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US Pushes Hard on LGBT Rights Around the World

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

The Obama administration has issued a flurry of documents and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a groundbreaking speech on the need for protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It began this morning with the White House memorandum directing American international agencies to take action in countries where LGBT abuses are taking place. That was followed by fact sheets from the White House and the State Department outlining the new policies as well as past accomplishments. Of particular interest is the State Department’s description of its engagement in Uganda over concerns about the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Alongside Ugandan civil society’s strong and sustained outreach to parliamentarians and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and advocacy of other governments, U.S. Government advocacy against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill established a precedent for the United States, the international donor community and civil society to collaborate to counter efforts to criminalize same-sex conduct. [Emphasis mine]

While activities in Uganda are mentioned, Africa was not alone in receiving the State Department’s attention over the past few years. Also mentioned are Jamaica, Slovakia, Indonesia, Guinea, Serbia, and India. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton gave what has been described as a groundbreaking speech in Geneva in advance of Human Rights Day this Saturday. I wasn’t able to see the speech and hope to have the transcript as soon as possible. (Update: It’s here, and it’s a doozy.)

It remains to be seen how the actions today will be reported in the popular media and what the response will be in countries which stand to be affected by today’s announcements. But past events does give us a clue as to how today’s developments are likely to be received in world capitals where LGBT persecution is either official policy or the social norm. Russia had earlier denounced American diplomatic protests over a proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would prohibit LGBT advocacy in public, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak followed that with a suggestion that the St. Petersburg proposal could be made a federal law. In Africa, following comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that countries which prosecute LGBT people could see their foreign aid cut (a warning that was later modified to say that the aid would be redirected to NGO’s instead), African leaders, including those who oppose LGBT oppression, warned that the statement could backfire on efforts to head off legislation which would severely increase penalties against LGBT people. African LGBT advocates also warn that if changes in foreign funding force cutbacks in governmental services, the local LGBT communities would feel the brunt of the blame, making the work of LGBT advocacy much more difficult in countries where the prevailing belief is that homosexuality is a Western import.

None of that is to say that these pronouncements from the US and IK aren’t unwarranted or improper. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and as they say in Africa, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. Since Cameron’s announcement in October, there has been a measurable uptick on African newspaper articles mentioning homosexuality popping up through November and December in my Google Alerts for the continent, and those articles are rarely positive. The Ugandan Parliament revived the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of October, and the Nigerian Senate greatly increased the penalties in a bill which makes same-sex unions a felony in November.

Now to be clear, neither action was a response to Britain’s announcement; both events almost certainly have occurred anyway. But if anyone had been inclined to speak out against those two bills before, the current politics now makes that all but impossible. No African politician has ever lost influence by standing up to “meddling” by foreign and (especially) colonial powers. And no politician anywhere in the world — east, west, north or south — has survived the taint of being accused of colluding with foreign governments, no  matter how manifestly untrue, unjust, or an irrelevant distraction those accusations may be.

In the short term, these announcements are likely to exacerbate the situation. That is just a simple fact of life, but pointing that out isn’t to say that this is not a good change in direction. It is merely to say that we will need to be forewarned and prepared for the inevitable reaction which will come of it. Fasten your seat belts.

Comments

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Timothy Kincaid
December 6th, 2011 | LINK

I’m not sure we can too closely form a causal relationship between Cameron and a lack of resistance. Perhaps, but I don’t think it can be established without question.

And another way to look at these action in Africa may be to see them not as reaction to the statements of a politician or nation, but as screaming, dig your feet in, not here not now never!, reaction to the inevitable.

Despite Maggie’s protests, I think that everyone knows by now that marriage equality is coming to Alabama. And Mississippi. And the rest of the 31 states that voted – voted, dammit, will of the people – that they didn’t want it. And I think we all know that those votes were little more than standing astride history and shouting Stop!

paul canning
December 6th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy

Cameron *never* said aid would be good. The BBC may have said that but Cameron’s remarks are on video and that wasn’t what he said!

paul canning
December 6th, 2011 | LINK

That’s ‘cut’, not ‘good’ … :#

F Young
December 6th, 2011 | LINK

On the topic of aid to homophobic governments, one of the arguments that is rarely raised is that a significant part of that aid comes from taxes paid by LGBT. I would guess at least 7% (I wish somebody did a calculation) considering that LGBT’s do not enjoy the same tax deductions as non-LGBT’s.

Any time a foreign government complains about funding restrictions interfering in their affairs, we should remind them where that money comes from. Why should LGBTs be expected to fund their enemies?

Timothy Kincaid
December 7th, 2011 | LINK

paul – was that directed at me?

Timothy Kincaid
December 7th, 2011 | LINK

F Young,

It is hard to determine. In the US, when we speak of federal funds, we are talking about income taxes, which are about 90% of receipts, with the remainder being things like excise tax and gift tax, etc.

(In theory the Social Security and Medicare receipts are reserved for the program and are not taxes and thus not to be used for governmental expenditures. This is not exactly reality, but for purposes of this exercise, it’s close enough).

Of income taxes, about 80-85% is personal and the remainder is corporate. Of the personal income taxes, they are paid by the following individuals:

the ‘occupied’ top 1% making over $344 K – 37%
top 5% over $155 K – 59%
top half over $33 K – 98%

So the extent to which gay tax dollars are part of the overall tax base would depend on the extent to which gay people are part of the very wealthy.

Gays and lesbians make up roughly 4% of the population. I don’t know whether we are disproportionately in the top 5 or top 1 percent of income earners. Studies on that approach that subject tend to be structured to give results that serve the ones conducting the study rather than to answer the question.

Timothy Kincaid
December 7th, 2011 | LINK

(additional info)

The ‘occupied’ top 1% make 19% of total income, the top 5% make 33%, and the top half make 85% of income. And, of course, taxes and “wealth” are defined by dollars, not by cost of living, so southern Californians who are part of the top 5% may have less expendable income after housing, transportation, and local taxes than someone living in a less expensive area while paying a higher rate of income taxes.

Blake
December 7th, 2011 | LINK

I love Clinton’s speech and the continuing effort to find a global consensus to fight homophobia and secure the human rights of gays everywhere but I’m not sold on the effectiveness of directly tying aid to how a country treats ONE specific group. To do so smacks of pandering, is terribly misunderstood at a local level, and may be counterproductive in the long run.

The new USA policies seem to be attempting to bring GLBT rights ‘up to speed’ in the context of human rights priorities. I worry about moving in this direction unilaterally, however. While the State Department does not answer to the Congress, without the specific support of Congress for these measures upcoming administrations could change, decline to fund, or do away with any program put in place to push for LGBT rights as human rights worldwide. I certainly don’t want this important work resting only with the whims of the occupant of the white house. It is much more difficult to convince a future congress (as the DADT situation taught us). Should the Democrats gain majorities in the elections next year, our leadership should focus on codifying these foreign policy priorities.

Priya Lynn
December 7th, 2011 | LINK

Blake said “I’m not sold on the effectiveness of directly tying aid to how a country treats ONE specific group.”.

So, were you against putting pressure on South Africa to end apartheid?

Blake
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

Priya, I don’t see the parallel. I was too young for S. Africa, still in diapers, but my gut says I’d have supported pressuring the government of S. Africa to end the racist Apartheid regime.

My guess is you’re tying to say Uganda is imposing a similar regime against gays as South Africa did against people of color, but I’m not sure the parallel quite stands up. Ending Apartheid was not just for the benefit of one group and the general public understood this and this sentiment was reflected in the constitution they eventually adopted which both protected the rights of the white minority in S. Africa and the rights of every other minority in S. Africa including gays.

Also, Apartheid was all encompassing, in that it was not just a serious of “Jim Crow” like laws, but a serious restriction on everyone’s civil liberties, including the right to form opposition parties, the right to a free press, the right to gather openly, and included terrible state sponsored violence . Any criticism of the regime was completely shut out of discussion in S.Africa for a majority of the regime’s existence; so I would say Apartheid is more similar to Assad’s regime in Syria (without out the overtly racist overtones of Apartheid) than any attempts to outlaw gay identity in Uganda.

The not-well-thought-through (in my opinion) strategy of GB in unilaterally withholding aid (or shifting it to NGOs, as is apparently the true policy) due to a Nation’s treatment of one specific minority group while previously doing nothing when peoples’ other civil rights were abridged and generally ignoring the apparent rise of a strongman, up to this point, in Uganda & (prior to Wikileaks) Malawi means that these actions, however well meaning, are only bringing unwanted attention to a specific minority group’s civil rights struggles while seemingly ignoring the oppressed opposition in these countries. The majority ends up scratching their head and asking “Why now?” Where was Britain when opposition parties were outlawed in Malawi? Where was Britain when fraudulent presidential elections in Uganda strengthened the strongman in charge?

I am of the continued opinion that the move by Cameron was based on domestic political calculations and an attempt to kill two birds with one stone (without having to spend a dime):

1. Score points with domestic gays by punishing Uganda

2. Cutting foreign aid to appease the conservative base.

And while it may succeed in the two political points above I’d say that the long-term effect on the ground in Uganda will do nothing to help sexual minorities there. I dislike it when political leaders score points at home at the determent of real people abroad due to focusing on the political ramifications rather than the real-world ramifications of whatever policy. Which would be the other difference between opposing Apartheid and opposing GB’s policy.

Blake
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

Ha! Clearly I know nothing about Malawi.

Priya Lynn
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

Blake said “My guess is you’re tying to say Uganda is imposing a similar regime against gays as South Africa did against people of color, but I’m not sure the parallel quite stands up. Ending Apartheid was not just for the benefit of one group”.

????But of course it was, it was for the benefit of black South Africans! Just because the constitution protected minority whites and gays doesn’t mean ending apartheid was intended to benefit them, quite the opposite for whites, they were the kings and queens of South Africa, the new constitution took power away from them and gays were only included because one prominent black anti-apartheid leader came out while he was in jail for opposing the regime

“Also, Apartheid was all encompassing, in that it was not just a serious of “Jim Crow” like laws, but a serious restriction on everyone’s civil liberties, including the right to form opposition parties, the right to a free press, the right to gather openly, and included terrible state sponsored violence.”

I can’t imagine how you can see the proposed laws in Uganda as being any different. Apartheid wasn’t a restriction on everyone’s civil liberties, it gave all the liberties to white people just as Uganda is giving all the liberties to heterosexuals. There’s no significant difference between the regime Uganda proposes aqainst gays and the one South Africa imposed against blacks. If you supported putting pressure on South Africa to end apartheid then its hypocritical for you to say you’re against pressuring other countries to end their pogroms against LGBTs. Just as ending the discrimination against blacks resulted in protections for whites ending Uganda’s discrmination against LGBTs would almost certainly give the same protections to heterosexuals.

Blake
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

Ah cherrypicking I see; I can play that game too:

“But of course it was, it was for the benefit of black South Africans!” And other South Africans of color. Including ethnic Indians, Filipinos, and South Asians to name a few. And to the benefit of White South Africans who opposed the Apartheid Regime, especially white Communist Party leaders and intellectuals. As well as lovers of liberty everywhere. South Africa has, perhaps, the best written constitution in the world. The only thing that could make it better is if they removed what restrictions they have in order to all allowing full freedom of speech; but I understand why they do not.

“and gays were only included because one prominent black anti-apartheid leader came out while he was in jail for opposing the regime” Ah that’s the context I’m missing regarding living through it. I’d never heard that before.

“Apartheid wasn’t a restriction on everyone’s civil liberties” Except that it was. I made a partial list above of the civil liberties which were suspended under the apartheid regime for all people, regardless of race. So while it is appropriate to move against a regime to restricts everyone’s civil liberties, doing so NOW specifically due to the mistreatment of one segment of a population smacks of favoritism and will be misunderstood as such. Why not impose restrictions on aid to Uganda when it became clear, two years ago, that the Pres has no intent to give up power? Why wait until they are going to pass a law specifically targeted at one group when all of society has been suffering for some time?

“Just as ending the discrimination against blacks resulted in protections for whites ending Uganda’s discrmination against LGBTs would almost certainly give the same protections to heterosexuals.” While it is true that Whites are protected under the constitution of S. Africa, this is not a guaranteed outcome of overthrowing an apartheid regime. Look at Zimbabwe. Liberty does not necessarily beget more Liberty.

“I can’t imagine how you can see the proposed laws in Uganda as being any different.” Apartheid was much bigger than just one law.

While what is happening in Uganda is unjust and should be opposed by the international community, at the same time the international community has a responsibility to understand what the actual situation on the ground within the country is and act in such a way that will actually benefit the gays and lesbians in Uganda rather than attempting to score cheap political points domestically by scapegoating a particular country or set of countries. I support the USA’s policy of bringing the State Department up-to-speed but I do not support GB’s policy of withholding aid for this one seemingly arbitrary human rights violation. Also, don’t equivocate the international response to S.Africa & Uganda. S.Africa was isolated economically and politically via sanctions, GB is only proposing a cut in Aid to the nation.

Priya Lynn
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

Blake, you can play this “It isn’t exactly the same therefore its unjusfied.” game all you want but that’s just a cop out. In fact it is worse in Uganda than it was in South Africa. All South African blacks weren’t eligible to be imprisoned for life or executed for being black on more than one occaision. If its a good idea to intervene to protect lots of people it doesn’t suddenly become a bad idea to intervene because a minority is involved, what’s good for the majority is good for the minority.

I see this all the time with some in the gay community, playing deferential to bigotry and discrimination where none of you would do so if it was blacks or jews being treated the same way.

You say “Why not impose restrictions on aid to Uganda when it became clear, two years ago, that the Pres has no intent to give up power? Why wait until they are going to pass a law specifically targeted at one group when all of society has been suffering for some time?” and that really takes the cake. If you thought intervention was justified two years it’s just as justified now and I find it despicable that any person would criticize an intervention out of some misguided stockholm syndrome desire to not be to pushy towards bigots.

Blake
December 9th, 2011 | LINK

You’re not seeing my full argument. Intervention is justified. The UK’s intervention is not.

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