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U.S. should do more for human rights

By | 2011-02-17T09:00:00-05:00 February 17th, 2011|News|

by Eric Rader

Speak Out

Over the past month, the world has been riveted to the historic events in Egypt, as pro-democracy protesters succeeded in driving out the repressive president of that country. In many parts of the world, people can be tortured, imprisoned, or even put to death for simply saying what they believe. Prisons around the world are filled with people who have stood up to unjust leaders, while countless graves are filled by people who lived their lives truthfully, knowing that their integrity could result in death. All of us should be inspired by the courageous manner in which average citizens in Egypt stood up peacefully for basic human rights and democracy.
One recent example of bravery–and tragedy–is David Kato, a gay Ugandan who lived openly and protested for equal rights for LGBTs in his country. Uganda is a country where the government is considering a bill that would sentence some people to death for simply being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation was introduced after a group of American evangelicals went to Uganda to preach their religious bigotry to receptive ears. Last year, a Ugandan newspaper condemned homosexuals and invited citizens to “hang” gay men, singling out Mr. Kato and others for attack. Just a few weeks ago, thugs took it upon themselves to fulfill this request, killing Mr. Kato.
Many people look to the United States as a beacon of hope in a turbulent and often brutal world. It is certainly true that our country is far ahead of nations like Uganda when it comes to equality. The hateful legislation in Uganda would have little chance of becoming law here, and the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the basic right to privacy that all people are entitled to, regardless of sexual orientation. American newspapers are free to report the news, but are not permitted to engage in libel against private citizens.
On the other hand, American LGBTs continue to face systemic discrimination in society. Other democratic countries are far ahead of our own on a number of issues, especially same-sex marriage. Canada, our close neighbor, allows gays and lesbians to legally marry, with no “civil union” qualifiers. Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, South Africa, and other countries permit same-sex marriage. In the U.S., legal gay marriage is limited to five states and the District of Columbia. While the U.S. is just now beginning the process of allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military, a number of other countries achieved this civil right long ago, including Israel and Great Britain. Even conservative parties in other places endorse LGBT rights, recognizing that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are separate from one’s political ideology.

How can we make greater progress on equality in this country? One way to do so is to personalize the cause. A simple act is to come out of the closet when it is safe to do. When people see that being gay is not a lifestyle choice but a natural way of living, they might be less likely to discriminate.
Those of us who care about LGBT equality should be involved in political and social action. Write e-mails, use social networking tools, make phone calls, join groups, march–all of these actions are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Egyptians, who have lived for many years under a dictatorship, demonstrated that such “people power” can have positive results. In our democratic society, we can learn a lot from the young protesters in Egypt.
At the international level, the U.S. government needs to stand on the side of freedom and human rights. Recently, the U.S. sponsored a successful move in the United Nations to restore sexual orientation and gender identity to a U.N. statement on unjustified killings. The U.S. needs to do more. Because it was American evangelicals who helped to energize the homophobic and hateful legislation in Uganda, the U.S. government should work closely with friendly African governments–such as South Africa–to put pressure on Uganda to stop the gay-execution bill in its tracks.
While the record of the U.S. on human rights has not always been positive, this country has made great strides in recent years toward a more progressive role in world affairs. The U.S. should continue to focus on achieving greater acceptance of LGBTs wherever they are in the world. As the recent events in Egypt show, people of courage can be a powerful force in bringing about moral change.
U.N. statement on the killing of David Kato:

http://tinyurl.com/4omg3ap
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s statement on the killing of David Kato:
http://tinyurl.com/4tak4dw
Statement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the U.N. statement on violence against people:
http://tinyurl.com/469bjhm
Equality Michigan website–provides information on LGBT equality issues and ways to contact public officials:
http://equalitymi.org/

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.