countries where homosexual relations are legal, conditions
are far from perfect: In Russia, Poland, Croatia,
Latvia, and Moldova, pride marches are routinely
banned by authorities or attacked by protesters; in
South Africa, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2006 and
bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation
in its constitution, lesbians have been subject to
“corrective rape.” Long says U.S.
intervention would have the most impact in sub-Saharan
Africa, the Caribbean, eastern Asia (he names South
Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan), and Eastern
Europe (Croatia, Romania, and Poland, for example).

Tags: Politics

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