U.S. can be leader in gay rights across globe

Many Americans were outraged by the recent headlines about a new law in Brunei that will allow for death by stoning for the crime of homosexual sex. Yet the criminalization of same-sex relations is still happening in more than 70 countries. At least six additional (countries) implement the death penalty for gay sex: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia. Only five countries in the world – Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, Malta and the United Kingdom – have constitutions that explicitly guarantee equality for citizens on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity.

As hard-liner authoritarian political parties continue to gain popularity in Europe and around the world, we again see LGBTQ people being used as political pawns. Recently, Poland’s ruling political party brought LGBTQ discrimination to the forefront of the election there, claiming that the opposition’s support for new LGBTQ-aware education is a threat to traditional Catholic values and Polish culture.

Despite these steps backward, there is an opportunity here for the international community, and not just LGBTQ people, to play a role in securing basic human rights for LGBTQ people across the globe, and for the U.S. to take the lead. The Catholic Church and the United Nations can also play vital roles.

I’m sure many will scoff that I suggest the United States take the lead in advocating for gay rights across the globe. President (Donald) Trump banned transgender people from the military, stacked the courts with judges who have terrible records on LGBTQ issues and even refused to recognize Pride Month. But internationally, the issue of LGBTQ rights has been gaining steam, with notable support by the highest openly gay official in the Trump administration. U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell launched an international campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality as part of a response to the hanging of a young gay man in Iran.

The U.S. could make this campaign much more effective by tying it to foreign assistance it gives to other nations. The U.S. government could deny some loans and credits and foreign assistance to any and all countries that criminalize homosexuality.

This is not a new strategy for American foreign policy. In 2017, for example, we denied nearly $96 million in aid to Egypt due to severe human rights violations there. The Leahy Amendments, named after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., prohibit the U.S. government from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights. In many instances, the cut-off of aid worked.

The U.S. government could specifically withhold security assistance to police or law enforcement entities that violate the rights of LGBTQ citizens, or even incentivize law enforcement and security forces to implement nondiscrimination training by tying aid to those programs. And we must continue to make sure that human rights violators, whether they be individuals or institutions, face severe consequences and justice in international courts.

This policy would have widespread effects on countries in the Americas, Africa and the Middle East that rely heavily upon U.S. foreign aid each year. Top recipient countries where LGBTQ rights are often violated include Egypt – $1.39 billion, and Afghanistan – $782.8 million. If the U.S. takes the lead, we might see more action from the Catholic Church and the international community as well, particularly the European Union.

Because so many of the world’s anti-sodomy laws began during colonization, the Church must remove its tacit approval of anti-gay teachings. There have been small steps made in this realm. Recently, a group of 50 international representatives traveled to the Vatican to urge the Church to declare itself in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality. I was among them.

Religious leaders of all denominations should weigh in with policies that firmly and clearly urge all nations and peoples to repeal any and all laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Pope Francis, thankfully, has a very strong record of human rights and social justice.

In 2014, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s time for the U.N. to go further and pass a resolution advocating for homosexuality to be decriminalized worldwide.

When I was governor of New Mexico, I pushed for laws to make sure domestic partners were covered by health insurance and to expand our discrimination and hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

In America, some states are expanding LGBTQ rights despite federal inaction. Despite the Trump administration’s lack of progress, there are a few issues where the U.S. can take a bold stance for human rights and fairness. I hope this administration can see that LGBTQ rights is one of them.

Bill Richardson – a former congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Energy secretary – founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement in 2011 to promote global peace and dialogue by identifying and working on areas of opportunity for engagement and citizen diplomacy with countries and communities not usually open to more formal diplomatic channels.


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