Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hillary Clinton's global legacy on gay rights

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 7:33 PM EST, Thu February 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: As secretary of state, Clinton made equality for gays a foreign policy value
  • She says treatment of LGBT citizens is a microcosm of a nation's human rights approach
  • She says Clinton used U.S. sway to advance LGBT rights as global standard
  • Ghitis: Clinton gave a boost to human rights for all and nudge to process of freedom

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- As Hillary Clinton makes a whirlwind round of appearances in her last days as secretary of state, one groundbreaking aspect of her work deserves a moment in the spotlight: In a bold departure with tradition, Clinton made the promotion of equality for gay people a core value of U.S. foreign policy.

That is a transformative change, one that advances the cause of human rights around the world -- not just for gays and lesbians, but for everyone.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The way governments treat their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens can tell us much about their overall approach to human rights and democracy. Mistreatment of sexual minorities is a microcosm of greater repression.

Take a look at the gruesome spectacle of young gay men executed by the government of Iran in the streets, for all to see. Or, look at the new anti-gay laws coming into effect in Russia's increasingly authoritarian regime. It is no accident that the growing repression of LGBT Russians coincides with a dramatic deterioration of political freedom and what the nonpartisan Freedom House called "the return of the iron fist in Russia."

It is clear that gays and lesbians are the canaries in the coal mine of human rights. When gays live under pressure, everyone should worry.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



That, however, is not how Clinton explained it 14 months ago, when she stood before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in front of an audience filled with representatives from Arab and African countries, from places where homosexuality is a crime, even one punishable by death, and declared that gay rights and human rights "are one and the same." Gay people, she explained, deserve equality simply because everyone does.

It was Human Rights Day, the commemoration of the signing of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, and she used the occasion to send a message to the world on behalf of the United States. She declared unequivocally that there is no exception for gay people when it comes to human rights.

Opinion: President Hillary Clinton? If she wants it

She admitted that the U.S. record on human rights for gays and lesbians "is far from perfect." But by proclaiming, without caveat or qualification, the American stance on the issue, she sent a signal to the rest of the world that, while equality for gay people is far from reached, the rightness of the goal is beyond debate, much like it is with equal rights for women or for racial minorities.

In doing this, she announced it was now the official policy of the U.S. government to promote the rights of LGBT people everywhere. Clinton has always been a couple of steps ahead of President Barack Obama when it comes to gay rights. It's a safe bet she persuaded him to jump on board and put the full force of the administration behind this new policy.

In Geneva that day, she announced that the president had instructed all U.S. government agencies working in other countries to "combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct" to help protect vulnerable LGBT, helping refugees and asylum seekers and responding to abuses.

Clinton: We practiced different diplomacy
Clinton: Egypt doesn't have an easy task

Today, American diplomats, as part of their official mandate and as an explicit tenet of U.S. values, must speak up for the rights of individuals experiencing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, as when a couple were sentenced in Cameroon for "looking" gay.

News: Hillary Clinton talks future 'adventures'

America may be not as influential as it once was, but no country carries more weight; there's not even a close second. America's opinion matters if you want foreign aid or political assistance.

But it matters even more to people on the ground, eager, perhaps desperate to make their case before the authorities, their boss or their family. In the latter case, that it was the popular and respected Hillary Clinton making the argument undoubtedly made a difference on a personal level, even if dictators did not relent.

Clinton also noted that "being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality," and noted nations that have enacted protections for their gay citizens, including South Africa, Colombia and Argentina.

It was a rebuke to that tragicomic moment in 2007, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an audience in New York, "In Iran, we do not have homosexuals like you do in your country," prompting an explosion of laughter from the crowd. Of course, gay people live in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

America's stance, promoted so passionately by Clinton, is gradually becoming the global standard for human rights.

Under intense lobbying from America, the usually feckless and frequently counterproductive U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a measured entitled "Ending Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," and another supporting equality, important symbols that this is a standard for the entire world.

Clinton moved the issue of equality for members of the LGBT community to the front of America's diplomatic agenda; in the process, she gave a boost to human rights for all and a considerable nudge to the inexorable progress of freedom. Let's hope her successor doesn't let up.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT