02/10/2015 02:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

11 Ways the Global LGBT Community Has Helped the American LGBT Movement


The American LGBT community has increasingly begun to contribute to the success of LGBT rights worldwide. However, the contributions go both ways. Countries in some other parts of the world have adopted gay equality laws much earlier than the United States, and some of that progress has contributed to the success of the LGBT movement in the United States. Here are 11 ways that advances in LGBT rights elsewhere have helped the American gay movement.

1. Canada helped bring marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After a long fight for marriage by Canadian activists, Canada recognized same-sex marriage and began giving marriage licenses to American couples. New York residents Edith Windsor married her wife, Thea Spyer, in Ontario in 2007. When Thea died in 2009, the U.S. government would not recognize Edith and Thea's Canadian marriage. Edith sued, and in the landmark case of US v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the clause of the Defense of Marriage Act which prevented federal recognition of the Canadian marriage and other valid same-sex marriages.

2. Ugandans are bringing a leading American anti-gay activist to justice.

Ugandan activists have brought a lawsuit against Scott Lively in a Federal Court in Massachusetts where Lively currently lives. Lively was an architect of some of the earliest anti-gay ballot initiatives in Oregon and other parts of the country. The Ugandans allege that he conspired with the Ugandan government to violate the human rights of LGBT people.

3. Leaders from other countries helped the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the U.S. ban on sodomy.

In Lawrence v. Texas the court struck down the Texas sodomy law. Justice Kennedy, writing for the court, reviewed the history of laws criminalizing sexual practices. He noted that anti-gay arguments have been "been rejected elsewhere" and that the right to same-sex sexual behavior "has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom in many other countries." He cited the brief of former Irish President Mary Robinson who, as young attorney in the beginning of her career 30 years earlier, had successfully brought a case which overturned Ireland's ban on sodomy.

4. Ugandans won recognition by an American Court that persecution of LGBT people is a human rights violation.

In the same case brought by the Ugandan activists against anti-gay Scott Lively, Lively argued that the should be dropped because international human rights did not apply to LGBT people. The Court disagreed. In August, 2013 the Judge in Massachusetts issued a ruling that systemic persecution of LGBT people is a crime against humanity and Lively would have to stand trial.

5.  Married Dutch couples showed American judges that marriage would not destroy civilization.

Expert witnesses in several marriage cases pointed to the fact that other countries have recognized same-sex marriage without problem. Even conservative Supreme Court Justice Alito, in the oral arguments of the Proposition 8 case, noted that Dutch same-sex marriages might be a new feature of our times, like "cell phones or the Internet."

6.  The United Nations got the U.S. to promise pro-LGBT reforms.

Every few years the United Nations reviews the human rights records of member countries. During the last review of the United States, several countries that had already adopted pro-LGBT reforms of their own spoke up and urged the U.S. to adopt similar reforms.  Employment discrimination, hate crimes legislation and protection of transgender individuals were some of the central issues. In response, the U.S. pledged to seek these reforms in the U.S. Congress. Last week, the U.S. filed a report with the UN noting adoption of employment discrimination provisions in executive service as well as a number of other advancements.

7.   The world responded to the plea "give us your tireless, your crooners, your huddled messes yearning to be free."

Tireless: Harry Hay, born in England and raised in Chile, moved to San Francisco and founded the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBT groups in the U.S. During those same years Barbara Gittings, born and raised in Austria, moved to Philadelphia and founded the first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitus. Crooners: Canadian KD Lang came out when no one else would. Huddled mess: Brit Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (aka George Michael) preferred his parties in New York clubs, his sex in LA bushes, and his music on the American top 10.

8.  Doctors outside the U.S. have helped Americans transition.

Many Americans have sought gender reassignment surgery outside of the United States. One of the most famous transexuals, Christine Jorgenson, received her surgery in Europe.  Harry Benjamin, one of her treating physicians in San Francisco and author of the Benjamin Standards of Care for Transexuals, began his career in Germany.

9. Foreign LGBT soldiers showed the U.S. military how open military service works.

When the U.S. eliminated the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy in the military, one of the things the Department of Defense looked at was the experience of openly gay and lesbian soldiers in the armed forces of other countries. In some instances, openly gay soldiers from other countries served along side U.S. soldiers in joint military exercises.

10. Third gender travelers are challenging American gender laws.

Several countries recognize a third gender for certain purposes, including Australia, Nepal, India, Malta, Pakistan and Denmark. Campaigns for recognition are gaining momentum in other parts of the world. Rather than "male" or "female," third genders may have "Third," "X" or "Other" listed on their passports and identity documents. Inevitably, as the U.S. receives visitors from these countries, federal and state governments and private companies will have to rethink their own systems, many of which assume that "M" or "F" are the only choices.

11. Foreign governments (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands) and foreign corporations (Royal Bank of Canada, and UK firm Deliotte Touche Tohmatsu Limited) support the Global Equality Fund, an effort led by the US State Department to support LBGT rights globally.

For the past two decades, the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands have consistently been the world's largest funders of LGBT issues. The U.S. has dramatically jumped into the cause during the most recent Administration, with the support of foreign governments and companies.