By Spencer Harvey *

On November 4, 2009, the U.S. State Department released a diplomatic note that issued a policy change to allow same-sex partners of U.S. foreign service officials to receive diplomatic visas on a reciprocal basis. This policy, implemented by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took into consideration the changing definition and composition of the family and the unfortunate state of same-sex relations in many countries around the world. However, on October 1 of this year, Foreign Policybroke the news that the Trump administration had decided to reverse this decision by implementing a new policy that would require same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats and UN employees to be marriedin order to acquire diplomatic visas for the United States.

The U.S. mission to the UN defended its decision as a way to treat same-sex partners of foreign diplomats in the same way as heterosexual partners. However, this new policy, and the justifications to support it, represent not only a blatant disregard for the current state of LGBTQ rights around the world, but also a continued push by the Trump administration to preserve the traditional gender norms associated with marriage and the family.

Under the Trump administration’s new policy, domestic partnerships no longer qualify same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and UN employees to receive diplomatic visas for the U.S. Instead, same-sex couples must be married by December 31, 2018 or leave the country within 30 days. Although implemented in the name of ‘equality’, this decision showcases a complete disregard and ignorance of state-sponsored homophobia throughout the world. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s 2017 State Sponsored Homophobia Report states that 37% of UN Member States criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Additionally, the Report outlines that only12% of UN Member States have actually legalized same-sex marriage.

In light of these statistics, the Trump administration’s new policy does not promote equality. Instead, it heightens the risks for LGBTQ individuals who come from countries with homophobic laws. Although same-sex couples affected by this policy have the opportunity to marry in the U.S., the lack of recognition for same-sex marriage worldwide increases the chances of prosecution and/or discrimination for these individuals when returning to their home countries. The most manipulative component of this new policy is the time limit assigned to the requirement of marriage – emphasizing the prioritization of heteronormativity over diversity. In failing to recognize that no heterosexual person would ever face discrimination based on their sexual orientation, this new policy is grounded in straight privilege.

From a moral perspective, it would  be easy for the Trump administration to attempt to defend this new policy as an immigration issue – something that has defined Trump’s foreign policy objectives since taking office in January 2017. However, the securitization of LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. is completelyillogical. A Gallup Poll published on January 11, 2017 revealed that only 4.1% of the U.S population identifies as LGBT. Additionally, as reported by Reuterson October 2, the new visa policy will only affect approximately 105 families in the United States, of which “55 of them are with international organizations”.

What is important to emphasize is notthe small proportion of people affected by this policy change. Instead, it is significant to recognize how this attack on such a small portion of the population is a reinforcement of the LGBTQ community’s historical oppression. By prioritizing the requirement of marriage over other partnerships and civil unions, the Trump administration seeks to protect the traditional gender norms reinforced by heteronormativity. For the longest time in the U.S, marriage was a privilege of heterosexual couples and represented a foundation for the ever-so “ideal” American family. As a result, the reinforcement of marriage as the only valid form of union between two people showcases a neglect for the changing definition and composition of the family that has allowed for a greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in America.

Although disheartening, this most recent attempt to further marginalize the LGBTQ community is not shocking. It is important to highlight the reality that Trump, himself, acts as an emblem of homophobic values. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that in 2017, Trump became the first ever sitting President to speak at the Values Voter Summit – a conference known for its pro-family and anti-LGBT sentiments. The most horrifying aspect of Trump’s homophobia is the level of comfort he displays in demonstrating it – advocating, from the highest seat in America, that these attitudes are not only justified, but inherently moral.

Consequently, Trump’s continued policy attacks on the LGBTQ community ultimately fuel and reaffirm homophobic sentiments around the world. Can we truly expect other nations to respect the rights of LGBTQ individuals when the United States – as a ‘role model’ for human rights – is justifying this community’s oppression?

Although this new policy will directly affect the livelihoods of some UN employees, it is crucial to recognize that as a collection of domestic governments, of which many are homophobic, the UN is unlikely to act. Therefore, what is required is a push from LGBTQ organizations, civil society actors and countries that protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals to condemn the unethical nature of Trump’s homophobic policies. Countries like Canada, Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom must not only continue to advocate for greater diversity and inclusion, but also denounce the rise of homophobic attitudes driven by the increasing trend in authoritarian leadership around the world.

As humans, we have a moral obligation to protect those who are subject to discrimination, violence and/or prosecution for simply being who they are. No matter the justifications used, the State Department’s new visa policy is far from ethical; because at its core, there is nothing ethical about homophobia.

*Spencer Harvey is currently pursuing a M.S. in Global Affairs at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he specializes in research on global gender relations and presently acts as the Editor-in-Chief of Global Affairs Review. 


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