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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Gays need liaison at US State Department

By Michael Petrelis

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was on her European tour this spring in her new role as our country’s top diplomat, she held a town hall and asked the audience of average citizens for questions. A young gay Moldovan wanted to know what changes she would implement to aid LGBT persons beyond America’s borders suffering human rights violations. Clinton’s answer was succinct.

Mincing no words, she said, “Human rights is and will always be one of the pillars of our foreign policy, and in particular the persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something that we take very seriously. It is terribly unfortunate, as you just recited, that right now in unfortunately many places in the world, violence against gays and lesbians — certainly discrimination and prejudice — are not just occurring, but condoned and protected. We would hope that over the next few years, we could have some influence in trying to change those attitudes.”

After eight years of tremendous personal dismay and anger over President Bush’s State Department too often ignoring foreign LGBT matters, Clinton’s words raised much hope on my part. And I’m a longtime, staunch critic of hers.

As an activist who has engaged State’s human rights division since 1991, when the annual human rights report contained a mere single LGBT citation, and applauded the department expanding the reports to include hundreds of such citations in recent years, I will do my part to make sure Clinton keeps her promise to the gay Moldovan.

Delivering tangible results will happen more rapidly, and have more of an effective impact on the lives of LGBT persons internationally, if Clinton heeds this advice: Create a liaison for our community and our diverse human rights issues.

An LGBT program specialist at the State Department would have many duties and functions, all directed at making U.S. foreign policies more aware of and responsive to the suffering our brothers and sisters face daily, and the advances being made in a good number of nations.

What would some of the liaison’s responsibilities entail? She would coordinate the flow of news stories and reports from local media and LGBT organizations to the public affairs office, the human rights division and the desks for each country.

After evaluating the stories and reports, the liaison would determine how the department should respond — for example, releasing statements from the secretary or press office, ensuring inclusion in annual reports, maybe directing our ambassador or embassy to respond at the local level.

The liaison also must serve as the initial point-person for LGBT persons abroad seeking redress or attention for their problem from the U.S., and assist them in reaching the appropriate desk or diplomat to devise a solution.

Additionally I'd like to see this program specialist help activist bloggers like myself, who regularly write on global gay issues, or advocate within the department on behalf of foreign LGBT citizens of the world. My time and energy for global advocacy is quite limited. Having a specialist at State would make it easier for me to quickly find the departmental information I need to write about global matters.

Then there’s the matter of LGBT issues and the United Nations. The liaison must keep apprised of our issues across the U.N.’s vast bureaucracy and commissions, and press the international body to do more for us.

We’ve waited long enough for America’s State Department to go beyond simply recording the increasing numbers of abuses in yearly surveys. I see no reason why this important federal agency should lack an LGBT liaison.

If Secretary Clinton is serious about transforming her words into actions and deeds that recognize and challenge the serious human rights violations of LGBT persons abroad, and I fully believe she is, then she will embrace the liaison idea and direct her top staffers to create the position, and fill it in four or five months’ time.



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