05/11/2015 10:40 am ET Updated May 11, 2016

LGBT Rights -- Modernity vs. Forces of Yesteryear


In the past two years I have gone from being a sympathizer of the LGBT cause, to becoming an outright supporter and advocate of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our center deals with grand strategic issues of security, economy and human rights on a daily basis. LGBT rights are the cutting edge of human rights and based on our commitments to human dignity and freedom, we embrace the issue as part of geo-strategic thinking.

The moment of realization of the importance of this came in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics. We suddenly understood that LGBT rights are the barometer for democracy and human rights. At times it is a harbinger of change, an indicator of the positive direction of a country. A sign of moving towards the granting and protection of the rights of persons to be who he or she was born to be, to live a full life without fear of harassment, discrimination, persecution or murder. At other times it is the canary in the coal-mine, signaling the slide-back of democracy, a move towards authoritarianism.

The other day, I explained my position and the work we are doing on LGBT strategic thinking to a lady friend. Half jokingly, she asked me: "Don't you have to be gay to do this?" "No you don't," I responded. "You don't have to be discriminated against to want to join the fight against discrimination of others."

No doubt, LGBT rights have come a long way. In just 30 years, Washington Pride has grown from a small event of 2000 people, considered to be a curiosity, to be a celebration for the city, where over a 100,000 people from all walks of life show up to celebrate. Twenty years ago, my colleague, the Danish ambassador to NATO accepted as his deputy a talented and wonderful young diplomat. He told me, kind of hush-hush, that his new colleague was gay and will bring his partner, but that he hopes we will be accepting to him. Carsten and his husband broke new grounds, which needed courage. It was in many ways a curiosity then. It isn't now. Such a conversation would be totally strange today. Why would you even mention this, we don't care. This weekend at Cuba's gay parade, Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, called for the legalization of same sex marriage, in a country at the very beginning of its long march towards change.

Unfortunately many other countries are moving in the opposite direction of harassment and punishment, discrimination of LGBT people. The bad news keeps on coming from Russia.

Support for LGBT rights must not be out of pity, or just empathy or solidarity. For people concerned with the long term, it must be part of our strategic thinking. This is because of our fundamental belief that a principled stance on human rights must be at the core of our foreign policy. Understanding its geopolitical implications, pursuing it globally, is in our interest.

At times perhaps understandably, at other times out of cowardice, our immediate foreign policy decisions push aside human rights. No matter what, we need to be clear about our vision on global LGBT rights, so we can develop a better strategy and translate it into a sound, reliable and realistic policy. We should act, be relentless and impatient when there is an immediate need to protect individuals across the globe, and be patient but perseverant, when it comes to the long term: legal guarantees, changes in perception and strengthening institutional support for LGBT people. Giving in should not be an alternative!

As we confront the enormous threats and challenges of the 21st century: security, imbalance between economic growth and overpopulation, the depletion of our water reserves, climate change, energy and many more to be dealt with, we will need all the creative and innovative power and in all societies, big or small, to come up with lasting solutions. This creativity and innovation can only be harnessed in an environment of freedom which nurtures diversity. Whether in politics, the arts, business, education or technology, the LGBT community has been an enormous source and a driver of change. Liberated from the pressures of discrimination, they will be able to exercise their creative power to the maximum.

We need to use the platforms of innovative thinking in foreign policy in order to find new and better ways to integrate LGBT rights into our international efforts. Every single day we come up with thousands of new tools in support of business, media, health, culture. We should be able to come up with new tools for our foreign policy toolbox in support of global LGBT rights, a frontier where the future clashes with the past.

Or as another Danish friend put it: "LGBT rights is where modernity faces the forces of yesteryear."