[Editor's note: Michael Guest is a former US Ambassador.]
Has anyone out there read the State Department's 2007 Human Rights Report? According to our own embassies, LGBT individuals in over 100 foreign countries are being subjected to abuse or discriminatory treatment. The range of abuses noted - including extrajudicial killings, police violence, extortion, false imprisonment leading to rape, and legal impediments to equality - is nothing short of shocking.
The LGBT Foreign Policy Project made its public debut March 18, calling a press conference to red-flag this disheartening trail of LGBT abuse. The Project is a budding coalition effort to press for a stronger U.S. voice on international LGBT concerns, such as those cited in the report. I'm proud to be a part of this group. My colleagues and I see lots of ways in which the State Department's performance on LGBT rights can be improved, and we'll be seeking appointments to discuss those ideas with officials who, after all, are there to represent us.
I used to be in the State Department - in fact, I took the Foreign Service exam in the late '70s, inspired in part by Jimmy Carter's strong voice on human rights. Flash forward to late 2005, when Secretary Rice swore in the last Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (that post is now vacant). In her remarks, I don't believe she uttered the words "human rights" even a single time. That's symbolic, of course, of the inattention this Administration has given to human rights. But that sad symbolism is dwarfed by the record: few would disagree that, between Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib, America's broad credibility on human rights has suffered unconscionable damage.
Now, zoom closer, and look at this Administration's commitment to LGBT equality. Hmm, nothing there, or at least nothing positive. I'm curious to know in what detail President Bush, or for that matter, Secretary Rice, has been briefed on this year's human rights report. Even the Department's clinical, almost formulaic descriptions of abuse against LGBT individuals prompt revulsion and disgust. Surely any leader of integrity would feel compelled to respond upon reading or hearing these horrific accounts.
Integrity. What the LGBT Project seeks is integrity in how America approaches human rights issues, at home and abroad. Integrity is all about being balanced, fair, inclusive and complete - and about standing firmly and fairly on principles that reflect those attributes. Over the past seven years, America has veered far away from the principles of equality and respect for diversity on which it was founded, at least with respect to the LGBT community. We need to rediscover America's sense of wholeness, and restore integrity and consistency to the actions America takes at home and the values it champions abroad.
There's ample irony, of course, that the State Department would annually critique foreign governments' human rights failings, even while turning a blind eye to basic unfairness in the policies it itself employs. I left the State Department last year after seeking, for the better part of three years, fair personnel policies for State's gay and lesbian employees. Gays do no less than their straight colleagues to advance America's interests abroad, after all, and our families are no less important to us. The changes I sought would have restored fairness and balance to how State treats the people it sends abroad to advance America's interests. Those changes were also patently in the interest of America's security and improving the effectiveness of our diplomatic platforms - this in an Administration that claims to value both.
So as the State Department criticizes what other governments are (or aren't) doing to treat their LGBT citizens fairly, maybe the Office of Personnel Management could announce its support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act - a measure that would correct the unequal treatment given to gay federal employees. Surely, after all, any president with integrity would be eager to sign such a bill, to honor in equal measure every individual who serves his or her country.
But why not also show our integrity even today by challenging other countries to clear up the egregious treatment of LGBT individuals detailed in this year's report? Secretary Rice could speak out specifically against these violations of LGBT human decency, documented by her own Department - just as she spoke out against violence toward women only a week ago. Our ambassadors could be instructed to protest government-tolerated abuses and discrimination against LGBT individuals, wherever and however they occur. Embassies could be asked to include LGBT groups at social and relevant policy events (some do this already). And why not offer financial support to LGBT groups fighting for the very rights that America holds to be self-evident?
You see, the policy integrity that you and I seek at home goes hand-in-glove with what the LGBT Foreign Policy Project seeks abroad. We want America to respect the pledge of equality for all citizens that we were taught as children. And we believe that a revitalized commitment to equality at home is consistent with a reinvigorated stance for human rights for all abroad, including those who are LGBT.
These demands amount to a plea for restoring America's image by restoring integrity to how America approaches civil and human rights at home and abroad. The sooner steps are taken in that direction, the better for us, and for our country, and clearly for those who have no voice around the world.