by Eric Rader
Liberty, equality and democracy have been America’s guiding lights since the founding of the republic. Unfortunately, the United States has often fallen short of these ideals, and some leaders have had twisted notions of what our values should be, especially in the area of foreign policy.
In the past year, the Obama administration has taken a number of steps to restore basic human rights to their rightful position within our nation’s foreign policy goals. In doing so, the new administration has also sought to include LGBT Americans within the scope of our nation’s ideals, in sharp contrast to some other countries.
One example of this new, more inclusive foreign policy was the lifting of the travel ban on people with HIV/AIDS at the beginning of this year. This cruel restriction was put into place by President Ronald Reagan, at the behest of Sen. Jesse Helms, in the late 1980s. It effectively prevented foreign citizens with HIV/AIDS from traveling to the United States. Even with the knowledge that HIV cannot be spread through casual contact, the United States government kept the travel ban in place until last year. President Bill Clinton attempted to reverse the ban in the 1990s, but was stopped by the conservative Congress of his era. Even President George W. Bush made some effort to ease this unreasonable restriction. Now, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have fully reversed the ban.
With the travel ban now repealed, the United States plans to host the World AIDS Conference for the first time since the height of the AIDS epidemic in this country in the early 1990s.
Last summer, Secretary Clinton took another positive step with regard to the LGBT community, ordering that the domestic partners of American diplomats overseas receive some of the same federal benefits as their straight counterparts; these benefits include travel privileges, diplomatic passports and the use of American medical facilities in foreign countries. The decision to grant these benefits marked an important first step towards ending federal discrimination against LGBT citizens. It’s now up to Congress and President Obama to finish this work by repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
But while the United States government has taken some positive foreign policy steps on behalf of LGBT Americans in recent months, Uganda has adopted a brutal approach towards its gay citizens. Uganda is currently considering legislation which would effectively “outlaw” homosexuality, meting out severe punishments of life in prison or even death to those found guilty of engaging in same-gender sexual activities. Uganda’s repressive legislation was drafted after several American evangelicals spoke there last year about their “reparative therapy” ideas. It is clear that while these Americans did not suggest this legislation, their hateful ideas sparked the horrible proposals.
The United States government needs to stand up to Uganda and its vile policies. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have spoken out against Uganda’s hateful legislation, but they need to continue to use every diplomatic tool in their arsenal to oppose Uganda’s efforts and support LGBT folks in that country.
In the past year, the U.S. government has demonstrated that our foreign policy is based on inclusion. It is important that we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Uganda against the hate that American evangelicals have incited in that country. American foreign policy must be about hope, inclusion and basic human rights for all people.
President Obama can be contacted at [email protected], or by phone at 202-456-1414. Secretary of State Clinton can be reached at 202-647-4000.