No Gay Diplomats: U.S. and British Promotion of LGBT Rights Abroad Sparks Backlash

Patrick Goodenough | July 30, 2013 | 12:15am EDT
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The U.S. Embassy in Vienna flies the LGBT rainbow flag on May 17, 2013, to mark the “International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.” (Photo: State Department)

( – Stepped-up efforts by the U.S. and British governments to promote homosexual rights abroad are risking a backlash in conservative countries, where critics say the West is trying to impose norms that clash with local tradition, religion and culture.

While the Obama administration characterizes its aim as upholding the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people, the campaign is perceived instead in some of these countries as a drive to promote a homosexual lifestyle and behavior.

Opposition has been stoked by several developments, including remarks by President Obama during a visit to Africa last month; his nomination in June of five openly gay political appointees as ambassadors; and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments last week about his desire to “export” same-sex marriage around the world now that Britain has legalized it.

The latest flare-up in reaction is in Nigeria, where the government on Monday sought to calm anger over comments by Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru, who was quoted as telling the official News Agency of Nigeria last week that “if we have diplomats with same-sex spouses posted to Nigeria, we have no choice but to accredit them accordingly because they come from countries where such law [legalizing same-sex marriage] is in place.”

In a strong-worded statement the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) called for Ashiru’s dismissal and said any nation sending a diplomat in a same-sex marriage relationship to Nigeria would be violating the law of the land.

CAN spokesman Sunday Oibe said accrediting such an ambassador would be tantamount to “accepting gay marriage through the back door.”

“We want to make it abundantly clear, be it America or Britain or any country that sends a gay diplomat to Nigeria; we will mobilize to chase him out of the country,” he said. “If America and Britain have deviated and ran away from God, we in Nigeria don’t want to turn our back against God.”

In a statement on Monday the foreign ministry said Ashiru had not endorsed “gay marriages and/or rights in the country,” but had rather, at every opportunity, “reiterated that foreign countries should not impose their values on Nigeria.”

It added that Ashiru, during a diplomatic engagement on July 19, made the point that while Nigeria was not opposed to other countries legalizing same-sex marriage, “no country should force that on Nigeria, for the reason that Nigeria and majority of Nigerians are against gay marriages and gay rights, as they are not part of our customs, religions, or laws.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) event in Washington D.C. in 2011. The Obama administration has made promotion of LGBT issues a foreign policy priority. (Photo: State Department)


‘I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort’

Last May Nigeria’s National Assembly passed a bill criminalizing same-sex marriage and public displays of same-sex affection, with prison terms of 10-14 years for violators. Under pressure from groups on both sides of the debate, President Goodluck Jonathan has yet to sign it into law.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, “criminalizing same-sex consensual acts between adults” is criminalized in 78 countries, with punishments ranging from short prison terms to death (in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen).

The Obama administration has made promotion of LGBT issues a foreign policy priority, particularly at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, where in June 2011 it co-sponsored the first-ever resolution adopted by the U.N. on the human rights of LGBT people – a vote that saw mostly Western and Latin American countries in favor and African and Islamic countries opposed.

Delivering a keynote speech in Geneva six months later, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called LGBT rights “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our times,” and argued that religious beliefs and cultural values do not justify failure to uphold the human rights of homosexuals and lesbians.

Obama was in Senegal last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act, and during a joint press appearance with Senegalese President Macky Sall he was asked about the issue of homosexuality in Africa.

In his reply Obama said he believed that “every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions.”

“But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” he said. “I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view.”

Sall in response said Senegal “does not discriminate in terms of inalienable rights of the human being” but was not ready to change to decriminalize homosexuality.

He said countries should respect each other’s choices, noting pointedly that Senegal many years ago abolished capital punishment while “in other countries it is still the order of the day.”

The Chancery of the British Embassy in Paris flies the LGBT rainbow flag on its Chancery to mark “Pride Day” on June 29, 2013. (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)


‘Lack of sensitivity’

The issue now causing a stir in Nigeria has been spotlighted in recent weeks after Obama in June nominated five gay men as ambassadors – a significant move considering only three openly LGBT ambassadors have represented the U.S. in that position up until now.

The earlier three were all accredited to countries with liberal views on homosexuality – Luxembourg (Clinton administration), Romania (George W. Bush administration) and New Zealand (Obama administration) – and four of the new nominees will do so to, bound once confirmed for Australia and European capitals.

But the fifth recent nominee, Obama campaign bundler James “Wally” Brewster, was named as ambassador to the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean island nation 95 percent of whose 10 million people are Roman Catholic.

The nomination of Brewster – whose State Department bio notes is “a National LGBT Co-Chair for the Democratic National Committee and currently serves on the Board of the Human Rights Campaign Fund” – drew protests from some Christians in the Dominican Republic, and a Catholic bishop said the move demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States.”

Last week British prime minister Cameron told an LGBT reception at 10 Downing Street that with Britain having legalized same-sex marriage it was time to “export” it abroad.

“Many other countries are going to want to copy this,” he said of the legislation. “And, as you know, I talk about the global race, about how we’ve got to export more and sell more so I’m going to export the bill team [the group of civil servants and lawmakers responsible for getting the legislation passed in Britain]. I think they can be part of this global race and take it around the world.”

In Nigeria, CAN general secretary Musa Asake told the Abuja daily Leadership that Cameron would be advised to leave Nigeria out of his plan.

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