Hillary Clinton on LGBT Rights to the UN: How A Speech Can Mean So Much To So Many
Hillary Clinton’s speech ( http://bit.ly/uU9Eep ) before the United Nations in Geneva may just be another wasted thirty minutes of your life, but as a gay woman of color, it means a lifetime of unheard sentiments finally seeing light. For some heterosexuals, Clinton/Obama opponents and religious conservatives, it could sound just like an act of political grandstanding to secure the gay vote in the upcoming elections. But regardless of its immediate effects, to many LGBT people across nations it was a voice that resonated within the hollow hopelessness our struggles seem to have become.
The speech was far from colorful or unique, in fact its length probably spoke more than its actual content. There was nothing new in what Clinton said other than statements LGBT advocates have spoken, yelled and written on their banners and signs in marches and rallies for as far as I can remember. “Gay rights are human rights!” has long been a battlecry for many of us, the statement of which is almost insulting in that we have to repeatedly state the obvious to our respective communities. It’s been the repeated pathetic request from productive, employed and responsible taxpayers to our fellow people: Would you please treat us like human beings too?
As familiar as the speech was, what mattered is who said it and where. In Hillary Clinton the LGBT community has found an advocate who at that moment prioritized our cause above all others in presenting it to the world and expressing the urgent need for change in the treatment of homosexuals in families, workplaces, communities and in law. It has forced the world to come face to face with the realities gay people face everyday. Having the United States Secretary of State stand up in front of the United Nations and openly state her love and support for our minority and declaring the United States an advocate for homosexuals worldwide is a statement that means so much more than the thousands of other times we’ve said it ourselves in gatherings. Her speech is proof that we have finally have been heard.
We in the LGBT community long been relegated as different, our sentiments treated as special requests we have no right to ask for. And for the first time, someone outside our ranks has spoken for us, she has spoken to the world, and the world was forced to listen. In history it will be known that on December 6, 2011, Hillary Clinton told the world that our collective pain as homosexuals is not just in our imagination.
Even the most successful and accomplished gay person has had to live a part of their lives in secret for their own protection. Growing up we’ve always had to make a choice on whether to divulge who we love or what things we enjoy in order to conform and not be bullied or hurt. We’ve kept our voices low as gay men and tamed down the extra bounce in our step. As gay women we’ve been careful of our physical appearance, we’ve married to make our lives “right.” We have all called our lovers our friends. There is not one single gay person in the world who never once had to change a part of themselves to protect their lives, loved ones and their livelihood just because a bigger fraction of the world thinks it’s wrong for us to love who we love, or move, dress and speak the way we were born. In her speech to the UN, Hillary Clinton told us that she knows we’ve been silenced for too long.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have also made a statement to the world that it will no longer tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, and have even taken it as far as saying that their foreign policy will reflect this opinion. They have said that laws must change before fears about that change dissipate. They have made a statement that they will not support any government that continues to discriminate against LGBT people and that criminalizes homosexual relationships. Although it might be a long way before these have an actual solid impact on oppressive governments, these spoken words say to the world’s leaders and their subordinate lawmakers, once and for all, that THEY ARE WRONG for hurting, imprisoning, killing and discriminating against people because they love who they love.
Finally, it took an established and respected face in international politics such as Hillary Clinton to humanize LGBT challenges around the world. She put it simply, in no big, flowery or politically-fueled statements requiring more than the basic understanding provided by common sense. She made it clear that she knows and feels the everyday challenges homosexuals experience daily, universally, and since the beginning of time; and translated these struggles into something even the most inflexible, religious and intolerant person would understand, when she said this:
“Progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, ‘How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?’”
In the end, a short and simple speech given to the world echoes a basic tenet we’ve learned about others in sandboxes and in our homes as infants, long before we could even speak, yet seem to forget when faced with people who might be a little different from us. Maybe it takes a legend of a world leader such as Hillary Clinton to remind us again that there have never been any exceptions to The Golden Rule, gay or straight: Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you.