On Tuesday, December 6th, President Obama issued a historic memorandum announcing initiatives to advance LGBT human rights internationally. The memorandum directed agencies involved in U.S. foreign assistance and diplomacy to safeguard LGBT human rights. Specifically, it called for such agencies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct, protect vulnerable LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, and work with international organizations in the struggle against anti-LGBT discrimination.
The release of the memorandum coincided with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's address to the United Nations in Geneva, in which she urged all countries to respect LGBT civil rights. Secretary Clinton acknowledged the violence and unjust treatment encountered by LGBT worldwide, calling them "an invisible minority." Wisely, she countered common stereotypes that homosexuality is supposedly a Western phenomenon, that homosexuality is a disease than can be cured, that gays are sexual predators, etc. Secretary Clinton also acknowledge that LGBT rights are human rights, and that LGBT persons share "a common humanity." Finally, she announced the launch of a new Global Equality Fund that will support organizations working on LGBT issues worldwide.
This is amazing news. The U.S. government has taken a concrete stand for the global LGBT community, and has issues two powerful statements expressing their support for LGBT human rights. In a world where LGBT people face horrors such as murder, corrective rape, and draconian anti-gay legislation, such support could not be more timely.
Unfortunately -- but not surprisingly -- members of the Religious Right have expressed outrage at this White House show of support for LGBT rights. Tiresome rhetoric about "special rights" and "traditional values" abounds among Religious Right commentators, as the following examples demonstrate.
First, Family Research Council immediately condemned the memorandum with scathing language. In a December 6th press release, FRC senior fellow Peter Sprigg was stunned that President Obama wanted to promote "the radical ideology of the sexual revolution" overseas. He condemned the White House for "imposing an alien ideology" on other nations, claiming that U.S. allies would supposedly accuse the president of "cultural imperialism" if he did so with other issues. Sprigg insisted that the United Nations is divided on whether "special rights" should be granted on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
During the December 7th edition of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson lamented that the U.S. was supposedly "forcing" other countries to accept LGBTs but was not taking enough action regarding the persecution of Christians in other parts of the globe. He warned viewers that continued violation of God's principles would result in a "horrible" fate. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.) At the 5:23 mark of the episode, Robertson had this to say.
"Isn’t it appalling that the United States of America would try to force the acceptance of homosexuality on other nations, but at the same time we would not force them to take care of their religious minorities and they would permit discrimination and persecution of Christians? What kind of a country have we got? You know, there is a God in heaven and he is just. Thomas Jefferson, ‘I tremble when I remember that God is just.’ He is just. He is not going to allow this kind of thing to go on forever. This country cannot continue to violate God’s principles and to make a mockery of His laws and think we’re going to get away with it. And when the blow comes, it’s going to be horrible."
In a December 6th statement on his website, Texas Gov. Rick Perry lambasted the Obama Administration for its supposed "war on traditional values," accusing it of being at "war" with people of faith. He criticized the promotion of "special rights for gays in foreign countries," insisting that it did not deserve taxpayer money. (Hat tip to the Advocate.)
CNN reports that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was unhappy with the memorandum. According to the article, Santorum accused President Obama of "promoting gay lifestyles and gay rights," and said that the U.S. should distribute humanitarian aid based on need rather than "whether people are promoting their particular agenda."
In a December 7th commentary at World Net Daily, Bob Unruh claimed that President Obama wanted to make the U.S. the "global sex cop" and create "special provisions" for gays to enter the U.S. Unruh quoted favorably from anti-LGBT activists such as Peter LaBarbera of AFTAH and Randy Thomasson of SaveCalifornia.
Finally, in a December 7th broadcast of The Janet Mefferd Show, Janet Mefferd and Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel lambasted the memorandum and U.N. speech. At the 21:21 mark of the second hour of the broadcast, Barber mocked the measure as allegedly in keeping with the Obama administration's "self-righteous, presumptuous, and wholly disingenuous approach to these issues." At 22:21, Barber fumed that the U.S. was "essentially exporting America's moral decline to other nations and using extortion to insist upon and to force poor nations, poor people, poor countries to adopt this postmodern sexual anarchist view of these types of behaviors."
Mefferd and Barber complained about LGBT rights being associated with human rights, with the assumption that equal rights for the LGBT community did not constitute human rights. Like Pat Robertson, they also fumed that attention was being given to LGBT rights as opposed to persecution of Christians worldwide. The idea that one could support the rights of both persecuted Christians around the globe and the LGBT community was not considered. At the 28:38 mark, the two scoffed at the idea of violence against LGBT individuals.
MEFFERD: Here’s a question I had too. In all the stories that I was reading yesterday about this directive, in none of them did I see any breakdown of statistics on the number of homosexuals and transgenders worldwide who are being tortured, persecuted and killed for being gay. Have you seen any statistics like that?
BARBER: Of course not. It’s nonsense. It’s Orwellian newspeak.
It seems that neither Mefferd nor Barber researched the readily available documentation of persecution and violence against LGBT people at home and abroad. Had they done so, they would have realized that homophobic and transphobic violence are very real, and that addressing such violence is a human rights priority. Violence against LGBT persons does not merely consist of random, isolated crimes, but is a systematic form of oppression that springs from homophobia and transphobia. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
At such a positive moment in history, when faced with such bigotry, all I can say to the haters is YOU'RE WRONG. It gladdens my heart that LGBT rights are making progress, even as homophobes and transphobes spew venom. Despite their angry rhetoric, human rights are moving forward, and the world will be better for it.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Do the religious right even care about the victims of anti-gay persecution?
Wall of Separation: Clinton's Challenge: Secretary of State Says Religion is No Excuse for Anti-Gay Bias
Think Progress: The Right Goes Wild: Conservatives Condemn Obama Administration for Treating Gay People as Human