11 March 2013

Why Imperialism and LGBT Equality Don't Mix, Even If Obama's Stirring The Drink

In an essay he wrote during the time of the Civil Rights movement, James Baldwin recounted how some of the “agitators” were accused of being Communists, or at least puppets of them.  As Baldwin pointed out, it was an incredibly stupid allegation because, to many poor and oppressed people in the world, it made the Kremlin seem like a supporter of human rights—which is, of course, exactly the opposite of what the McCarthyites wanted Americans to believe.

History is irony when it’s not tragedy.  At  times—like now—it’s both:  Someone who has fashioned himself as a champion of peace and human rights has done more damage to both than any of the past few predecessors in his office.

I am talking about the current US President, Barack Obama.  Like many other LGBT people, I am glad that he has done more to bring us—especially transgender people—closer to equality with hetero and cis people than, perhaps, all of his predecessors combined.  Of course, he had to be prodded into some of his actions—most notably by his second-in-command, Joe Biden, into supporting same-sex marriage.

Still, I can’t help but to wonder whether he’s actually demonizing the cause of LGBT equality in the rest of the world, save for a few European and a couple of Latin American countries.  While we can celebrate, and push for more change, in the majority of the world, we’re not even deemed fit to exist, let alone marry or go into the same professions and occupations as other people.  A Jamican lesbian I know tells me she can’t go home: “I’d be killed as soon as I got off the plane in Kingston.”  A Pakistani and a Chinese gay man of my acquaintance have expressed similar anxieties. 

They all come from conservative—and, in the case of the Pakistani and Jamaican, religious—societies in which any deviance from cisgenderism and heterosexuality are crimes that could be punished by death.  Subtract religion from the equation and you have China, where the law allows the state to execute someone who loves someone of his or her own gender.
And, of course, the situation is probably even more dire for LGBT people in some Middle Eastern countries, particularly ones like Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Even in Turkey, I didn’t have the sense that a gay man or lesbian was particularly safe, and I knew that my own well-being had much to do with the degree to which my gender identity wasn’t in question.

In addition to ingrained homophobia and transphobia, those countries and others share resentment, if not outright hatred, of the United States—or, at any rate of its foreign policy.  More precisely, those countries have histories of economic and cultural —and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jamaica, political and military—colonialism and young people know it.  So, naturally, they detest our invasion of Iraq and our attempt to subjugate Afghanistan.  And, I imagine, they aren’t too happy about the fact that we have military bases in over two-thirds of the world’s nations—or that we’ve conducted drone surveillance and strikes.

Ah, yes, the drones.  Some argue that they’re better than putting young Americans in harm’s way.  However, that argument misses the point:  the drones aren’t meant to replace “boots on the ground”.  Rather, they’re meant to go above and beyond (in military terms, anyway) what live human beings can do to gather information and strike targets.   Also, if they’re meant to replace soldiers and sailors and airmen, why was a drone sighted at  JFK International Airport?

In the first two months of his administration, Obama ordered six times as many drone strikes in Pakistan during his first term as George W. Bush did during both of his terms.  (Of course, GWB started the drone program.  Still, the facts speak for themselves.)  He also did something that wasn’t part of Bush’s, or even Dick Cheney’s, wildest dreams:  He, in essence, gave himself the right to order the murders extrajudicial killings of US citizens anywhere in the world simply by deciding they are "enemy combatants".   I don’t think that even Humphrey and Nixon claimed such rights when they were invading Southeast Asian countries, and I don’t think George W's father even thought of such a thing when he invaded Grenada and conducted what was essentially a drug bust against Manuel Noriega

Now, as Jody Williams has wondered, how can a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize—and still thinks of himself as a champion of world peace and who has expressed his admiration for Martin Luther King Jr.—do such things?  At best, it makes him blind to his own contradictions.  At worst, it makes him a rank hypocrite.  How can the rest of the world see him as a torch-bearer for liberty and justice?

Moreover, I can’t help but to wonder how countries and peoples who have been subjected to his version of “peace” see his support of women’s and LGBT rights and equality.  If other countries can see our universities, our culture and our economy—not to mention our militarism—as manifestations of “The Great Satan”, how can they see our (or, more specifically, Obama’s) expression of support for LGBT equality?   How can our leaders talk to Ahmadinejad about his country’s treatment of women and gays (or denial that the latter even exist in his country) or his revisionist views of history when our own foreign policy is killing innocent people all around him?  And, what’s going to make him, or the leader of any conservative Muslim country or military dictatorship, believe that LGBT people simply should have the right to live, let alone love and marry the people they love, when a President who supports such things is killing innocent people who just happen to live in countries deemed to be our enemies?

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