Gay Rights as Human Rights

With Gov. Gregoire signing a bill on Monday allowing same-sex couples to marry, and with similar upcoming votes in Maryland and New Jersey, gay rights have been at the forefront of recent political discussions.

The LGBT civil rights struggle in the United States is focuses on topics such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and marriage equality.

But for many LGBT people around the world, the struggle has a very different tone.

In Uganda, the deeply controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reintroduced last week by Member of Parliament David Bahati. Alleging that homosexuality is a contagious disease imported from Western countries, Bahati has stated that he would like “to kill every last gay person.”

The original 2009 bill was introduced by Bahati after he attended a workshop on combating the “gay agenda” held by prominent American evangelical Christians, who have since tried to distance themselves from the harshest elements of the proposed law.

This law, while strongly protested by global leaders, is actually very popular in Uganda itself.

Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen already have similar laws on the books and continue to enforce them to varying degrees.  Anti-gay laws have recently been proposed in the Gambia, Ghana, and Liberia, while localities in Russia have begun enacting laws prohibiting the “propaganda of homosexualism.”

In contrast to the developments in Uganda, the theme of gay rights as human rights is becoming “a new frontier in diplomatic relations between Western powers and African governments,” said Farouk Chothia of the BBC.  The Obama administration, alongside the United Kingdom and Sweden, stated that foreign aid to Uganda would be cut if Bahati’s bill passed.

It also threatened to block aid to other countries that continue to criminalize and persecute their LGBT citizens.

Last December, Secretary of State Clinton addressed the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva on the topic of gay rights as human rights. Her remarks were seen as a sea change in American foreign policy by LGBT and human rights organizations:

Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same… This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. 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.

It is 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.

Stressing that protecting the civil rights of LGBT citizens is not simply a Western cause, Secretary Clinton highlighted countries all around the world where gay rights as human rights is becoming a moral pillar of both domestic and foreign policy.

South Africa, whose post-Apartheid constitution enshrines the equality of all citizens including LGBTs, sponsored a declaration in the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The supreme court of Nepal has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens and that those rights must be included in that country’s new constitution, which is currently being written.  Governments in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mongolia have also taken important steps to protect the rights of gays and tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Back in the United States, the debate continues.

Former President Jimmy Carter, in his speech to the World Affairs Council on Jan. 31, said “I would like to see anyone on Earth that is challenged or abused by their leaders in human rights to say ‘Why don’t we go to Washington?’ because the United States is a champion of human rights.”

In the debate in the Washington state legislature, Rep. Maureen Walsh (R–Walla Walla) gave a testimony, which went viral on the internet, stating the importance of “speaking against a vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority.”

On May 15, the World Affairs Council is pleased to host a conversation on gay rights as human rights featuring Cary Alan Johnson, the Executive Director of IGLHRC, and Rev. Kapya Kaoma. Join us to learn more.

By Matt Landers, Communications Intern