By extending hospital visitation rights, speaking out against bullying, supporting employment non-discrimination, and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” among other accomplishments, President Obama has rightly earned the support of the vast majority of LGBT Americans. As an American who was employed at the United Nations (UN) for twenty years, I would add to the President’s long list of accomplishments his advocacy for the basic dignity and rights of LGBT persons residing beyond our nation’s borders.
Since President Obama took office, the U.S. has become a key player in the global fight for LGBT rights. Addressing the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2011, the President stood up for LGBT people everywhere, declaring that “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.” Shortly after, the White House released the first-ever presidential memorandum on global LGBT issues, directing all “U.S. agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” This includes strengthening efforts to combat foreign governments’ criminalization of LGBT status or conduct, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, swiftly responding to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad, and using U.S. foreign assistance mechanisms to build respect for LGBT rights.
Through this simple yet groundbreaking act of support, President Obama demonstrated that he was an ally to not just LGBT Americans, but to LGBT people everywhere; that if the United States is to truly defend human rights and dignity, it must reach out beyond its own borders to people who are persecuted, detained, and sometimes killed for who they love. On the same day the memorandum was issued, Secretary of State Clinton, in an address before a UN human rights audience in Geneva, eloquently explained the new policy, stating, “No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.”
Early in my UN career, my partner was killed in the employ of the UN and I had no official standing in the aftermath to do basic things such as obtain copies of reports describing the circumstances surrounding his death. Though I eventually prevailed, under internal UN advances shepherded by the Obama Administration I would today not face that challenge. I recognize that much greater trials are faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world each and every day, without recourse or retribution. Going forward, fewer and fewer will, if President Obama is re-elected.
He has my vote, my enduring allegiance, and my heartfelt thanks. He deserves yours.
Todd Larson is retired from the UN and serves on numerous Boards. He pens this piece in his personal capacity. Private organizations, as well as titles and affiliations of individuals identified here and elsewhere are provided for identification purposes only.