The U.S. Embassy Blog
LGBT Rights are Human Rights
June 20, 2012
In the second half of the 20th Century, the idea of the universality of human rights transformed from a philosophical idea to the central foundation of the world’s democracies. The underlying principle of the human rights movement is simple – every individual has an equal right to liberty, freedom, and the protection of dignity. Or, as Secretary Clinton has said, “It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights.”
The flowering of the human rights movement has helped to ensure that some of society’s most marginalized groups, from religious minorities to indigenous people to people with disabilities, have been able to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms too often deprived them in the past. Progress has come incrementally, but each step forward has dealt a further blow to the injustice and inequality created by prejudice, intolerance and neglect.
While more must be done to protect the rights of many groups, few, if any, are subject to more harassment, threats, and violence than the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender(LGBT) community. In too many countries, LGBT people must hide or suppress their identity to protect themselves from harm, to find employment, and to avoid social exclusion. Secretary Clinton has called their plight world-wide “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.” President Obama has said that “the struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is a global challenge” and “central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.”
The United States record on protecting LGBT rights is far from perfect. Until 2003, homosexual behavior was still a crime in parts of the country. Many LGBT Americans still face hostility, bullying, threats, and exclusion. There is growing recognition in the United States, however, that divisions and separations based on sexual orientation are as insidious as those based on gender, nationality, race or any other immutable characteristic. The change in attitudes is reflected by President Obama’s 2010 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which barred openly LGBT people from serving in the military. Not long ago, such a decision would have faced vehement public opposition. According to one poll conducted in 2010, however, 72 percent of the population support allowing homosexuals to serve in the military.
One of the central social issues in the United States currently is the question of same-sex marriage. Such marriages are recognized by some states, but are not recognized by the federal government. Public support for same-sex marriage has grown in recent years, from 25 percent in 1996 to current polling which shows that Americans are equally split or even support the idea by a narrow majority. Only last month, President Obama became the first U.S. president to express public support for same sex marriage, saying that his decision was reached in part because of discussions with his own family:
Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we're talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently.
As we move forward with the debate in our own country, we will also be working with our partners abroad, including in Montenegro, to combat human rights abuses against LGBT persons. President Obama recently directed all U.S. government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond to abuses against LGBT persons. And as we and our partners work to end the abuses against the LGBT community, we will do so with the understanding that, as Secretary Clinton has stated, “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
By John Cooney, Political Economic Section Chief