Hillary Clinton Vows to Support Global Fight for Gay Rights

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday vowed that the United States would help fight discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world. In what’s being hailed as a ‘landmark‘ speech, she marked Human Rights Day by announcing that the U.S. will use diplomacy and $3 million in foreign aid to help expand the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.  Clinton argued that the definition of human rights can—and must—be amended to account for sexual diversity. “Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same,” she said.  “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Clinton’s remarks, which are worth reading in full, traced the development of the concept of human rights from the 1948 International Declaration on Human Rights to present day, describing how the fight for equality has shifted over the years:

In the 63 years since the declaration was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. Step by step, barriers that once prevented people from enjoying the full measure of liberty, the full experience of dignity, and the full benefits of humanity have fallen away. In many places, racist laws have been repealed, legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished, the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.

In most cases, this progress was not easily won. People fought and organized and campaigned in public squares and private spaces to change not only laws, but hearts and minds. And thanks to that work of generations, for millions of individuals whose lives were once narrowed by injustice, they are now able to live more freely and to participate more fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities. Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people.

Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity,who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time (Full transcript, via Towelraod).

“One of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.” Those are strong words from the Secretary of State, and will come as a welcome surprise to those disappointed by the Obama administration’s decidedly mixed record on gay rights. Obama drew criticism for choosing Rick Warren, a pastor who once compared gay marriage to incest, to pray at his inauguration. And, although he pushed for the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, he has not personally spoken out in favor of same-sex unions. Clinton acknowledged that America’s record on gay rights is “far from perfect,” noting that LGBT citizens have endured violence, harassment and bullying. “We, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights,” she said.

Critics will rightly point out that $3 million dollars is a relatively paltry sum and that the Secretary of State provided few details as to how the plan will be implemented. It’s unclear, for example, as to what type of programs will be funded and what tactics the United States will use to bolster the fight for full equality, either at home or overseas. For instance, will aid be withheld from governments with egregious records on gay rights? And, of course, Clinton’s plan will face opposition from the American right, particularly the hungry pack of Republican presidential candidates keen to bolster their ultra-conservative cred.

There will be protests, too, from those who insist that homosexuality is a ‘western’ problem, an import that is fundamentally at odds with religious and cultural traditions. Clinton counters this line of thinking—quite effectively, I think—by showing that traditions, like laws, have changed with time. There were—and, sadly, are—contexts in which violence against women and slavery were culturally acceptable. Today, “violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal,” she said. “Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”

Of course, words, alone, are not enough. There is much standing between this speech and full rights (indeed, Clinton’s audience in Geneva included representatives from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence). But it’s worth stepping out of the fissiparous political fray and savoring her hopeful sentiment, if only for a moment:

Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life,whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone.

Emily Rauhala is an Associate Editor at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @emilyrauhala. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.