A new standard for U.S. foreign aid

President Obama has decided that, from now on, foreign aid decisions will take into consideration how countries treat their LGBT citizens, and he directed U.S. agencies abroad to ensure our humanitarian and diplomatic efforts “promote and protect” the rights of gays and lesbians.

Directing all agencies engaged abroad to promote the human rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people reflects “our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people,” he wrote.

The memorandum directs all agencies engaged abroad to improve refugee and asylum protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also calls for strengthening U.S. efforts to oppose foreign governments criminalizing homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender behavior.

U.S. foreign aid programs will increase government and civil society engagement to promote gay rights, the memorandum says. The State Department will lead an interagency group tracking U.S. responses to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.” Agencies are to report on their progress in six months, and then on an annual basis.

In a statement, the president added, “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.”

In case this isn’t obvious, today’s announcement marks a historic first — the federal government has always examined many considerations in making foreign-aid decisions, but this is the first time an administration has formally included LGBT discrimination in the mix.

It also adds to a rather extraordinary record for Obama in this area in his first three years. The president has successfully repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, expanded federal benefits for the same-sex partners of executive-branch employees, signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, cleared the way for hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples, lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, ordered the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanded the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, and hired more openly gay officials than any administration in history.

At the same time, Obama has also endorsed repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and stopped trying to defend DOMA against federal court challenges.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, announcing the first-ever transgender presidential appointee, nominating the first openly-gay man to serve on the federal judiciary, honoring same-sex couples in his Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations, recording a video for the “It Gets Better” Project, and hosting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month events at the White House.

I realize there are still a sizable number of people in the LGBT community who are unsatisfied with the pace of change, and consider President Obama someone who has ignored, and even betrayed, their interests. Some have even vowed not to lift a finger to help with the president’s re-election effort.

I suspect many social-conservative activists find this inexplicable.