The big gay news today is the one-two punch provided by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton gave a major speech for Human Rights Day at the UN in Geneva that was entirely devoted to the question of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. (The initial transcript I saw, apparently taken down by somebody as she was speaking, referred to the latter as “trance gender,” which is a nice touch.) I’ll cite just two passages (from the official transcript):
Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it….
[T]o LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.
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. And 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.
Obama, meanwhile, issued a “presidential memorandum” outlining concrete steps he expects the entire US foreign affairs machinery to take in defense of LGBT people’s human rights.
On an emotional level, I was and am quite moved. It’s my government, after all, and if Hillary doesn’t quite speak for all the American people (amnesiac Texan Rick Perry promptly trumpeted that “This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop … Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money”), having this concern placed by the country’s leaders firmly in the contested, troubled arc of American history and its bend toward justice is a powerful thing — an impressive moment. On the other hand, there are still many questions about what it means. How much are they going to consult with local movements before intervening for them? Are they really talking about aid conditionality (a question both their statements left open, but an implication seized on by most of the mainstream news reports)?
Two things, though. First, there’s actually the suggestion of a strategy here, the product of some attentive political and progressive thought, not just a headline-grabbing rhetorical idiocy like what David Cameron produced last month. And the US is not simply targeting its former colonies or satrapies for moral lecturing. If they genuinely engage with the issue, truly interesting things could happen.