September 1, 2015 at 10:33 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Clinton emails reveal interest in LGBT rights
Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Hillary Clinton showed an interest in LGBT rights in her State Department emails. Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The more than 7,000 pages of emails the State Department made public on Monday from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email account reveal an interest in LGBT issues during her time in the Obama administration.

The latest batch of emails, which were sent or received throughout 2009 and 2010, reveal discussion of Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill, efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” international LGBT rights, her 2010 Pride speech before LGBT State Department employees and Clinton’s video for the “It Gets Better” project.

Although the Democratic presidential front-runner was included in these email discussions among her aides, only a single response from her on LGBT issues was found in the batch most recently made public. She may have given input offline in another capacity.

In an email made public as part of the July 1 dump, Clinton writes, “we should emphasize LGBT rights” when discussing reported human rights abuses against gay men in Iraq.

In the latest email batch, one exchange between between Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills and then-Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson reveals a discussion in December 2009 over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda and efforts to convince President Yoweri Museveni to prevent it from becoming law.

Responding to an article in Bloomberg News on plans to drop the death penalty and life imprisonment provisions in the bill, Mills says she doesn’t know “where this stands in terms of what will really happen” and calls for a meeting in the upcoming days with international LGBT groups “to lay out what we have done.”

“The process will focus not only our public and quiet diplomacy (calls to pres, etc) efforts but also it will give chance for feedback on more we should do,” Mills writes. “I am worried this will not turn out well. We need some outreach unless I am missing what is being done in dept.”

Carson responds that he’s “happy to participate” in any meeting on the issue to share conservations with Museveni and his “reassurances” to the State Department.

“We continue to monitor this issue and I am prepared to go back to Museveni at any time to express our deep concerns and to press him to deep six this legislation,” Carson says.

Mills in turn asks whether the State Department should have “S” call the president, presumably referring to Clinton as secretary of state, an idea to which Carson agrees by saying “the secretary should make the call.” More of Carson’s response is redacted, but the portion that is public reiterates his willingness to participate in a meeting with LGBT groups and talk about his work. Minutes later, Mills forwards the exchange to Clinton in apparent preparation for a call with Museveni.

In December 2009, Carson held a State Department meeting with non-governmental organizations and, as the Washington Blade first reported, said Museveni had given him assurances during an in-person meeting and a follow-up phone call he would veto the bill. (Museveni would later sign the legislation into law anyway in 2014, but the court system struck it down).

As for the call from Clinton planned in the email exchange, it’s unclear what occurred after the discussion. In her book “Hard Choices,” Clinton says Museveni ridiculed her for urging him to reject the anti-gay bill, but that discussion may have taken place not in 2009, but in 2011 in the context of discussions with Ugandan officials about the murder of African LGBT rights activist David Kato.

Also included in the latest email batch are a number of messages praising Clinton for making an October 2010 video for the “It Gets Better” project, a series of video messages aimed at supporting LGBT youth amid a nationwide rash of reported suicides of LGBT minors.

In an email dated Oct. 19, 2010, Senior Adviser to the Council for Global Equality Julie Dorf tells then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor Daniel Baer her organization intends to put the video on its website and Clinton “saying you matter ‘to your country’ is particularly powerful.”

An aide also forwarded to Clinton an email referencing the “It Gets Better” video from Lynn Sicade, a senior policy adviser for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor.

“Can you let her know that individual employees in the building appreciate what she has been doing on LGBT rights?” Sicade writes. “I know GLIFFA will do so, but it’s kind of their job to advocate. But if you could just tell her in a minute how deeply her work is touching us in the trenches, well, it’s something I think she deserves to hear.”

Another email came from former State Department employee Jon Tollefson, who at the time was president of the State Department affinity group known as Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA.

“It has truly touched our members,” Tollefson writes. “As you may have seen, it received wide attention within LGBT media, youth media (MTV and VH1), and the wider media. The video has over 110,000 views on youtube already, and she is likely to touch many more people as it spreads.”

Another email demonstrates interest in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” even though Clinton as head of foreign affairs had no direct involvement on the domestic issue. Then-Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma forwarded to Clinton in May 2010 a news report that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) had signed on in support of repeal.

“Nelson to support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell measure,” Verma said. “Spoke with [the late Sen. Robert] Byrd’s people too….they think he is leaning to support it, but would know for sure later today.”

Also forwarded to Clinton are news developments on international LGBT rights. In July 2010, Mills forwarded to Clinton a message from Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero that includes a news clipping on the Argentine Senate approving same-sex marriage legislation.

“This is huge news for Latin America, we should find a way to use this to advance our dialogue on LGBT in the region,” Otero writes.

In October 2010, Mills forwards to Clinton and aide Jacob Sullivan an Associated Press report on anti-gay riots in Serbia and adds the message, “You should discuss Dan’s email w/ S on plane” — presumably an exchange between Baer and Clinton not disclosed in the emails.

The email exchanges also reveal State Department staffers were getting information from LGBT media. In June 2010, Mills forwarded to Clinton an article in the Washington Blade on the secretary’s speech at a Pride celebration at the White House when she coined her now widely used phrase “human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights.”

Also forwarded to Clinton on that speech was an email praising the secretary from Kathleen Ruckman, who at the time was incoming branch chief in the Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department.

“But I want to let the Secretary know that I am especially grateful for all the work she has done for the GLBT community in the Department and around the world,” Ruckman writes. “What a thrill it was to today to hear her say that gay rights are human rights!”

Mills forwarded a March 2010 blog entry from Box Turtle Bulletin on the State Department investigating LGBT treatment in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. Another forwarded post from the Tuczon, Az.-based LGBT blog is on the reported beheading of an LGBT advocate in Uganda.

“Do you know anything more about this?” Mills emailed Carson about the report before forwarding their exchange to Clinton.

Also forwarded to Clinton was a news bulletin in June 2010 from gay journalist Rex Wockner on the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iceland.

Clinton adviser Phillipe Reines also forwarded to the secretary a note from lesbian journalist Kerry Eleveld, who was then a reporter for The Advocate, requesting an interview for a possible cover story, adding such an interview “should be super positive.”

In one of the rare responses to LGBT-related emails, Clinton wrote, “Ok as long as I have tps,” which presumably means “talking points.” In response, Reines says, “Of course.” The cover story “Madame Secretary”  ran in The Advocate in January 2011.

During the time period in which these emails were made public, Clinton wasn’t yet a supporter of same-sex marriage. She didn’t come out in favor of marriage equality until after she departed the State Department in 2013. Clinton makes no mention of what she’s thinking about the issue.

The emails are being made public as a result of a court order resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request filed by media organizations. Additional emails are set to be made public every 30 days until the entire collection obtained by the State Department deemed appropriate for release is unveiled.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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