Syria, Sochi & Gay Rights at the G20 Summit

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Leaders of the world’s top economies meet in St. Petersburg this week for the G20 Summit and global economic recovery is on top of the agenda. The crisis in Syria, however, overshadows the gathering, with Obama and Putin circling each other and Hollande and Xi on their respective corners.

Gay rights advocates were hoping President Obama would put the spotlight on Russia’s anti-LGBT laws and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. Human Rights First (HRF), an advocacy organization that “challenges America to live up to its ideals,” released a report last week, which documents the violent crackdown on the LGBT community in Russia, traces the evolution of the country’s homophobic laws, and explains the broader context that spurred Putin’s escalating repression of dissent and personal freedoms. The report also recommends actions Mr. Obama can take while in St. Petersburg.

“It is moments like this that test U.S. leadership and commitment to human rights,” argues Innokenty Grekov, author of the HRF report. “President Obama has pledged leadership on LGBT rights and that leadership is needed now.”

Indeed, Mr. Obama, along with former and current Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, have advanced the cause of human rights for gay and transgender people worldwide. It is highly unlikely, however, that LGBT rights, much less the 2014 winter games, will be at the forefront in St. Petersburg. The use of chemical weapons in the murder of more than 1,400 innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, is more urgent. President Obama and his team will understandably focus on Syria and the economic concerns behind the summit.

Buzzfeed does report that Mr. Obama has invited representatives of LGBT groups to join a scheduled meeting with other Russian civil society activists. While the human rights advocates’ presence would no doubt annoy and embarrass Mr. Putin, the issue of the Winter Olympics will be one of many other concerns NGOs will put before President Obama.

It can be argued that it is strategic not to beleaguer the point on Sochi for now and avoid backlash when LGBT rights advocates are perceived or portrayed as insensitive to the horrific carnage in Damascus.

This is not to say that LGBT lives are of lesser value. They are of equal worth to any other, deserving of the same dignity and fundamental rights. In a way, gay and transgender people in Russia and so many other countries that oppress sexual minorities die a slower death, decimated one at a time through savage murder, disease, and suicide. The magnitude of this massacre is not readily apparent and does not elicit outrage.

The Syrian people, the Russian LGBT community, and sexual minorities worldwide do share one horrible thing in common. They are mere objects to many of their leaders and governments, disposable in the quest for power and control.

So while Sochi might take a back seat in St. Petersburg this week, LGBT rights are human rights and the fight for human rights will continue.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.

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The Choice is Clear for Immigrants

Delegates at the DNC in Charlotte. (Photo: Flickr/newshour)

American voters are faced with a stark choice, not only about who will lead the nation in the next four years, but about what our shared future will be like. At the deepest and most profound, it is a decision about what America stands for. About what we stand for.

The conventions in Tampa and Charlotte – the crowds, the platforms, and the speeches – provided the contrast. Immigrants, their families and their communities now have to decide with whom they will cast their lot. Which party and ticket will assure them of their proper place as Americans and help them secure their American dream?

I’d like to think that the answer is obvious, and the numbers show that a majority of immigrants do know who has their interests in mind. But there are some who for whatever reason refuse to see the truth.

A woman immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, worked hard, and sacrificed in order to help her family back in the Philippines and those who came with her. She has accomplished a lot: rising up the ranks in the company where she has worked for decades, and supporting her family here and abroad.

In so many ways she has accomplished her American dream. But as a middle-class woman of color, she has also been held back. She has been denied promotions in spite of her credentials and hard work. Countless times has she complained of less qualified men surpassing her for jobs she can do with her eyes closed. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this was because of her gender. I wonder how much of it had to do with her ethnicity and accent.

She was supposed to retire a couple of years ago but the Great Recession happened. Her investments and the value of her home went under. She has little choice but to keep waking up at the crack of dawn, getting on a commuter train, and putting in her eight hours. She is tired but she does what needs to be done.

And she blames Barack Obama. She faults the man who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and who fought hard to keep our country from falling into a financial abyss. The man who wants to safeguard Social Security and Medicare for older Americans like her.

She listens to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. She is a hardcore Republican. She believes that Democrats promote dependency on government and that so many abuse system. She refuses to see and admit who is really responsible for her setbacks.

I doubt she watched the Democratic convention. I wish she had. She would have seen so many other Americans of color like her. Not as tokens but as valued members whose voices are heard. She would have learned of policies that safeguard and promote her and her family’s well-being. She would recognize her own family’s story in the struggles and successes of Michelle’s and Barack’s families. She would have heard the man she despises tell her that he thinks of her and her family when making hard decisions. She would have been assured that no one gets a free ride but that together we can create a better future. She would have heard the President’s passionate argument that “no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned.”

Like many other immigrant Americans, she will go to the polls on November 6 and cast her vote. How I wish she realizes who really sees her, hears her, and embraces her as an immigrant and as a woman. It should be crystal clear to her who has her and her family’s future in his heart and mind. Sadly, it isn’t.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 7, 2012.

President Obama Won’t Let Human Rights Violators Immigrate to US

Uganda anti-homosexuality bill

President Obama issued a directive and a proclamation last Thursday which had human rights advocates celebrating.

The Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities mandates a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities which is “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.”  It also establishes a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making. This will enable the U.S. to be more responsive to and prevent potential atrocities overseas.

The Presidential Proclamation, entitled “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Who Participate in Serious Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Violations and Other Abuses,” explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights. It ensures that the country does not become a safe haven for human rights violators or those responsible for other atrocities.

The Council for Global Equality, an international coalition of human rights activists, foreign policy experts, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) leaders, philanthropists and corporate officials, praised the directive, which the group sees as giving the president and the Secretary of State “an important tool to use in dissuading extremist actions that are prejudicial to basic human rights, and in encouraging the development of inclusive laws and societies.”

Human Rights First, an international human rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C., sent out a release commending the president for his “action plan to avoid mass atrocities” such as those currently taking place in Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, and the South Kordofan region of Sudan.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, told the Washington Blade that the proclamation can, in principle, “be used to justify the exclusion of hate-promoting politicians like Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced a ‘kill the gays bill’ in a previous legislative session in Uganda and may do so again.”

Bahati and others worldwide who choose to violate the basic human rights of groups of people because of their race, nationality or ethnicity, religion, disability, or gender orientation and identity will not allowed to spread their hate and bigotry in this country. Governments that codify and perpetuate the systemic abuse of a minority will be called to task by the U.S. government, its allies and partners.

Mr. Obama clearly outlines how his administration intends to keep America’s commitment to basic human rights and humanitarian law.  He empowers action abroad and declares in no uncertain terms that those who oppress others are not welcome to our shores.

We certainly have a ways to go in treating immigrants, people of color, and gay, bisexual and transgender women and men equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Many of us are striving for the ideal though – including our president. This is a start.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 11, 2011.