Barack Obama’s support for gay marriage sparked a diplomatic effort overseas. But it’s at home where homophobia remains rampant, writes student journalist and broadcaster Squirrel Main.
US embassies in countries as widespread as Pakistan and the Czech Republic have made a major issue of LGBT equality ever since Hillary Clinton’s historic “gay rights are human rights” speech in 2010. But that stops at the US border. Obama and his campaign are oddly reserved about touching the hot-button election issue back home.
In an interview with JOY 94.9 program World Wide Wave, the US Consul-General in Melbourne, Frank Urbancic, explained Obama’s directive: “Our role and our goal and our instructions are to make sure that at least as far as the United States is concerned, people’s s-xual orientation simply is not part of the equation. First and foremost, violence against LGBT people isn’t allowed.”
The efforts of US embassies and missions is far-reaching. Raymond Stephens, a cultural affairs officer in the Kenyan embassy, told W3JOY the embassy held a simple, private seminar for LGBT activists in July 2012 in a meeting room. Media attention only started when Kenyan newspapers speculated that Scott Gration, the deeply religious US ambassador to Kenya, resigned because he disagreed with promoting gay rights.
“Homos-xuality is considered illegal here in Kenya [but] there is a very peaceful co-existence,” Stephens said. “There was concern if we focused attention on the gay community, Kenya could turn into another Uganda.”
Nevertheless, the US pushed its agenda. Despite the concern, the Kenyan event was uneventful.
Less eventful than the homophobic beating experienced by Mark Little and his partner Dustin Martin. Last Friday, The Huffington Post reported that while the couple were holidaying in September in Asheville, North Carolina, they were attacked by two women and a man while walking back to their hotel. The two women began taunting Little and Martin with homophobic slurs, including “faggot”. Then the man physically attacked them.
“We’ve had a problem with bullying and harassment for a long, long time here in North Carolina,” said Ian Palmquist, former executive director of Equality NC, a lobbying organisation intent on eradicating homophobia in North Carolina. “North Carolina has always been a really interesting state. It’s certainly not a Massachusetts or California.”
LGBT policy varies widely between the states (only 21 states outlaw discrimination based on s-xual orientation). Discrimination is not limited to the red states — Sir Ari Gold, an openly gay musician, told W3JOY about a bus ride experience earlier this year in left-leaning New York.
“We were sitting in the front row, listening to one iPod with two headphones … we were just enjoying ourselves, we weren’t kissing or anything. The bus driver pulled over and told us if we wanted to continue to sit like that we had to go to the back of the bus. He pulled over a second time after calling the state troopers. It was a pretty traumatic thing,” he said.
Palmquist says the patchwork LGBT-rights implementation is ineffective. “At the federal level, there has been some good work by the Department of Education to encourage local schools across the country to adopt anti-bullying programs. But there really needs to be legislation by Congress,” he said.
The future of gay marriage and LGBT rights in America is precariously balanced, and will largely be determined by next month’s US federal elections. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan vehemently oppose same-s-x marriage, even civil unions. It’s been reported Obama’s “coming out” days after Biden in support of gay marriage will cost him North Carolina, a critical swing state.
*Squirrel Main is co-producer and presenter on World Wide Wave, an international LGBT news show on JOY 94.9