During her landmark Human Rights Day speech in Geneva last December, United States Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, told the world that affirming and protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people is “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time”. And she backed up a memo from the Obama administration directing US government agencies to consider gay rights when making decisions about both aid and asylum.
“It should never be a crime to be gay,” Clinton declared.
Today Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the United States Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor fielded questions from foreign journalists about US foreign policy and issues affecting GLBT people. Baer insisted that this new directive wasn’t meant to punish non-conforming states. Rather, it is “an affirmative policy” and “a commitment to engage with partners to ensure that rights are secured for everyone”.
Baer was asked to respond to the idea that sexual minorities are foreign to some cultures and the notion of GLBT rights is being imposed upon them. He echoed Clinton’s sentiment that neither the existence of GLBT people nor the problems they face are the exclusive domain of any society. Then he pointed to an irony that most Caribbean countries understand well.
“I travel often in Africa, and one of the things I hear there is to say that protecting... the human rights for LGBT people is a Western thing is actually a complete inversion, because, in most cases, the provisions and law that are discriminatory or that criminalise LGBT conduct or status are legacies of imperialism. They were left by Western governments and are still in place,” he said.
Since last year these laws have come under heavy fire. In October the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, spoke out for gay rights in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Perth, Australia.
“Discrimination and criminalisation on the grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values,” he told the assembled leaders.
And shortly thereafter, United Kingdom Prime Minister, David Cameron, suggested that aid could be cut to countries that did not recognise gay rights.
11 of the 16 countries which fall under the UNAIDS Caribbean umbrella have laws that criminalise same sex sexual behaviour. Apart from The Bahamas which repealed its Buggery Act about two decades ago, every other Commonwealth Caribbean nation retains the laws they inherited from England in the nineteenth century. Do you welcome either incentives, pressure or “affirmative” policies from foreign governments for legal reform and social protection surrounding GLBT issues in this region? Let us know!