June 27, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Samantha Power: LGBT rights struggle ‘far from over’

Samantha Power, Zachary Quinto, Stonewall Riots, New York, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and actor Zachary Quinto speak at a New York forum on Thursday that commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. (Abdulaziz Said/U.S. Mission to the United Nations)

NEW YORK — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power on Thursday said the LGBT rights movement is “far from over” in spite of significant progress in this country.

“There are some parts of the world where the situation abroad is actually taking a sharp turn for the worse for LGBT individuals,” she said during a forum at Hunter College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Power during the forum in which actor Zachary Quinto, LGBT rights advocate Bill Bahlman and Alyx Steadman of the Trevor Project participated noted that homosexuality remains criminalized in nearly 80 countries. She said Brunei would become the eighth country in which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts face the death penalty if it “continues along its path” of enacting its new penal code.

Power highlighted the law that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. She also noted Russia and Nigeria as among the other countries in which anti-LGBT statutes have come into effect over the last year.

“Unfortunately, Uganda’s anti-gay legislation is not an outlier,” said Power. “Nor is the climate of intolerance and abuse that it has fostered.”

Power spoke at the forum a week after the Obama administration announced travel bans against Ugandan officials who are responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses. Her speech also coincided with the first anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Power noted same-sex couples can now legally marry in 20 states and D.C., but other states in recent months have considered measures that would allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. She further highlighted gay St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam could still be fired in many states because there is no federal law banning anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

“Before we get too carried away with all of this progress talk, we of course have to acknowledge the obvious: that the struggle sparked at Stonewall is far from over,” said Power.

The Hunter College speech is not the first time that Power has spoken out in support of global LGBT rights.

She described the Russian law that bans so-called gay propaganda to minors as “outrageous” and “dangerous” as she met with more than 30 LGBT rights activists who were New York last December to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Power in February met with Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Frank Mugisha in before Museveni signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights last summer launched a public education campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world that includes Ricky Martin and Bollywood star Celina Jaitly. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova “inspired” him during a video message to those who attended a sports panel last December at the United Nations.

The U.N. has nevertheless faced criticism in spite of these efforts.

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa earlier this month was unanimously elected president of the U.N. General Assembly. The U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday adopted a resolution in support of the “protection of the family.”

“At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent,” said Power in response to Kutesa’s election. “In the face of these challenges, all of us working in and at the United Nations should recommit to vigorously defending these core principles.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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