We Are Not Alone

By Lavender April 24, 2008

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At times, it seems a gargantuan task to get GLBT folks politically motivated, when our priorities seem to be gay men dancing in their underwear at circuit parties or lesbians convening in Palm Springs for the Dinah Shore classic. For many, the allure of “tighty whiteys” or the libations of the 19th hole far outweigh lobbying, grassroots organizing, media advocacy, or just simply writing a check.

As the 2008 Presidential race continues, and issues concerning our community develop and grow, it will become more essential for us to get outside of ourselves, to move beyond the “me”-centrism of our community, and to engage with the country and the world on our issues.

Some of us may think engaging our fellow citizens on GLBT issues is enough—that our political agenda is so chock-full of concerns, we just don’t have the time to take on anything else. Well, folks, it’s time to see the writing on the wall. Living in the United States as an out GLBT person may not be a cakewalk, but certainly isn’t the walk to the gallows it is in other counties around the world.

We talk a lot about our civil rights. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the discussion, speak about our issues as human rights, and begin looking at how our nation’s foreign policy impacts the status of GLBT people in every country.

“The United States could do so much more if we came anywhere close to taking a leadership role in human rights in the way the administration and the State Department claim we do,” Mark Bromley told me recently.

Bromley is heading up a new initiative called the GLBT Foreign Policy Project (GLBT FPP), the goal of which is to change the way the US Department of State, our foreign service, and our diplomatic corps deal with GLBT human rights issues.

A veteran of Global Rights, a human rights advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC, Bromley has worked on international GLBT human rights issues for more than a decade. It was the duplicity of his own government that impelled him to start GLBT FPP after sitting through a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva about a year-and-a-half ago.

Bromley explained that, as a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes sexual orientation as a human right, the United States is supposed to go before the committee, and “lay out where we’re in compliance, where we’re making an attempt to improve.”

As Bromley related, “The head of the US Civil Rights Division was at the meeting in Geneva, and he denied that the ICCPR covered GLBT issues, and denied that the UN had any oversight on these issues. It was outrageous in terms of the legal jurisprudence of the committee.”

But the reason it was so infuriating, Bromley stated, is that the UN Human Rights Committee is actually the most progressive international organization addressing GLBT rights, and it’s having a real impact.

According to Bromley, “To have the US government go in, and argue that this preeminent body has no authority to address GLBT issues is incredibly damaging.”

Bromley is joined in his work by former US Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest. He recently left his post in the State Department, because he no longer could live with the duplicity of being an out gay man, and having his partner ignored and put into danger when they were overseas.

In fact, the UN Human Rights Committee does have the authority to address GLBT issues, and so does the US government. Each year, the US State Department issues its international report on human rights, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which is the culmination of reports from our embassies throughout the world. Often, GLBT human rights issues are given short shrift, lumped into a catchall category that also includes HIV/AIDS.

We routinely see the United States speak out in favor of religious rights or “political” rights in countries we consider oppressive—say, Iran. But when it comes to doing so about the atrocities GLBT Iranians—and Iraqis, for that matter—are facing, we are absolutely silent.

“I came to the State Department inspired by Jimmy Carter and his focus on enhancing human rights,” Guest recounted. “Here we are, almost 30 years later, with an administration that has carried us backwards.”

Both Bromley and Guest want to change the way the State Department does its reporting.

“The incidences of abuse against GLBT citizens are so serious in some countries that we believe they deserve their own chapter, and they deserve this attention, so addressing these abuses is part of our foreign policy,” Guest remarked.

To many of us, writing a chapter in a State Department report seems remote, and possibly even arcane. Instead, we need to see this as writing a new chapter in the potential of our activism and concern throughout the world.

Remember, there’s much more to us than house music and teeing-off. GLBT Americans are not alone, and if we’re not going to stand up and make our country act on its moral imperative to stop human rights atrocities against GLBT people, who else will?

Libby Post, the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication, or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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