by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered what is almost certainly the most important speech ever given by a U.S. official on LGBT rights, before the United Nations in Geneva on December 6.
'Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human,' she said. 'And that is why Gay rights are human rights and human rights are Gay rights.'
Several U.N. delegates reportedly fled the hall as Clinton concluded her remarks. Those who remained gave her a standing ovation.
The speech was made in advance of International Human Rights Day, December 10.
On the same day, President Obama issued a directive to U.S. officials ordering 'all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.'
According to White House insiders cited by The New York Times, the administration's one-two punch had been planned for months. The content of Clinton's speech was kept secret until the last minute to avoid diplomatic complications with U.S. allies who do not share the administration's commitment to LGBT rights.
Clinton began her speech by recounting how the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in 1947, in the wake of horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their World War II allies.
It was the sort of thing people always say at the U.N. on International Human Rights Day. But then Clinton's speech took an unexpected turn.
'Today I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today,' she said.
'In many ways they are an invisible minority,' she continued.
'They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way, or too often even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.
'I am talking about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender people.'
'My own country's record is far from perfect'
Saying that she addressed this issue with 'respect, understanding, and humility,' Clinton was self-critical about her own country's record on LGBT rights.
'I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on human rights for Gay people is far from perfect,' she said.
'Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many 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.'
She also acknowledged that the issue of LGBT rights 'is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs,' both in the U.S. and in other countries.
But, she insisted, 'Even though progress on this front is not easy, we cannot delay acting.'
'It is a 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,' Clinton declared.
'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 Transgender 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.'
'Being Gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality'
Clinton specifically denounced the common excuse that same-sex attraction is a European cultural phenomenon that is foreign to African, Asian, or Middle Eastern countries.
'Some seem to believe [being Gay] is a western phenomenon and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,' she said.
'They 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.
'Being Gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, Gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.'
Clinton went on to praise South Africa, Colombia, Argentina, Nepal, and Mongolia for their progress in creating legal guarantees for LGBT residents.
Noting that 'religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity and fundamental to who we are as people,' Clinton said that 'religion and culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings.'
Using religion to justify anti-Gay laws, she said, is like using it to justify slavery, honor killings, or female genital mutilation.
'In each of these cases we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us,' Clinton said.
'A great deal of work lies before us'
Invoking Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Clinton called on leaders of every country to take positive steps to erase anti-LGBT discrimination, not only in law, but also in 'the treatment [LGBT people] receive every day from their families, from their neighbors.'
'To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being Gay, I ask you to consider this,' Clinton said.
'Leadership by definition means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.'
'And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too.'
Clinton then outlined the Obama administration's new initiatives supporting LGBT rights worldwide.
'A great deal of work lies before us,' Clinton admitted. 'But many of us have seen firsthand how quickly change can come. In our lifetimes, attitudes toward Gay people in many places have been transformed.
'Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are Gay.'
'Let us be on the right side of history for our people, our nations, and future generations whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today,' she concluded. 'I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead we will travel it successfully together.'
'Extraordinary global leadership'
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese met with Clinton before her appearance at the U.N. and, like other LGBT rights activists, he hailed the speech.
'When speaking with Secretary Clinton, I thanked her for standing beside LGBT Americans and advancing an American foreign policy that is LGBT-inclusive,' he said. 'We were able to discuss how much further we have to go - at home and abroad - to secure the rights of LGBT people.'
'Today, Secretary Clinton distinguished herself as a legendary champion of rights for all people, including those of us who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender,' Solmonese added in a written press statement.
'In a remarkable speech to an international audience, the Secretary showed the power of American leadership that calls on the world to live up to the idea that all people are entitled to basic human rights and dignity. There is no question that the administration's record of advancing equality for LGBT people has been enhanced by the leadership of Secretary Clinton.'
'The United States showed extraordinary global leadership today by affirming the dignity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people around the world,' NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey added.
'The presidential memorandum is the first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating the abuse of LGBT people abroad. History is being made, but more importantly, lives will be improved and even saved.
'We applaud the president for this monumental step forward, and thank Secretary Clinton for taking to the world stage to send the unequivocal message that LGBT people everywhere should be able to live freely and with dignity.'
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce co-founders Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell were among several LGBT Americans invited to witness the groundbreaking speech, and to meet with Clinton and U.N. human rights officials.
'As a member of the Council on Global Equality and the economic advocate for LGBT business owners and employees in the U.S. and abroad, we are honored to have been asked to be part of such an important moment in the lives of LGBT people,' said Nelson.
'From the Caribbean to Nigeria to Russia, LGBT people face not only a struggle for civil rights, but a terrifying persecution because they dare to exist. For these people, Secretary Clinton continues to be a beacon of light in a very dark time.'
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