Obama Administration Addresses Need for Protections and Equality for LGBT People Worldwide

Yesterday marked a historic moment in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history as the Obama Administration expressed its commitment to ensuring the human rights of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.  President Barack Obama issued a memorandum outlining the specific steps that the United States will be taking towards ending discrimination against LGBT people, including the protection of LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, swift responses to anti-LGBT abuse, and giving foreign assistance to organizations working to advance protections and equality for LGBT people. In the evening, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave an impassioned and moving speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, recognizing the upcoming International Human Rights Day and emphasizing that the LGBT people need to be included in conversations and legislation around human rights.

Providing legal protections for, and eradicating discrimination against, LGBT people is another step in fulfilling the mission outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This Saturday, December 10, marks the 63rd Anniversary of the document’s adoption, and an opportune time to consider the implementation of its promise to protect people everywhere from injustice, abuse, violence, and discrimination. It is with this in mind that President Obama and Secretary Clinton directed their attention to the hardships faced by LGBT people internationally. While President Obama provided the details of the diplomatic strategy necessary to helping foster change in governments’ policies towards LGBT people, Secretary Clinton concentrated on the issues that have historically inhibited such efforts.

Notably, Secretary Clinton began by discussing the state of LGBT people in the United States by reviewing the discriminatory policies that have been removed and the issues that remain a problem today. She asserted that there is still much work to be done domestically, and she reiterated the commitment of the U.S. government to standing behind changes that protect LGBT people. She went on unpack the misconceptions of human rights, beginning with the belief that the welfare of LGBT individuals stands separately from human rights. Clinton dismissed this notion, saying, “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.” This led her to affirm that protecting LGBT people is not merely a concern of particular areas of the world, saying, “[LGBT people] are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”

After applauding the work of numerous non-Western countries in making the protection of LGBT people a priority in their legislative policies, Secretary Clinton focused on the power of the law to bring about positive change, both legally and in attitudes toward the LGBT community. “In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights,” she said. “Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality.” She articulated the role of stepping outside individual experience to consider the obstacles faced by LGBT people, saying, “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?’ 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.”

As Secretary Clinton brought her speech to a close, she spoke directly to LGBT people worldwide, saying, “Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face.” GLAAD applauds the work of all governments across the globe working to advance protections for LGBT people and encourages individuals and organizations to continue their efforts towards changing hearts and minds.