The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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At U.N., Obama Calls for LGBT Rights, Decries 'Fundamentalism'

President Obama

Barack Obama gave his last address to the United Nations as U.S. president today, and he once again used the platform to call for a worldwide end to anti-LGBT discrimination.

“In remote corners of the world, citizens are demanding respect for the dignity of all people no matter their gender or race or religion or disability or sexual orientation, and those who deny others dignity are subject to public reproach,” Obama said in addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

There are barriers to such respect, he noted. “Alternative visions of the world have pressed forward both in the wealthiest countries and in the poorest: religious fundamentalism; the politics of ethnicity, or tribe, or sect; aggressive nationalism; a crude populism — sometimes from the far left, but more often from the far right — which seeks to restore what they believe was a better, simpler age free of outside contamination,” he said.

Obama acknowledged that such visions “are powerful” and “reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens,” but he continued, “I do not believe those visions can deliver security or prosperity over the long term, but I do believe that these visions fail to recognize, at a very basic level, our common humanity. Moreover, I believe that the acceleration of travel and technology and telecommunications — together with a global economy that depends on a global supply chain — makes it self-defeating ultimately for those who seek to reverse this progress. Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.”

The mention of walls could be directed at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to stop undocumented Mexican immigrants from coming over the border. (There is, by the way, substantial fencing along the border already.) However, Obama did not mention Trump by name. And the idea of “a better, simpler age free of outside contamination” touches on Trump’s rhetoric as well as that of some leaders around the world, the latter calling homosexuality and tolerance thereof an import from Western nations.

The inclusion of LGBT rights among global human rights goals has been a hallmark of the Obama administration. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 2011, for instance, Obama called for nations to “stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.” In December of that year, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of State, told the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

John Kerry, Clinton’s successor at State, has advocated for LGBT equality around the world as well and has appointed the nation’s first special envoy for LGBT human rights, Randy A. Berry.

Watch the president’s full speech below — it begins at about the 27-minute mark — and read a transcript here.

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