OutRight Now: Human Rights are Non-negotiable

Dear Friend,

Human rights are my priority. And so, over the past 8 years, I was angry about the number of immigrants deported by President Obama, furious about Guantanamo, and heartsick by how few Syrian refugees he welcomed. But Obama’s record on LGBTI rights internationally has been a beacon of light.

Those of us who have been embraced by our parents, live in queer partnerships, and/or are safely gender non-conforming at work sometimes forget the violence and persecution LGBTI people live with around the world. In December, the parliament of Chad voted for a new penal code that criminalizes homosexuality as a misdemeanor. OutRight is about to fund a public health organization in Tanzania whose office was raided a few months ago because of their HIV programs for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). This week, OutRight is investigating allegations that an Iraqi militia has published a “kill list” of people perceived as LGBT.

We know from the US election, Brexit and the failed Colombian peace accord that we are living through a right-wing resurgence globally. If this makes all of us less safe, we have to ask: how specifically will LGBTI people be affected around the world?

What can we each do to continue the momentum for LGBTI rights?

During Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing, Senator Corey Booker asked Governor Nikki Haley, nominee for US ambassador to the UN, about her willingness to protect LGBT rights internationally. She responded, “I think it's very important that we talk about America's values. We do not allow discrimination against anyone. I will always speak out about this. We don't want to permit discrimination here or in any country.

I am reassured that Governor Haley condemned discrimination on any basis. On the surface, this is a strong and inclusive statement; that’s certainly how I want to interpret it.

At the same time, I can’t help but notice that Governor Haley didn’t say the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. This is important. At the United Nations, diplomats fight tooth and nail over every word because each one influences international law, public policies, and government budgets.

When these words aren’t spoken, we see dire consequences like “conversion" therapy of gay men, forced marriages of lesbians, or mandatory sterilization of transgender people. We need LGBTI people to be specifically named and protected. OutRight looks forward to working with the new ambassador to ensure an unequivocal and specific American voice against discrimination and violence internationally – on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, gender, race, faith, nationality or any other status.

America must prioritize human rights, including for LGBTI people, in foreign policy. To be clear, we must fight for justice in the US -- for Muslims, immigrants, Mexican-Americans, women, and all vulnerable people. At the same time, we must refute a rhetoric of political isolationism. We must ensure that the US continues to fund LGBTI rights organizations around the world, condemns acts of homophobic and transphobic violence, and supports the United Nations to uphold human rights when justice for LGBTI people and other vulnerable groups is impossible locally.

Today, we must remember that President Obama didn’t move into the White House as a champion of LGBTI rights, but he evolved to become the president with the strongest record on LGBTI rights in US history. Perhaps we will look back 4 years from now and say something equally affirming about President Trump.

I’m about to drive to Washington DC to march with friends -- sex workers, school teachers, and moms -- for women’s rights. The sign I’ll carry in DC and the philosophy that will guide my work with OutRight is inspired by what a friend posted online in the days after the US election: “I’m going to be extra Muslim, extra immigrant, and extra queer for the years ahead.” Those aren’t all my personal identities, but that’s the philosophy of fierce solidarity, courage and pride that I’m going to channel tomorrow.

It’s also the spirit that will guide OutRight for the 4 years ahead as we fight for human rights in the US and for our resilient queer community around the world.

In solidarity,

Jessica Stern,
Executive Director OutRight Action International