Thursday, 12 March 2015

US LGBT Envoy: No, Thank You

There are four reasons why a special envoy could be counterproductive.

First, so much work is already taking place, especially since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed the State Department to advocate for the protection of the human rights of LGBT people in 2009. LGBT equality is being integrated into the State Department’s work, via the Global Equality Fund, several programs within the Department of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and elsewhere. So why is this role needed?

Second, why the focus on LGBT equality specifically? We do not see special envoys on issues like gender violence, indigenous people’s rights, or poverty—usually envoys focus on issues jeopardizing peace—so why do LGBT rights require one? There is a risk that the envoy makes LGBT rights seem like “exceptional” rights that need exceptional attention, which could be counterproductive.
Third, one concern often raised about the envoy position is that it’s a way of “responding symbolically to congressional or public pressure rather than representing the administration’s serious commitment to address a challenge.” This is a concern I share. Although it is too early to tell, the envoy position runs the risk of being purely symbolic.

Fourth, the symbolism may actually be the wrong symbolism. The fact is that Berry is a white man—as will be his U.K. equivalent, if opposition leader Ed Miliband wins the May 7 election and appoints Lord Michael Cashman as his LGBT envoy, as promised last fall.

The envoy could run the risk of looking like (and being) a white person trying to save brown and black LGBT people from their brown and black oppressors. LGBT activists in Africa have long had to debunk the idea that homosexuality is something white people in Western countries do that is then imported into African countries. Thus the whiteness of the Western special envoy could reinforce this and create more challenges for black LGBT activists...

Hurrah for patronising and pointless gesture politics!

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