Today is truly a momentous day in human rights history. This morning President Barack Obama issued the first-ever executive memorandum dealing with the subject of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights worldwide and directing federal agencies working overseas to "promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." Later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a landmark address on LGBT rights in recognition of International Human Rights Day at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Watch it here.)
After acknowledging that America's own record on human rights for LGBT people is "far from perfect," Clinton told those gathered, "Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." The Secretary went on to condemn laws, violence, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, calling them violations of human rights. She specifically rebuked the false notion, popular in many religiously conservative nations, that homosexuality is some kind of Western phenomenon. Clinton condemned religion-based anti-LGBT bigotry, saying that "while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all." And she announced the creation by the United States government of a $3-million Global Equality Fund that will support the work of organizations working on LGBT rights issues worldwide.
Many LGBT activists, including me, write and speak constantly about the importance of electing LGBT people and allies to political office, and today's historic speech should put an end to any skepticism about that point. After all, Secretary Clinton is articulating the official policy of the United States of America under a pro-equality administration. There's absolutely no way she would have delivered a groundbreaking address to the United Nations, exclusively devoted to LGBT rights worldwide, had she not been specifically authorized to do so at the highest level of the executive branch.
Today's speech should also serve to both galvanize the American LGBT community and throttle us out of any apathy we might feel about throwing our enthusiastic support, checkbooks, blood, sweat, and tears into electing pro-equality candidates.
Members of our nation's LGBT community should make no mistake: apathy at the ballot box, or anything less than a full commitment to providing the maximum amount of support possible -- of all kinds, on all fronts, and at all levels -- to political leaders who explicitly support LGBT rights inadvertently helps to hand the country over to people who have specifically and repeatedly promised to do everything in their power to make sure advances like this are stopped for as long as possible, by any means possible, regardless of the consequences to millions of LGBT people around the world.