While the fight is not over, the fight for rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered folks has seen quite a few victories in the early years of the 21st century.
President Obama and Congress repealed the 20th century policy known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” that had been implemented by President Clinton to deal with the issue of gays in the military. The new policy allows for members of the gay lifestyle to enroll in the armed services without any special restrictions or requirements. Obama also ordered the United States Department of Justice to discontinue defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which is patently anti-gay rights. Further, a number of states now allow marriage for gays and others have at least implemented civil unions. With the exception of the far right, the United States has pretty much accepted the gay lifestyle as normal. Most politicians eagerly accept invitations to and participate in events like Chicago Pride or most any other events that recognize and celebrate gay rights.
Sub-Sahara Africa, not so much.
Americans are puzzled at how determined some nations are in outlawing homosexual behavior.
We are astonished to learn that in Uganda, the anti-gay movement has been definitively tied to ultra-conservative Americans. Members of the Ugandan Parliament openly admit that it was the influence of the American far right that prompted them to seek the death penalty for gay sex. Gay sex currently is punishable by as much as 14 years in prison. Certainly, as far as third-world countries, the death penalty makes Uganda, a country once under the control of ruthless dictator Idi Amin, the harshest in dealing with gays.
Malaysia is not far behind.
Sodomy laws there are selectively enforced, but carry a 20-year prison term for those unfortunate enough to be prosecuted under the archaic law. In January, Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader to the current government, was acquitted of the act of sodomy on his political aid. Following his acquittal Ibrahim called for the overturning of the anti-gay laws and accused the government of selective enforcement. He was quickly joined by two international rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Many believe that Ibrahim’s prosecution and ultimate acquittal was arranged by the government to show that judiciary is independent and the leaders are listening to the public’s cries for reform.
It should also be noted that United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in December that she, the United States Department of State and the United States government would use diplomacy as a means to encourage the granting of gay rights around the world.
The world took notice as no other country has ever promoted gay rights internationally.
“Gay people are born into, and belong to, every society in the world…”
How the United States plans to integrate gay rights into diplomatic policy is unclear.
The United States has lagged far behind other western democracies in recognizing gay rights and some may feel it presumptuous of the US to incorporate gay rights into diplomatic policy.
However, gays who do not yet enjoy acceptance or rights as citizens of their countries have welcomed the news with renewed hope that their own societies can and will change.