Last Updated on Sunday, 24 June 2012 14:25 Written by Ben Maina Friday, 18 May 2012 10:08
International Day against Homophobia
Good evening, and let me express my deep honour and pleasure at being here. I want to thank the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya for the invitation to be your keynote speaker. I want to commend Monica and MaqC for their inspiring words.
On December 10th, 1948, the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by Governments; they are birth right of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, Governments are bound to protect them.
Today, countries around the world observe the International Day against Homophobia and Trans phobia (IDAHO). The day promotes tolerance, respect, and freedom regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and draws the attention of policy makers, social movements, the media, and public opinion to the dangers of homophobia and Trans phobia. IDAHO begun in 2004 and is now officially recognised by over 100 countries. May 17 was chosen as the commemoration date because it is the anniversary of the decision taken by the World Health Organisation in 1990 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
But while we today celebrate this landmark, in many parts of the world, LGBT men and women are persecuted and attacked because of who they are or whom they love. They are arrested, beaten terrorised, even executed. Many are treated with the contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect from harm.
Homophobia, Trans phobia and the brutal hostility associated with them are often rooted in a lack of understanding of what it actually means to be a lesbian, gay bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). So to combat this scourge and break the cycle of fear and violence, we must work together to improve education and support those who stand up against laws that criminalise love and promote hate. As we mark, today, the International Day against Homophobia and Trans phobia let us resolve to redouble our efforts.
On behalf, of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am proud to reaffirm our support for LGBT communities at home and abroad, and to call for an end to discrimination and mistreatment of LGBT persons wherever it occurs. Whether by supporting LGBT advocates here in Nairobi, leading the effort at the United Nations to affirm the human rights of LGBT persons, or condemning vile laws under consideration in neighbouring countries, we are committed to our friends and allies in every region of the world who are fighting for equality and justice. These are not Western concepts; these are universal human rights.
Despite these gains and hard work, there is more to do to turn the tide of inequality and discrimination against the LGBT community. If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or Trans gender, know that the United States stands with you and we are unwavering in our commitment to the ending this cycle of hate.
Now, raising the issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest in deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs.
As you have no doubt heard, President Obama recently spoke of his evolving position regarding gay marriage. His recent announcement has provoked criticism in many circles, including the Unites States. Gay marriage remains for many a divisive issue, especially for those who do not even grant the right of existence for LGBT people, let alone the right to marry. As a matter of policy, the United States does not advocate for or against marriage same-sex couples abroad. While the United States uses observance of human rights and democratic progress as criteria in evaluating various kinds US assistance around the world, the United States does not condition aid specifically upon a country’s treatment of LGBT people.
We often talk about the strength of our diversity, as well as our tolerance. Diversity doesn’t mean that you have to accept everything that I believe, but it means that we respect each other, even if we believe different things. The great challenge of diversity and tolerance is to respect those who are intolerant. In the end, no one has ever abandoned a belief because he or she was forced to do so. We can, however, create an environment of openness, in which that person’s views may evolve. Progress starts with honest discussion. Misconceptions about the LGBT community are unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them as dismissed out of hand rather than invited to share their fears and concerns.
Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And this is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore the people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all fights; they are doctors or teachers, farmers and bankers, family, our friends, and our neighbours.
Being gay is not a western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.
Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversation in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it.
LGBT people must lead this effort, as so many of you are. Your knowledge and experiences are invaluable and your courage is inspirational.
The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority to our foreign policy.
Secretary Clinton recently announced the creation of a new $3 million Global Equality Fund that will support the work of LGBT civil society organisations working on these issues around the world. I will be working with my colleagues at the Embassy to bring some of this money to Kenya. This fund will help LGBT organisations record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staff, and forge partnerships with women’s organisations and other human rights groups.
There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. Those who advocate expanding the circle of human rights were and on the right side of history.
Thank you very much.
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