WASHINGTON (CN) – Saying that he is “deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] persons around the world,” President Barack Obama ordered all federal agencies “engaged abroad” to ensure that “U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.”
It is the first time that the U.S. government has developed an international strategy for addressing the rights and status of LGBT people.
Specifically, Obama ordered all government agencies engaged abroad to combat criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, ensure that U.S. Foreign Aide promotes the protection of LGBT rights and to train personnel to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance.
On the same day Obama’s presidential memorandum was released, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expanded on the new emphasis the U.S. would place on LGBT rights – internationally – in a speech celebrating International Human Rights Day at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. In the coming months we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people,” Clinton said.
As part of these efforts, the State Department will give $3 million to support organizations advocating for LGBT people, she said.
Clinton struck a note of humility saying, “I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT 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.”
In a briefing after the speech, a senior State Department official said that Clinton’s speech was well received because of its humility and the straightforward way Clinton equated gay rights with human rights.
When asked if the administration considered marriage a human right and if the ability of LGBT people to marry would be used to evaluate a country’s progress on LGBT issues, the official demurred, saying that no matter what one thought about gay marriage, most people agreed that LGBT people ought not to be killed or imprisoned for who they are and who they love.
The State Department already includes a section on LGBT human rights in its annual Country Reports and the official said no new score card on the issue was proposed but that the department would be enhancing those sections of the reports.