I helped found LGBT groups in both Romania and Hungary. In 1997, I finally moved back to the United States, and joined the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), first as advocacy director, later as program director.
This part goes more quickly (see Things I Wrote for the visible spoor). At IGLHRC, I spent five years lobbying the United Nations on sexual rights issues, together with grassroots LGBT activists from the global South. That work led to U.N. human rights mechanisms agreeing publicly, for the first time ever, to take up lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s concerns.
In 2003, I joined Human Rights Watch, and in the following year I became founding director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, which I created. During my time there our budget quadrupled, and our staff quintupled. Our work led to the end of a massive crackdown on gay men in Egypt. I helped develop the Yogyakarta Principles, a groundbreaking summation of how international human rights law protected sexual orientation and gender identity. Our documentation and advocacy supported causes from Honduras to Iraq, from the United States to Cameroon.
Why are the gays ecstatic when corporations side with us? True, their clout makes a difference when properly put to use: the ebb of investment forced Indiana’s [Arkansas'?] governor into full retreat. But it’s opportunistic friendship they’re offering, not a marriage proposal. Apple and Walmart object to religious-discrimination laws because they know it’s good business to be open to all consumers. But none of them complained about the Hobby Lobby decision, which quashed a requirement to give workers benefits. Those cost money. Tim Cook wrote no op-eds defending women’s rights to birth control.
Corporations may sometimes use their power for human rights, but corporate power is still a problem. And when Tim Cook intones “we will never tolerate discrimination,” he’s making a sales pitch, not a promise. Apple benefits plenty from inequalities in the labor market. There’s a reason it subcontracts work to high-tech sweatshops in China, where the wages are risible, the exploitation rife.
What they claim is even more ridiculous, which is that the militant homosexual lobby has no need to engage in backroom deals, since they have accumulated so much power and influence that they can openly demand with impunity the shutting down of churches and the untrammeled persecution of the religious.
If the House Oversight Committee has its way, D.C. will not be allowed to enact a law approved last year that “expands discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based upon the reproductive health decisions of an employee, their spouse, or their dependent.” House Republicans scheduled a vote this week on a resolution that would “disapprove” the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 (RHNDA).
In practical terms, RHNDA would prevent D.C. bosses from retaliating against their workers for making health decisions they may not personally agree with. For instance, it would prevent religious employers from firing female employees who use contraception or become pregnant outside of marriage.
But right-wing groups aren’t happy about it. In February, leaders from several conservative groups — including the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America — sent a letter to House members arguing that the new law will prevent faith-based and pro-life organizations from “making employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs or their moral and ethical views about the sanctity of human life.” That letter pressured Congress to intervene and upend RHNDA.
The arguments against RHNDA serve as a reminder that political fights over “religious liberty” often stem from efforts to roll back women’s access to basic health care. Over the past several decades, states have quietly expanded the scope of their religious liberty laws to allow medical professionals to refuse to provide health services that they oppose on religious grounds — and now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, this framework threatens to be extended to employers.
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