What Hillary Clinton said about LGBT rights that you need to hear

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at an event to discuss her new book in Washington, Friday, June 13, 2014.
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at an event to discuss her new book in Washington, Friday, June 13, 2014. Molly Riley, AP

In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s NPR interview last week, much attention was paid to her evolution on same-sex marriage. If you didn’t hear the interview, you might think that was all she and Terry Gross talked about. It was not. Indeed, Clinton gave us firsthand reminders of the challenges facing the international LGBT community – challenges that affect anyone who believes in the fundamental right to freedom.

As Secretary of State, Clinton was not at liberty to address domestic political issues (such as same-sex marriage). On the international stage, however, and in keeping with the title of her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton boldly asserted in Geneva in 2011: “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” It was a groundbreaking moment. She also told the international community: “being LGBT does not make you less human.”

Around the world, there are thousands of people who believe in equal rights for the LGBT community. But there are others who declare that homosexuality is an affront to civilization, that children must be protected from its perceived corruptive force, and that homosexuality should be a punishable, criminal offense.

In Russia, President Vladmir Putin passed the anti-gay propaganda law a year ago this month, making it a crime to publicly support gay rights or acknowledge same-sex relationships to a minor.

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In Uganda, President Yoweri Musevini passed the far worse Anti-homosexuality Act in February of this year, making homosexuality such an egregious crime (demanding life imprisonment in some cases) that anyone found “aiding or abetting” a homosexual (as in renting them an apartment), knowingly performing a same-sex marriage or not reporting a gay person to the authorities is committing a crime as well.

When she was Secretary of State, Clinton heard foreign leaders express beliefs that children were being “coerced” into homosexuality and “they didn’t want children being abused.” What is abusive, however, are laws that criminalize homosexuality and deny human rights because of sexual or gender orientation. Worse, government-sanctioned discrimination serves to incite hate crimes because perpetrators feel justified by their actions.

Case in point: Uganda. Since the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, violence against gays and lesbians has exponentially increased – more than 750% from reported assaults in 2013.

Elsewhere in the world, reports of anti-gay violence are also increasing, in an apparent backlash against advances in equality. In France, according to the latest reports, attacks against the LGBT community increased 78% last year. In Scotland, homophobic hate crimes were up 22%. Last fall I reported on the horrific attack of Scott Jones in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, one of the gay-friendliest corners of the world.

Nor are public figures exempt. Just a few days ago Vienna’s first openly gay politician, Ulrike Lunacek, was allegedly attacked with acid at Vienna’s pride parade. (She escaped injury.) And here at home, the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) documented that violence against LGBT persons was up nearly 27% in New York City in 2013. Sharon Stapel of the AVP further points out that nearly 90% of LGBT homicide victims throughout the U.S. were persons of color last year and 72% were transgender women.

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