On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced it would be conditioning international aid based on the treatment of gays and lesbians. That didn’t sit well with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who, as my colleague Tim Murphy writes, is banking on an escalation in culture war rhetoric to rescue his flagging campaign. Responding to the move, Perry said:
Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights. This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.
It’s unclear whether Perry actually understands the context of the Obama administration’s decision. While in the United States, most conversations about LGBT rights center around discrimination in employment and equal marriage rights, in many countries gays and lesbians can be executed for merely existing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that this was what she was referring to in her speech yesterday.
It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.
Now perhaps Perry thinks that the right not to be “beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation” or not being “subject to so-called corrective rape” are “special rights.” But I suspect that if Perry thought it was appropriate to execute people based on sexual orientation, we probably would have known that by now. On the other hand, Perry supports criminalizing gay sex here in the US so maybe he’s frustrated America isn’t quite as up on its “traditional values” as say, Iran, where being gay is punishable by death.
There is of course, a contradiction between Obama’s support for gay rights generally and the fact that he doesn’t support equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians himself. But that alone should have been a tip-off that the new policy was about something other than a “war on traditional American values.” Whether Perry’s intended audience understands the implications of Perry’s argument, and that we’re discussing people literally being slaughtered for being gay, is an open question.