December 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT advocates mark International Human Rights Day

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Jason Collins, left, talks with Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy on Dec. 11, 2014, during an event on Capitol Hill that commemorated International Human Rights Day. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Advocates this week used International Human Rights Day to highlight the global LGBT rights movement.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson joined lesbian singer Mary Lambert and Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a researcher at Political Research Associates who exposed Scott Lively and other American evangelicals who traveled to Uganda and Nigeria before lawmakers introduced anti-LGBT laws, on a U.N. panel on Wednesday that gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated. St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate Kenita Placide; transgender San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks and Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after his then-roommate used a webcam to watch him kissing another man in their dorm room, also took part.

“Far too long LGBT people have been made to feel as lesser human beings,” said Eliasson. “Such discrimination and the silence around it was and is a disgrace. Love is a family value.”

Placide, co-executive director of United and Strong, a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, highlighted her organization’s work.

“We are building capacity of LGBT persons to speak out for themselves,” she said.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan on Wednesday moderated a panel during Human Rights First’s annual summit in D.C. that examined the way sports can promote human rights around the world. Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis; Eli Wolff of the Institute for Human Centered Design and Shireen Ahmed, a women’s soccer player from Canada who is Muslim, took part.

Louganis, who tested positive for HIV six months before competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, said during the panel that South Korean officials would not allow Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion four years earlier, into the country to watch him compete because of his status. The gay retired Olympian noted he too would have been prevented from entering South Korea if authorities knew he was living with the virus.

Louganis pointed out he supported efforts that urged U.S. Olympic Committee not to have events in Cobb County, Ga., during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta because the municipality had an anti-gay law on the books. The USOC ultimately decided to hold them in Athens, Ga., but he said his advocacy raised eyebrows at the time.

“I always said that I was not political, but just by being myself and just sharing who I am,” said Louganis. “I am a gay man living with HIV who recently got married…all I can do is be myself. And I think in being myself and sharing myself with as many people as I can in whatever country I’m in, I am an advocate for just humanity and trying to do the best I can.”

Ahmed during the panel highlighted the case of Dutee Chand, an Indian sprinter who must undergo a so-called “gender test” in order for the Athletic Federation of India to allow her to compete against other women internationally. Ahmed nevertheless said participation in sports can help further the rights of LGBT people and other marginalized groups.

“Sport can be used as a vehicle for right and justice and peace,” she said.

The Pan American Health Organization this week hosted a two-day meeting in D.C. that focused on ways to improve the health of LGBT people throughout the Americas within the context of human rights. LGBT rights advocates from Nigeria, Russia, Jamaica, India, Cameroon, Malaysia, China, South Africa and St. Lucia on the same day attended an event at the New York Public Library that the International Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Muslims for Progressive Values and other groups co-sponsored.

“It does not matter what country we live in, what our religious beliefs, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation is,” said gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster in a YouTube video that commemorated International Human Rights Day. “Because we are human, we therefore have rights that are bound to be protected by our governments.”

LGBT advocates celebrate progress, note setbacks

International Human Rights Day commemorates the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

This year’s International Human Rights Day took place less than three months after the U.N. Human Rights Council ratified a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Ty Cobb of the Human Rights Campaign on Thursday noted during a panel at the Capitol Visitor Center that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) attended alongside gay retired basketball player Jason Collins, Charles Radcliffe of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and Patricia Davis of the State Department that Finnish lawmakers late last month approved a same-sex marriage bill.

Sweden, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are among the nearly two dozen countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry. Same-sex couples are also now able to tie the knot in 35 states and D.C.

Denmark in June became the first European country to allow trans people to legally change their gender without undergoing sterilization and surgery. Lawmakers in Mexico City last month approved a measure that would allow trans people in the Mexican capital to legally change their gender without a court order.

The European Court of Justice earlier this month issued a landmark ruling that says EU member states cannot require gay asylum seekers to prove their sexual orientation.

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Luisa Revilla Urcia, left, speaks with Miluska Luzquiños on Sept. 5, 2014, during a meeting of LGBT activists from Latin America and the Caribbean in Lima, Peru. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Angélica Lozano in March became the first openly LGBT member of the Colombian Congress. Luisa Revilla Urcia in October won a seat on the local council in the Peruvian city of La Esperanza, thus becoming the first trans candidate elected to public office in the South American country.

Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in more than 70 countries. Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the nations in which those found guilty of homosexuality face the death penalty.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh last month signed a draconian bill under which those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” face life in prison. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in February enacted a similar measure — Anti-Homosexuality Act, but the Ugandan Constitutional Court later struck it down on a technicality.

Egyptian authorities on Dec. 7 arrested dozens of men at a Cairo bathhouse on charges of “perversion” and “debauchery.” A pro-government television station subsequently broadcast video of the detained men that one of its reporters apparently filmed from inside the establishment during the raid.

“Progress has been made in some places,” said Lee on Thursday during the Capitol Hill event. “But today as we speak in far away places unlike this room that may be safe and secure, there are those who may be covering up their own failures and using it against the vitality, the vibrancy, the spirit of people who have the right to be themselves.”

Radcliffe also acknowledged the global backlash against the expansion of LGBT rights, although he cautioned it is “patchy” and “localized.”

“There is no other area of human rights where I can say we have seen such rapid progress in so many countries in such a short space of time,” he said. “It’s also true that there’s no other human rights issue that I can think of our that I work on where we see such organized, determined opposition and such well-organized opposition determined to try and halt and roll back these advances.”

U.S. government ‘must reflect’ founding ideals

President Obama in 2011 issued a presidential memorandum that mandated agencies charged with implementing American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights.

The State Department’s Global Equality Fund since 2011 has contributed $17 million to advocacy efforts throughout the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development in April 2013 launched the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a $16 million public-private initiative that seeks to promote LGBT rights in developing countries over four years.

The State Department and USAID last month hosted a conference in Washington that was designed to bolster funding of global LGBT advocacy efforts.

LGBT rights advocates earlier this year applauded the Obama administration for cutting aid to Uganda after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House in June also issued a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses in the East African country.

Cicilline has introduced a bill — the Global Respect Act — that would impose visa bans against those who commit “gross human rights violations” against LGBT people.

“Our country of course was founded on the principles that everybody is equal, everyone must be respected and valued and all are free to pursue life, liberty and happiness,” said Cicilline. “The actions of our government should and must reflect those ideals.”

Brennan during the Human Rights First panel she moderated described Obama’s decision to appoint three LGBT people to the U.S. Olympic delegation to Sochi as “an amazing in your face right to” Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s LGBT rights record that includes a 2013 law banning the promotion of so-called gay propaganda of minors. She also noted the International Olympic Committee earlier in the week added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination clause.

“If the IOC had in place what it has now in place — and we’ll hold them to it because sometimes they wiggle around on these things — they wouldn’t have been able to give the Olympics to Sochi,” said Brennan. “Or…the anti-gay propaganda law, whatever the heck that means, that was in place there would have had to be rescinded.”

The U.S. over the last year has faced criticism from some advocates who feel the White House is not doing enough to promote global LGBT rights.

Obama in August faced criticism after he invited Museveni, Jammeh and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to the White House during a summit that brought dozens of African heads of state to Washington. California Congresswoman Barbara Lee is among those who blasted USAID after reports emerged over the summer that said USAID used an HIV prevention workshop to try and undermine the Cuban government.

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet Gambian President Yahya Jammeh at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a report detailing “rectal feeding” and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” the Central Intelligence Agency used against al-Qaeda prisoners in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the outgoing chair of the committee, and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are among those who argue the interrogation techniques amounted to torture.

“We are acutely aware that the U.S. definitely does not have a perfect record of protecting and promoting the human rights of all its citizens, including LGBT individuals,” said Davis during Thursday’s Capitol Hill panel. “We know we still have work to do here at home. And we’re very open about that when we talk about it.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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