Here we are again. Grappling with a dispiriting split-screen vision of the world in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world live.
During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, President Vladimir Putin puts a happy face on his nation’s homophobic laws and violent treatment of the LGBT Russians. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni says he won’t sign the horrendous “aggravated homosexuality” bill if scientists could prove to him that being gay is “normal.” More than 200 scientists and mental health professionals from around the world answered Museveni’s request with a letter proclaiming, “sexual orientation is not a matter of choice” and “homosexuality is not a mental illness.” And the headline on a disturbing front-page story in the Sunday New York Times said it all, “Wielding whip and a hard new law, Nigeria tries to ‘sanitize’ itself of gays.”
Meanwhile, what’s happening in the United States continues to awe.
Today, Attorney General Eric Holder will announce that the federal rights of legally married same-sex couples will be recognized by the federal government no matter where they live. “On Monday, I will issue a new policy memorandum that will – for the first time in history – formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law,” Holder said Saturday at the New York dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most influential LGBT organization. In short, he’s doing for legally married gay couples in the rest of the country what he did for Utah.
And then another barrier broke late last night in the New York Times. “I’m Michael Sam. I’m a football player. And I’m gay,” said the University of Missouri graduate defensive end who was a first-team all-American, the Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference and voted most valuable player by his teammates. Because Sam is considered a top NFL draft pick, we are on the precipice of an openly gay man playing professional football. Let that soak in for a moment.
That leaders of other nations wallow in paranoia and spread lies about LGBT people is distressing. That they act on their bigotry with laws that turn their citizens into outlaws is horrific. By no means is everything perfect in the United States. There is much more work to be done. As Holder said in New York on Saturday, “Neither tradition nor fear of change can absolve us of the obligation we share to combat discrimination in all its forms.” Unfortunately, that obligation to remember that all are created equal and deserve equal protection under the law is an American value that is not universally shared.
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