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December 06, 2011 1:00 PM A new standard for U.S. foreign aid

By Steve Benen

President Obama has decided that, from now on, foreign aid decisions will take into consideration how countries treat their LGBT citizens, and he directed U.S. agencies abroad to ensure our humanitarian and diplomatic efforts “promote and protect” the rights of gays and lesbians.

Directing all agencies engaged abroad to promote the human rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people reflects “our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people,” he wrote.

The memorandum directs all agencies engaged abroad to improve refugee and asylum protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also calls for strengthening U.S. efforts to oppose foreign governments criminalizing homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender behavior.

U.S. foreign aid programs will increase government and civil society engagement to promote gay rights, the memorandum says. The State Department will lead an interagency group tracking U.S. responses to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.” Agencies are to report on their progress in six months, and then on an annual basis.

In a statement, the president added, “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.”

In case this isn’t obvious, today’s announcement marks a historic first — the federal government has always examined many considerations in making foreign-aid decisions, but this is the first time an administration has formally included LGBT discrimination in the mix.

It also adds to a rather extraordinary record for Obama in this area in his first three years. The president has successfully repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, expanded federal benefits for the same-sex partners of executive-branch employees, signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, cleared the way for hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples, lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, ordered the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanded the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, and hired more openly gay officials than any administration in history.

At the same time, Obama has also endorsed repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and stopped trying to defend DOMA against federal court challenges.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, announcing the first-ever transgender presidential appointee, nominating the first openly-gay man to serve on the federal judiciary, honoring same-sex couples in his Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations, recording a video for the “It Gets Better” Project, and hosting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month events at the White House.

I realize there are still a sizable number of people in the LGBT community who are unsatisfied with the pace of change, and consider President Obama someone who has ignored, and even betrayed, their interests. Some have even vowed not to lift a finger to help with the president’s re-election effort.

I suspect many social-conservative activists find this inexplicable.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • c u n d gulag on December 06, 2011 1:14 PM:

    Good on Obama!

    And look for Republicans to start supporting giving federal aid via some backdoor way (no pun intended) to Muslim countries that discriminate against gays.
    THAT kind of Muslim country they like.

  • the seal on December 06, 2011 1:16 PM:

    Change. Its a good thing.

  • FriscoSF on December 06, 2011 1:23 PM:

    GEE !!
    I wonder if this has ANYTHING to do with Obama's RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN ??
    The LGBT community has expressed disappointment with Obama's performance
    I wonder if this is an election ploy ??

    The Israeli's bombed the hell out of civilians in Gaza just before Obama took office.
    It qualifies as a War Crime
    If someone in Gaza was an LGBT member will Obama CUT hand outs to Israel ???

    Profiles in Courage

  • j on December 06, 2011 1:24 PM:

    I wonder how many republican heads have exploded this morning!

  • June on December 06, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Excellent news. That's my Prez. And thanks, Benen for that excellent summary.

  • cthulhu on December 06, 2011 1:37 PM:

    FriscoSF: And it would have been all ponies and lollypops under a McCain administration? More importantly, I seriously doubt a Clinton admin would have moved the ball any further than Obama has.

  • Werewolf on December 06, 2011 1:42 PM:

    @"Frisco"-

    Let's see, the President didn't get this done in his first week in office?

    And for the record, the Palestinian organization for LGBT rights is in Haifa, Israel-because it's unsafe for them to be in Gaza City or Ramallah or anywhere else in the PA or Gaza.

    And Israel bombed the hell out of Gaza after Gaza had been bombing the hell out of Israel for MONTHS.

  • Werewolf on December 06, 2011 1:53 PM:

    Gah! Meant to say, "...in his first week in office?" Well, I guess it doesn't count, then!

  • Mitch on December 06, 2011 2:04 PM:

    @FriscoSF

    In my humble opinion Obama's done quite a bit for the LGBT community, chiefly ending DADT. He doesn't have the power under our constitution to do much more. He cannot, for example, legalize same-sex marriage.

    I've been disappointed by Obama for several things, but this is not one of them. I think he's done more for LGBT citizens than any other president has.

    As far as Israel is concerned, I generally feel there are no "good guys" over their to side with. Israel and the Palestinians seem addicted to the violence. But America's support of Israel predates Obama by more than half a century, and will last long after he has retired from public office. Sad, but true. No candidate, no President is going to change that.

  • Eeyore on December 06, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Over the past few years I've listened to some folks in the LGBT community say something like "Obama hasn't given me marriage equality/equality of benefits/an end to discrimination/a pink unicorn so I'm gonna sit on my hands in the next election." I have two responses:

    1) The President isn't a dictator or God, and he has to work within the law and (since 2010) with a dysfunctional Congress that won't give him anything.

    2) Sitting on your hands may deliver us President Gingrich or President Mitt of (heaven forbid) President Bachmann or President Frothy Mixture. Is that what you REALLY want?

  • chopin on December 06, 2011 2:55 PM:

    "foreign aid decisions will take into consideration how countries treat their LGBT citizens"

    Any chance we can put our money where our cliche is and just drop the "foreign" bit? I'm looking at you fundie wing-nut chruches.

  • emjayay on December 06, 2011 4:55 PM:

    Re Eyore: As a gay man I have indeed felt frustrated by Obama's caution on gay issues (although he eventually accomplished a lot). And the preference of the HRC for paychecks and cocktail parties over activism. Not to mention Obama's similarly excessive caution and prefolding before negotiation on other issues as has been widely commented on all over the place. Previously I felt betrayed by Clinton's captitulation on DADT.

    The administration in between was of course a hopeless case. Why did we have to suffer through the worst presidency (and its continuing aftermath) in American history? Besides the Supreme Court coup, could it be that enough idealistic people felt the Democratic candidate was insufficiently pure and voted for the independent guy who had no chance in hell of winning or even getting enough votes to be noticed by anyone instead?

    While I understand the impulse to take one's ball home and never play with you guys again, I also understand how our system works, not to mention the craven venality of the current opposition.

    Suggestion: Don't ever read any comments over at the otherwise exemplary AmericaBlog. (Every once in a while I succumb and sometimes end up lecturing those guys as well).

  • sam3am on December 06, 2011 6:03 PM:

    I wonder how this new policy will affect U.S. assistance to Uganda, which as far as I know is still considering imposing some version of the infamous `Kill the Gays' law.

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