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We are not alone
by Libby Post - SGN Contributing Writer

At times, it seems a gargantuan task to get LGBT folks politically motivated, when our priorities seem to be Gay men dancing in their underwear at circuit parties or Lesbians convening in Palm Springs for the Dinah Shore classic. For many, the allure of "tighty whiteys" or the libations of the 19th hole far outweigh lobbying, grassroots organizing, media advocacy, or just simply writing a check.

As the 2008 presidential race continues, and issues concerning our community develop and grow, it will become more essential for us to get outside of ourselves, to move beyond the "me"-centrism of our community, and to engage with the country and the world on our issues.

Some of us may think engaging our fellow citizens on LGBT issues is enough, that our political agenda is so chock-full of concerns that we just don't have the time to take on anything else. Well, folks, it's time to see the writing on the wall. Living in the United States as an out LGBT person may not be a cakewalk, but it certainly isn't the walk to the gallows it is in other counties around the world.

We talk a lot about our civil rights; perhaps it's time to reframe the discussion and talk about our issues as human rights and to begin looking at how our nation's foreign policy impacts the status of LGBT people in every country.

"The U.S. could do so much more if we came anywhere close to taking a leadership role in human rights in the way the administration and the State Department claim we do," Mark Bromley told me recently. Bromley is heading up a new initiative called the LGBT Foreign Policy Project (LGBT FPP), the goal of which is to change the way the U.S. Department of State, our foreign service, and our diplomatic corps deal with LGBT human rights issues.

A veteran of Global Rights, a human rights advocacy group headquartered in Washington D.C., Bromley has worked on international LGBT human rights issues for over a decade. It was the duplicity of his own government that impelled him to start the LGBT FPP after sitting through a meeting of the United Nation's Human Rights Committee in Geneva about a year and a half ago.

Bromley explained that, as a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes sexual orientation as a human right, the United States is supposed to go before the committee and "lay out where we're in compliance, where we're making an attempt to improve.

"The head of the U.S. Civil Rights Division was at the meeting in Geneva, and he denied that the ICCPR covered LGBT issues and denied that the U.N. had any oversight on these issues," Bromley said. "It was outrageous in terms of the legal jurisprudence of the committee."

But the reason it was so infuriating, Bromley explained, is that the U.N.'s Human Rights Committee is actually the most progressive international organization addressing LGBT rights, and it's having a real impact.

"To have the U.S. government go in and argue that this pre-eminent body has no authority to address LGBT issues is incredibly damaging," said Bromley, who is joined in his work by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest. Guest recently left his post in the State Department because he could no longer live with the duplicity of being an out Gay man and having his partner being ignored and put into danger when they were overseas.

The fact of the matter is that the U.N.'s Human Rights Committee does have the authority to address LGBT issues, and so does the U.S. government. Each year, the State Department issues its international report on human rights, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which is the culmination of reports from our embassies throughout the world. Routinely, LGBT human rights issues are given short shrift, lumped into a catchall category that also includes HIV/AIDS.

We routinely see the United States speak out in favor of religious rights or "political" rights in countries we consider oppressive - say, Iran. But when it comes to speaking out about the atrocities LGBT Iranians - and Iraqis, for that matter - are facing, we are absolutely silent.

"I came to the State Department inspired by Jimmy Carter and his focus on enhancing human rights," said Guest. "Here we are, almost 30 years later, with an administration that has carried us backwards."

Both Bromley and Guest want to change the way the State Department does its reporting. "The incidences of abuse against LGBT citizens are so serious in some counties that we believe they deserve their own chapter, and they deserve this attention so addressing these abuses is part of our foreign policy," said Guest.

To many of us, writing a chapter in a State Department report seems remote and possibly even arcane. Instead, we need to see this as writing a new chapter in the potential of our activism and concern throughout the world. Remember, there's much more to us than house music and teeing-off. LGBT Americans are not alone, and if we're not going to stand up and make our country act on its moral imperative to stop human rights atrocities against LGBT people, who else will?

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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