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Globally Gay: Americans Should Use Their Privileges to Push Harder for International Gay Rights

03/08/2013 01:57 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

As part of Milan's recent Social Media Week, I gave a speech on the strategies and tactics we used at The Four 2012 to support marriage equality wins in four states last November, and explained the state of our country's fight for gay rights to the international audience.

I told them that even though Americans had finally started winning ballot measures we still had plenty of work to do nationally to ensure equal marriage rights for all. In America today, largely thanks to the southern strategy masterminded by Bush lackeys Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, 30 states passed anti-marriage equality laws, and 18 outlawed any form of legal recognition at all, in an attempt to boost conservative turnout.

That cynical, shameful strategy, coupled with Bill Clinton's ironically named Defense of Marriage Act, leaves nationwide reforms on marriage equality up to our Supreme Court. Their major rulings in June are highly anticipated and will be an indicator of our progress one way or another. Taken in a global context, however, those familiar events of the last few decades can be seen in a different light.

Globally, the LGBT movement is winning national marriage victories. South Africa, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Canada, Portugal and more already guarantee marriage equality and many more have civil unions. Soon, France and The UK will pass full marriage, with governments helmed by a socialist and a conservative, proving that, at least in Western Europe, human rights are slowly being depoliticized. Italy, with its incestuous relationship with the Catholic Church, has a steep hill to climb before all their citizens are equal. The activists I spoke with in Milan are prepared for the long fight and I assured them they were on the right side of history.

These marriage wins are something to celebrate, but it's important to remember that it's still a rare privilege to live in a country where marriage equality is even being discussed. Over 72 counties still have laws on their books outlawing homosexuality.

Iran regularly executes teenage boys who are suspected of being gay. Uganda's legislature routinely threatens to pass a "Kill The Gays" bill that has been endorsed by some of America's most bigoted rightwing zealots. Cameroon has jailed suspected gay men based on text messages as evidence. Russia, in a huge step back, has passed laws designed to stop gay rights activist in their tracks.

As Americans, it's easy to forget the position of privilege we're afforded. It's also easy to feel that there isn't a global role for us to play as individuals. But, it's just not true that we're powerless. We have the power to not travel and spend money in countries like UAE, a state that pretends to be modern while stifling and jailing gay people. We have the power to speak out against global injustice to our representatives in Congress. We have the power to financially support organizations like Amnesty International and All Out, who work against these inhumane laws.

As our society becomes increasingly global, it's up to us to extend the definition of the LGBT Community to include everyone, not just our fellow Americans.

This op-ed appeared originally in Next Magazine. Ryan Davis was the Co-Founder & Digital Director of The Four 2012 and sits on the Board of Directors of The Ali Forney Center and LAMBDA Independent Democrats of Brooklyn. He tweets at @RyanNewYork.