Metro Weekly

Samantha Power warns of growing international backlash against LGBT rights

Photo: Samantha Power and Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
Photo: Samantha Power and Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Joining a chorus of Obama administration officials who have spoken out on international LGBT rights in recent weeks, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power warned Thursday of a growing tide of anti-LGBT animus abroad while stating it is America’s duty to combat it.

Addressing an event at Hunter College in New York City marking the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Power noted the progress that has been made to secure LGBT equality over the past four decades, while also drawing attention to the challenges that remain in the U.S. and abroad.

“While a growing number of states have recognized same-sex marriages, several others are considering legislation that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people  justifying it as “promoting religious freedom,” Power said. “And while this year the National Football League drafted its first openly gay player, there is still no federal law that prevents Michael Sam from being fired for being gay.”

Power also noted homophobic remarks from some NFL players after ESPN aired footage of Sam kissing his partner. “One would hope that if a sports figure were caught on tape disparaging people for who they love – as Donald Sterling was caught disparaging people for the color of their skin – that it would draw universal condemnation and revulsion; but right now I think it’s fair to say, we couldn’t count on that,” Power said. 

Despite those remaining challenges, Power said there are greater challenges facing areas of the world “where the situation abroad is actually taking a sharp turn for the worse for LGBT individuals. Becoming more intolerant and more dangerous.” 

Power criticized an anti-LGBT law in Uganada, which has led the U.S. to take actions against the African nation.Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced additional actions against Uganda, including cuts in aid and restricting entry to the U.S. by certain Ugandan officials, for the implementation of an anti-LGBT law earlier this year. The move, advocates say, sets a precedent for dealing with other countries considering laws that target LGBT people. But targeting of LGBT people stretches beyond Uganda. 

“Unfortunately, Uganda’s anti-gay legislation is not an outlier. Nor is the climate of intolerance and abuse that it has fostered,” Power said. “Indeed, it’s a pattern we’ve seen following the passage of similarly homophobic legislation was passed in countries worldwide, such as Russia and Nigeria. Nearly 80 countries now have laws that criminalize LGBT individuals; in seven of them – and it’ll be eight if Brunei continues along its path – consensual same-sex acts are punishable by death.” 

Power’s remarks reinforce statements from a number of Obama administration officials in recent weeks reaffirming that LGBT rights are a key plank of U.S. foreign policy. Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden told LGBT-rights activists the U.S. must lead by example on these issues.

“If we do what we should do at home, we have credibility to speak out,” Biden said. “I don’t care what your culture is. An inhumanity is an inhumanity.”

This week as well White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice called for a united front to combat anti-LGBT policies around the globe, describing the protection of LGBT people abroad as one of the most challenging human rights issues the U.S. faces today.

“We’ve made it clear that the United States will respond appropriately when nations target their own citizens,” Rice said, echoing comments made by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month that the U.S. raises the human rights of LGBT people both publicly and privately in discussions with foreign nations.

After the U.N. General Assembly elected Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa its new president earlier this month, Power stated it is the duty of the president to uphold the principals of the U.N. Charter, including those respect for human rights.

“At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent,” Power said in a statement. “In the face of these challenges, all of us working in and at the United Nations should recommit to vigorously defending these core principles.”

In December, Power also criticized a Russian law criminalizing “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” “[T]o deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely – and to threaten them with discrimination or even death – is not a form of moral or religious puritanism. It’s in fact barbarism,” Power said. On Friday, the Human Rights Campaign released a report documenting the backlash against LGBT Russians in the year since the law was enacted.

“Martin Luther King once said famously: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” Power said Thursday. “If we believe that to be the case, and I think we do; and if we are truly universal champions of LGBT equality, as I know we are; and if we are witnessing such an alarming backlash against LGBT rights, in so many parts of the world, as we unquestionably are; then it is our duty to take the lessons we have learned in our own movement and share them with the people who are waging this struggle beyond our borders. They too need to know that ‘It gets better.’ They need any help that we can offer in making it better.” 

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