Last week, Georgetown University kicked off its PRIDE Week with the talk on the intersection of LGBT* Issues and US Foreign Policy. As someone interested in global issues and an active member of the LGBTQ and allied community on my own campus, I knew I had to go.

Mark Bromley, founder of the Council for Global Equality first spoke to the situation on in the US and on the US policy side and then about the status of LGBT rights abroad. The Council for Global Equality is a formal coalition made up of 19 member organizations who fall into roughly four categories: domestic LGBT organizations (e.g. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, etc.), international LGBT human rights organizations (e.g. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, etc.), leaders in corporate equality work (e.g.  National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, etc.) and an increasing number of religious groups (e.g. American Jewish World Service, etc.).

When asked why do LGBT work abroad when there is so much to be done “at home,” Bromley answered that, in fact, “we can do both.” We have the capacity and passion, he said, to pushing for progress on LGBT issues in America, such as marriage equality, as well as condemning the behavior of other countries toward the LGBT community. That, and, when Bromley discovered this was his passion, he didn’t find anyone else drawing together the resources of the extensive coalition he has since assembled.

Progress has occurred in terms of what the US has done on the international stage (although the conversation about what Obama has done regarding his promises to the LGBTQ community is MUCH longer…). The UN passed a declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality and condemning violence against LGBT people as violations of human rights. The US (i.e. the Bush administration) did not initially sign on to the declaration, but Obama signed the US on in 2009. Starting in 1993, under Clinton, the State Department starting reporting on sexuality and gender violence as part of its human rights’ conditions reporting around the world. The 2009 report, released this past March, shows that there are concerns regarding the human rights of LGBT people in about 190 countries.

Perhaps the issue that has gotten the most press in the last year has been the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed in October of 2009. The bill, if it were to pass, would result in life-imprisonment, a “gay” witch-hunt ordering neighbors to “out” neighbors, and in some cases, the death penalty for being, or suspicion of being, homosexual. Many countries have called on the President of Uganda to crush the bill. In a bi-partisan effort lead by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the United States joined that chorus April 13/14th when the Senate voted to pass S. Res. 409.  The resolution declares US opposition to the Ugandan bill, calls for decriminalization of homosexuality in other countries, and urges Secretary of State to monitor closely human rights violations as a result of gender or sexuality.

I honestly don’t know why it took as long as it did for this resolution to pass, but I’m certainly glad it did.

According to Bromley, it is likely that this will help kill the Ugandan bill, since if it were to pass, its human rights violation would jeopardize much of the US’s PEPFAR funding that goes toward combating HIV/AIDS, especially important in Uganda. It is important to note that the US hasn’t been exactly blameless in this process, given that there is significant evidence to tie anti-gay and “ex-gay” faith-based leaders to a conference condeming homosexuality just before the bill was proposed and to a wave of “exported homophobia.”

The state of the LGBT community varies widely from country to country. Where there is violence, it is often sexualized, involving rape and sexual abuse, sexualized “punishment” for what is perceived as sexual perversion. Depending on the country, the question of whether homosexuality is decriminalized, illegal, or tolerated is also a matter of organizational effectiveness. It can be impossible to have acquire government funding, register as an NGO, or even have a bank account, not to mention, being even suspected of belonging to the LGBT community can can mean personal or organizational violence. Since the coup in Honduras last year, 18 leaders of human rights organizations suspected of being gay have been assassinated. In Iraq, men who are perceived to be gay often suffer the sexualized violence mentioned earlier.

Yet, as already stated, the situation changes a great deal depending on the country. India recently overturned an old law and legalized homosexuality (interestingly, that oppressive legistlation was a relic of British anti-sodomy laws). Sweden and Brazil are also countries who have taken the lead on progressive LGBT reform.

At the end of Bromley’s talk, I had certainly learned a lot and realized the potential for further work in the global LGBT sphere. However, I remembered his claim that “we can do both,” and I wondered how the US would go about “doing” global LGBTQ work in a respectful, concerned, and informed way. He mentioned that the Netherlands had been criticized in the past for their imposition of a “Western” human rights identity approach. It is possible to approach the safety and celebration of the LGBTQ community in many ways, not just from a human rights standpoint, but also a privacy rights or sexual rights framework. Additionally, US pressure on LGBT issues is not going to have as much sway in all countries, and we ourselves have a ways to go. The UK gives an LGBT toolkit to its 261 embassies, and there have been pushes to distribute a very similar toolkit to American embassies.

We clearly have work to do, certainly within the US. But I agree with Bromley that supporting the LGBTQ community in America and elsewhere around the world is a mutually reinforcing endeavor. LGBTQ issues cut right to the heart of a lot of what we talk about when discussing common humanity and global consciousness. Part of ensuring safety, dignity, rights, resources, and respect for all people on this planet means making sure we do not let hatred and violence toward the LGBTQ community go unaddressed.

Click here to sign the petition urging the Obama administration to act on the Senate’s resolution and use all available means of diplomacy to make sure the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill is soundly rejected!

*”LGBT” stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered.” I personally say LGBTQ (where “Q” refers to those who identify as “Queer”), but the speaker used the “LGBT” acronym in his talk. I employ the LGBT acronym in the same instances he used it, but add the Q when it is my own opinion (although what applies to lesbian, bisexual, gay, and trans individuals would, almost invariably, also apply to those who identify as queer).