After Orlando: International delegates discuss the future of LGBT activism with World Learning
An international delegation of LGBT activists traveling under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) began their three-week United States visit Sunday with news of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that took the lives of 50 people.
During a meeting in Washington with Donald Steinberg, the CEO of World Learning, the implementing organization for this IVLP project and a major advocate of international human and civil rights, delegates wanted to know how this tragedy would affect LGBT activism in America and abroad.
“I believe that in our country, if we stand up the way we normally do, we will stand up in solidarity with the individuals who have been singled out,” Steinberg told the 25 international delegates, representing countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Turkey, India and Kazakhstan.
The objective of this IVLP program is to help international LGBT activists compare notes with their American counterparts on the best strategies and legislative frameworks for promoting and protecting LGBT rights, such as equal access to educational, economic and healthcare, and partnerships to end targeted violence and hate crimes.
Steinberg, who served as deputy press secretary at the White House in 1994 when the Clinton Administration passed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy, said in spite of the week’s tragic news, he was convinced the country was moving forward quickly to better recognize and include members of the LGBT community. Under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, officers were allowed to serve in the military, provided they did not disclose their sexual orientation.
“Today we have openly gay military officers coming to the White House to celebrate Gay Pride Day. It is amazing this movement that we’ve seen,” Steinberg said. “It is actually the U.S. military that has moved the furthest because military people understand that [what] matters [is] whether you are a good comrade in arms and they take the most utilitarian approach that you can possibly see.”
Steinberg also emphasized the delegates, many of whom are all too familiar with violence against the LGBT communities in their own countries, had much to teach their American counterparts.
“You’re going to hear a lot of people talk to you and try to educate you from their point of view. Don’t accept it. Say to them this is a dialogue, I have as much experience in my country with LGBT issues, I am an expert. I have ground truth,” he said. “Educate your counterparts on the realities you face on a daily basis.”
Steinberg said LGBT activists in many of the countries represented by the delegates had already taught U.S. aid workers and diplomats a lot about the importance of listening before engaging in any human rights campaigns. In one country, the LGBT community might be advanced by publicity showing a U.S. diplomat embracing one of their activists, but in another country, that could be the last thing that community needs because it would only exacerbate anti-gay sentiment.
“It means involving the LGBT community in our countries as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries of all programs under the watchwords ‘nothing about them without them,’” he said.