LGBTQ+ rights: one step forward, two steps back?

President Trump is leading the fight for global resistance to LGBTQ+ rights

Image: Mathias Swasik

On 4 October the US, widely seen as the beacon of freedom of expression and a world leader in individualism; voted against a UN resolution that condemned the “imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy and adultery”. This defiant statement by the Trump administration joins violent repressors of LGBTQ+ rights such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia, among others, demonstrating a clear policy change from the Obama administration which pressed for and celebrated the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that same sex marriage was a constitutional right under the fourteenth amendment. The growing global resentment against the LGBTQ+ community, characterised by the UN vote, perhaps defines how the western libertarian perspective is becoming more fiercely rejected, establishing a morally hostile world where people are becoming less accepting of each other. For example, in Egypt anal examinations are being used on five individuals after a rainbow flag was flown at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, which according to Naija Bounaim, North African Campaigns Director for Amnesty International has “no scientific basis”.

This line of thought is argued by many scholars who contend that non-western countries view human rights, particularly freedom of expression, as another mechanism that the West uses to control and dictate policy, for example in 2014 when the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, passed an antigay law, Norway and Denmark cut their aid to the country, forcing the President to reverse his decision. This decision ultimately enflamed hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda as many viewed the sanctions as a type of imperialism through the paradigm of westernisation, raising the possibility that the world is too culturally diverse to abide by the same principles and norms.

In addition, the changes in American policy at the UN can also be augmented by people and the administration feeling more comfortable about openly displaying racist bigotry, exemplified by the recent Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march in August 2017. Moreover many countries, such as Iran, have continually voted against UN resolutions such as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action as these initiatives are misaligned with their cultural beliefs, making it unlikely that they will ever vote for and uphold a resolution that protects LGBTQ+ rights, strengthening the cultural relativist argument.

Nevertheless, the fact that some nations have fundamentalist cultural beliefs does not condone nor excuse the US voting against such resolutions. This radical and deplorable break from western liberalism could cause further ostracisation for President Trump, despite the State Department arguing it voted against the resolution for “broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances and calling for its abolition”, hastily adding that it unequivocally condemns “the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy”.

However, if the US could not influence a direct resolution to exclude a wider condemnation of the death penalty in all cases, does this perhaps signal the decaying influence of America in the UN? Or, as former US Ambassador to the UNHCR more bluntly said, “the administration did not care enough about the rights of LGBTQ+ people”, which would not be surprising considering Trump’s neo-conservative cabinet.

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