U.S. unveils new international gay rights strategy

WASHINGTON — The United States put the fight against gay and lesbian discrimination at the heart of its foreign policy Tuesday, but stopped short of warning transgressor nations they could be stripped of US aid.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered all government agencies that play an active foreign policy role to take steps to encourage foreign nations to put a premium on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world,” Obama said in a memorandum unveiling his directives.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile, in an impassioned speech at the United Nations in Geneva, committed $3.0 million to start a Global Equality Fund to support civil society organizations working for LGBT rights worldwide.

“Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality,” Clinton said.

“Gay people are born into — and belong to — every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors, and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes,” she said.

The US action came amid rising international attention on discrimination against LGBT citizens and growing disquiet in Africa over Western policy on the issue.

Washington for example, has expressed concern over legislation in Nigeria that seeks to outlaw gay marriage and public displays of affection between homosexual couples.

Britain has meanwhile warned that it will consider withholding aid from nations which do not recognize gay rights.

Obama condemned laws that criminalize LGBT citizens, beatings of people who join peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or the killings of men, women, and children over their perceived sexual orientation.

“By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” Obama said.

Obama directed government agencies to fight against the criminalization of LGBT activity abroad and to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance.

He required the departments of State and Homeland Security to ensure LGBT asylum seekers are properly protected and noted the US government could resettle highly vulnerable people who need urgent protection.

The president directed agencies involved with foreign aid and development to engage governments and civil society groups abroad to “build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

He also directed swift action to respond to human rights abuses against LGBT people perpetrated by foreign governments and required all agencies to produce an annual report on progress towards all the initiatives.

Obama however appeared to stop short of warning that nations that do not satisfy US requirements on aid could automatically see American assistance cut.

“The president’s memo today puts forward a comprehensive strategy, of which one component is finding affirmative ways to support these efforts through our assistance,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman.

“We are not talking about cutting aid or tying aid, but we are talking about using all of our tools, including assistance, to translate our principles into action.”

Clinton said the Global Equality Fund will help civil society organizations target advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool and manage their budgets and staff.

The chief US diplomat, who received a standing ovation at the end of her speech, said LGBT rights were universal human rights.

Joe Solmonese, of the Human Rights Campaign, which fights for the LGBT community, praised the Obama administration’s new strategy.

“Today’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people.”

But Texas Governor Rick Perry, courting social conservatives as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination to take on Obama in next November’s election, accused the president of waging a war on American values.

“This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americans of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.”

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