This past Saturday, December 10, marked the 63rd annual celebration of Human Rights Day. Sixty-three years ago, the United Nations General Assembly passed the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The declaration as summed up by the United Nations states that, “fundamental human rights and freedoms all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction.” Moreover, all people no matter racial, ethnic, religious or economic group are entitled to dignity and respect.
However, LGTBQ communities in the United States and around the world, as addressed in Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s speech last Tuesday to the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, are continually denied their basic human rights.
“. . .they are an invisible minority,” said Clinton. “Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse.”
Furthermore, she mentioned that human beings rights are violated when they are killed or beaten because of their sexual orientation stating, “It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.”
Also last Tuesday, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum for “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons”. The third section of the memorandum addresses U.S. foreign aid to countries who have policies that disregard the human rights of LGBT persons.
It says, “Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with government, citizens, civil society and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”
This will have a major impact on countries receiving U.S. aid through the Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Uganda, for example, receives millions of dollars in AIDS relief through PEPFAR, but passed the Anti-Homosexuality Law or what has been more commonly known as “Kill the Gays Bill” in 2009. This bill not only criminalizes homosexuality in Uganda, but criminalizes persons who promote or do not report instances of homosexuality.
A potential consequence for Uganda having this anti-homosexuality law on its books could mean a decrease or slowing in AIDS funding from PEPFAR’s prime and sub-partners, which would result in a higher rate of HIV infections and less access to lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment.
Hopefully, the Presidential memorandum and Clinton’s declaration will strongly encourage countries like Uganda to reevaluate not only their laws regarding LGBT persons, but their perceptions of LGBT as human beings. In order for countries to fight HIV/AIDS they need to liberate marginalized groups, educate their citizens on safe sex practices, and encourage infected persons to seek treatment, instead of shaming and creating environments that would encourage unhealthy sex practices.
In addition Clinton mentioned, “Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS.”
By Secretary Clinton declaring gay rights as human rights, and human rights as gay rights, she gave a voice to millions and millions of voiceless and even hopeless LGBT persons around the world. Hopefully, this will spark critical and necessary discussions about sexuality as a human rights both domestically and abroad.
If you are interested in creating a program on your campus around global and domestic human rights concerning LGBT, please contact the Feminist Majority Foundation Campus Team for ideas and help!
Photo of Eleanor Roosevelt attributed to the Federal Government via Wikipedia Commons.