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Obama Says U.S. to Weigh Treatment of Gays in Foreign Aid

December 08, 2011

(Updates with Clinton speech starting in third paragraph.)

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration will weigh how countries treat gays and lesbians in making decisions about foreign aid, according to a presidential memorandum released by the White House.

Laws prohibit same-sex sexual activity in many nations in the Middle East and Africa, and in two of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and in some parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

“Gay rights are human rights,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Geneva, presenting the policy in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council.

President Barack Obama said in the document he is directing all agencies engaged abroad to make sure U.S. diplomacy and aid programs “promote and protect” the rights of gays and lesbians.

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights,” Obama wrote in the memorandum.

‘Deep Commitment’

Directing all agencies engaged abroad to promote the human rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people reflects “our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people,” he wrote.

The memorandum directs all agencies engaged abroad to improve refugee and asylum protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also calls for strengthening U.S. efforts to oppose foreign governments criminalizing homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender behavior.

U.S. foreign aid programs will increase government and civil society engagement to promote gay rights, the memorandum says. The State Department will lead an interagency group tracking U.S. responses to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.” Agencies are to report on their progress in six months, and then on an annual basis.

Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign in Washington, said in a statement that the presidential memorandum is important as the first U.S. government strategy dealing with rights related to the sexual orientation of people in other countries.

“Today’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people,” he said.

Clinton’s Speech

In her speech in Geneva today, Clinton called on the global community to act to ensure and protect LGBT rights.

“Being LGBT does not make you less human, and that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” Clinton told the forum, echoing words she used in 1995 to make the case for women’s rights at a United Nations forum in Beijing.

While the issue of homosexuality is sensitive in some countries, “we cannot delay acting,” Clinton said. The LGBT community remains “an invisible minority” whose human rights are “still denied in too many countries,” she said.

These men and women are arrested, beaten, terrorized, and executed, Clinton said. Women are subjected to “corrective rape.” Often they are denied chances to work or study.

The Obama administration has instructed embassies worldwide to support LGBT rights and actively campaign against efforts to criminalize gay relationships since the president took office, said a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

Symbolic Weight

Clinton’s speech was the administration’s most expansive articulation of the administration’s policy on the rights of gay men and women, the official said.

The venue and timing of her remarks carries added symbolic weight, the official said. Clinton spoke just days before Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, which is when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, spearheaded in 1948 by former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was approved.

Clinton urged leaders of countries where people are jailed, beaten or executed for being gay to start “standing up for the dignity of all citizens and persuading your people to do the same.”

She spoke directly to LGBT men and women worldwide.

“People around the globe are working hard to support you and bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face,” she said. “That is certainly true for my country. You have an ally in the United States.”

--Editors: Terry Atlas, Don Frederick

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at; Nicole Gaouette in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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