It was hard to keep a dry eye when Secretary of State Clinton introduced four LGBT activists from Uganda, Malawi, Cameroon, and South Africa to a packed auditorium at the State Department as part of her Pride address to the foreign service. It was a highlight in the long struggle for equality for LGBT people to have the Secretary of State declare, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights – once and for all!” Human rights defender Gift Trapence of Malawi expressed afterwards how powerful it was to have the Secretary of State of the United States look him in the eye with respect, since he is still considered a pariah at home because of his work on behalf of LGBT Malawians.
The Secretary announced a number of policy advancements, including the inclusion of gender identity in the employment policies at State, as well as the changes to passport procedures for transgender Americans. She strongly encouraged the regional bureaus to work harder on integrating LGBT issues into their work plans, and into public diplomacy programs. She also announced new attentiveness to the plight of LGBT refugees. But most importantly, she spoke with an ease and genuineness about sexual orientation and gender identity issues and about LGBT people and culture that was the most meaningful take-away from the speech.
That same week, the four activists and organizational members of the Council—IGLHRC, OSI, AJWS, and Human Rights First—met with the Africa Bureau at the State Department,held another standing-room only briefing for staffers in Congress, and met with officials from the National Security team at the White House. The White House is also deepening its response to the human rights of LGBT people globally. During our meeting there, Julius Kaagwa of Uganda thanked the White House staff for the President’s public and behind-the-scenes interventions on the anti-gay law that was pending in Uganda just months ago.
For those of us in the United States who have been working on the international human rights of LGBT people, last week’s events were satisfying because we have never seen the U.S. government respond in that way. We have the best of both worlds, with Barack Obama in the White House and Hillary Clinton as our Secretary of State. It is up to us to ensure that we make the very best use of these two incredible LGBT allies who are now in powerful positions that impact the real lives of LGBT people around the world.