March 12, 2016 at 3:10 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Samantha Power: LGBT equality not ‘special category of rights’

Samantha Power, HRC Equality Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power speaks at the Human Rights Campaign Equality Convention on March 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power on Saturday made numerous references to “no-go zones” for LGBT people as she spoke at a Human Rights Campaign conference in D.C.

“If we believe that we will not be able to achieve true equality as long as there are vast no-go zones for LGBTI people worldwide, then we must ask how we can draw upon the lessons we have learned and the tools we have to help our partners in the places where LGBTI people are still targeted by discrimination and violence,” said Power in her speech that she delivered at the Capital Hilton in Northwest Washington.

Power noted in her remarks at the annual HRC Equality Convention that there are more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

She specifically criticized Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for saying in a 2015 speech that he would slit the throats of gay men in his country. Power also noted the crackdown on LGBT rights in Indonesia that has accelerated in recent months.

“While a handful of Indonesian officials have taken a more moderate and constructive stance, the messages of intolerance by several senior officials have had real-life consequences for members of Indonesia’s LGBTI community,” she said.

Power also discussed the so-called Islamic State’s continued persecution of LGBT Syrians and Iraqis that includes public executions.

The U.S. and Chile last August co-sponsored the first-ever U.N. Security Council meeting on an LGBT-specific issue that focused on the Sunni militant group.

Power in her speech noted that “Adnan,” a gay man from northern Iraq, spoke to the council via telephone. She said that he fled his homeland after members of the so-called Islamic State arrived at his home and told his parents they had come to “carry out ‘God’s punishment’ against him.”

“Making LGBTI rights the focus of a meeting on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council for the first time mattered,” said Power.

Scott Long, a former Human Rights Watch staffer, wrote in a blog post that the meeting “will be useless” and was “going to cause more killing.”

Power made no mention of this criticism in her speech. Neither she nor HRC President Chad Griffin, who introduced her, spoke about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assertion on Friday that former President Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan started a “national conversation” around HIV/AIDS.

Special U.S. envoy ‘tireless advocate’ for LGBT rights

President Obama in 2011 issued a memorandum that ordered agencies charged with the implementation of U.S. foreign policy to promote LGBT rights. Clinton delivered her landmark “gay rights are human rights” speech in Geneva on the same day the White House released its directive.

Power in her speech noted a U.N. budget committee last March overwhelmingly rejected a Russia-sponsored resolution that sought to overturn Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to extend spousal benefits to gay U.N. personnel who are legally married.

“We knew that we had to put everything into that fight,” said Power. “And we did, working that vote as hard as any vote we have worked since I became U.S. Ambassador to U.N.”

Power noted that Obama spoke in support LGBT rights during a press conference last July with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. She also noted that Special U.S. Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry, who attended the speech, has traveled to 42 countries since he assumed his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor last April.

“Randy has been tremendous and tireless advocate for this cause,” said Power.

The Obama administration on Thursday publicly defended gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster against calls to remove him from his post for promoting an “LGBT agenda.” National Security Council Director of Multilateral Affairs and LGBTI Rights Curtis Ried was among those who attended Power’s speech.

Power also noted that Ty Cobb and Jean Freedberg of HRC’s international program met with a group of LGBT rights advocates from Mozambique last November at the U.S. Embassy in the country’s capital of Maputo.

Mozambique in July 2015 officially decriminalized homosexuality when its revised penal code took effect.

“That a conversation like that can be proudly hosted at a U.S. embassy, under an American flag, with a U.S. ambassador not only hosting, but participating and voicing support is what President Obama’s memorandum on LGBTI rights is all about,” said Power.

Power ended her speech by noting she brought 17 other U.N. ambassadors to a performance of “Fun Home,” a Broadway play that focuses on a young girl who comes out as a lesbian, earlier this month in New York. She appeared to become emotional as she read the last three verses of a song that Ali, the main character, sings.

“I know you,” said Power to applause. “I know you. I know you.”

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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