Secretary Clinton's International Human Rights Day Message: "Gay Rights are Human Rights"

Foreign policy speeches do not typically give me chills. Not so with the speech that Secretary Clinton gave yesterday evening in Geneva on the evening of December 6th. Her remarks, which I was fortunate enough to hear in person, made a powerful, timely and truly historic argument for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

In its coverage, The New York Times led with the Obama administration’s declaration that it will be prioritizing LGBT rights in its foreign policy. Clinton described the U.S. government as an ally to global LGBT communities and shared a plan for a Global Equality Fund totaling over $3 million.

But Clinton made a broader statement, too.

As I listened to the speech, what struck me most was its emphasis on a shared humanity and the universality of human rights. At its heart, it was a fitting tribute to International Human Rights Day. By situating the human rights of LGBT people firmly in the realm of international human rights principles, the speech extended a historic call to action to individuals as well as governments.

A few key points:

1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights extends to all people, including LGBT people.

“Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.”

2. Love and compassion are fundamental human values.

“[L]et us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.”

3. LGBT activists cannot and should not carry the struggle alone.

“LGBT people must help lead this effort, as so many of you are. Their knowledge and experiences are invaluable and their courage inspirational. We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know. But often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change. So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines.”

4. Both governments and citizens bear the responsibility to uphold and promote human rights.

“To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.”

“And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.”

Clinton’s charge has given the world the fire it needs to make human rights a reality for all. AJWS has long believed that the LGBTI rights work we support is an essential part of a comprehensive and inclusive human rights agenda. It was thrilling to hear Clinton reinforce just how critical this work is for a healthy and vibrant future.

The video and written transcript to Clinton’s speech can be found here.