In case you missed it, a game changing speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on promoting global LGBT rights through US foreign aid.

Two thoughts on this speech:

1) The timing of these remarks is auspicious. Nigeria–Africa’s most populous country–is considering a bill that would criminalize same sex relations. Actually, the law would go a step further and potentially criminalize people who “promote” homosexuality. Aid groups worry that this could be construed as including NGOs that work in HIV prevention in high risk communities, including men who have sex with men. The Obama administration’s directive to tie LGBT rights more firmly to foreign aid may make legislatures in Nigeria think twice against passing a bill like this.

2) The speech is the culmination is a series of policy changes by the United States at the United Nations since the Obama administration took office in 2009.  Hints of this were apparent just one month after the inauguration.  In February 2009, the USA voted for a UN resolution condemning “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” Just two months prior (when President Bush was still in charge) the USA voted against a General Assembly resolution calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. The Bush administration couched its objections in legal technicalities, but the message to the LGBT community was clear.

That was the first big signal of US support for LGBT rights at the the United Nations. There were several others:

– In July 2010, the USA also sided with the LGBT community in a little-noticed battle at the Economic and Social Council over whether or not an NGO called the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission should be granted accreditation to attend UN conferences. The NGO had been seeking accreditation since 2007, but had been blocked at every turn — until the the Obama administration took over. Still, social conservatives in the US congress asked ECOSOC to block the NGO. In the end, the NGO was approved. But what it perhaps most surprising is that the White House issued a statement right after the vote. Needless to say, it is remarkable that the President would weigh in directly on a deep-in-the-weeds issue like an NGO’s accreditation at the UN.

– In December 2010, a measure introduced by the United States at the General Assembly helped restore “sexual orientation” to a list of groups that should receive special protection from extrajudicial killing. The measure was opposed by conservative states, but the USA used its diplomatic weight to muscle the symbolic resolution through the General Assembly.

– Also in December 2010, US Ambassador Susan Rice used a Human Rights Day speech to announce the American participation in what is called “The LGBT Core Group” at the United Nations.

– In June 2011, the USA supported an historic Human Rights Council resolution recognizing discrimination against LGBT communities as a global human rights problem. The resolution passed, despite the objections of conservative countries. This was no small feat.

And now, we have this remarkable speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and an accompanying executive order by the President Obama.

We are evolving. As a country, at the United Nations…and perhaps even as a species.

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