Why the U.S. Election Matters for LGBTIQ People Far Beyond America’s Borders
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Asserting that a lot is at stake for the LGBTIQ community during the upcoming U.S. election is an understatement. The rights of LGBTIQ people — especially trans people — in the United States have been consistently undermined over the last four years. The implications of who ends up in the Oval Office, and who dominates the floor of the Senate matters greatly for LGBTIQ equality in our country. But the implications for LGBTIQ people beyond our borders are, perhaps, even more grave.
Over the last four years, at the international level, the Trump administration actively undermined LGBTIQ equality, and human rights broadly. Early on, the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council of the UN — the foremost body responsible for promotion and protection of human rights around the world, and one of the earliest to explicitly recognize the rights of LGBTIQ people. In his addresses to the UN, President Trump consistently elevated national interest and tradition over international standards — a tactic also used by the likes of President Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Orban of Hungary, President Bolsonaro of Brazil, and many others as justifications for gross violations of human rights.
Incidentally these same leaders have become close allies of President Trump. They have all openly challenged LGBTIQ equality at home and abroad. In Russia, persecution of LGBTIQ people has only increased in recent years, with a recent constitutional ban on same-sex marriage being passed, the notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law still in effect, and torture and imprisonment of LGBTIQ people in Chechnya and surrounding republics still ongoing with impunity. Prime Minister Orban has just banned legal gender recognition, while President Bolsonaro has consistently engaged in hate speech against LGBTIQ people.
The United States joining this conservative club has further emboldened authoritarian and right-wing leaders to undermine human rights in their respective countries, and internationally at the UN. It is no wonder that attacks on inclusive gender language and efforts to solidify references to so-called “traditional values” have only increased. My colleagues from OutRight Action International working at the UN will tell you that in this context the fight for LGBTIQ equality is also a fight to hold the line and prevent backsliding.
While the U.S. State Department under Obama appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons to lead and coordinate diplomatic efforts to advance LGBTIQ rights around the globe, setting an example for other countries, the State Department under Trump founded the Commission on Unalienable Rights. The commission defines human rights in terms of “natural law” and “natural rights,” concepts used for centuries to uphold slavery, keep women from voting, and continue criminalizing LGBTIQ lives. Its report, which it delivered at the UN General Assembly, cautions against what it calls “new rights” and claims they have to be checked for consistency with “constitutional principles and moral, political, and legal traditions” — all arguments used to deny LGBTIQ people their human rights.
Why do these international spaces matter? Because in 67 countries around the world same-sex relations are still criminalized. Because LGBTIQ people are not safe from discrimination or violence in any country in the world. In all too many places, international standards are the only avenue for LGBTIQ people to have our rights recognized, to seek remedy for crimes committed against us, and for pushing nations to accept that LGBTIQ rights are human rights. If the very mechanisms designed to protect our rights are eroded from within, we will have no avenue to turn to.
If Trump is elected for another four years in the upcoming U.S. election, we can expect more division, more attacks on gender and LGBTIQ equality at home and abroad, and further undermining of multilateral spaces, putting the entire human rights system at risk.
Conversely, if former Vice President Biden is elected, his would likely be the most progressive administration the United States has ever had for LGBTIQ equality. Support and engagement at the UN and other multilateral organizations would be restored. This would not change the right-wing policies of other countries, or halt the attack on LGBTIQ and gender equality by Russia, Egypt, and others, but it would tip the scale, however slightly, toward promotion and protection of LGBTIQ and gender equality, and human rights overall.
The two outcomes of the upcoming U.S. election present dramatically different futures for LGBTIQ people both at home and abroad. For those of us in the United States, this presents a responsibility to vote for our own futures, but also for the rights of LGBTIQ people everywhere.
Do your part as an American citizen and vote in the upcoming U.S. election.
About the author
Aalap Shah is Director of Product for Wikibuy and a Member of the Board of OutRight Action International. Aalap is a mission-driven product innovator, who is passionate about human centered design and has successfully led strategy, product, growth, and M&A for startups and Fortune 500 companies. Aalap lives in New York City with his partner Gregg.