In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, for a few months, the international community was outraged by Putin's anti-gay bills. The stir and indignation was huge. For a while, there was the impression that the international community had a strategy to fight LGBT discrimination around the globe. And then, as our think-tank had predicted, when the lights went out in Sochi, this attention evaporated. There is no longer the great outrage. Having a strategy proved to be an illusion.
Mistakenly, we thought, that Putin's anti-gay bills or the attention to Uganda's deteriorating LGBT situation in 2014 opened a Pandora's Box. It did not. There was a lack of coherence, continuity, sophistication and perseverance in addressing the short and long term needs of the LGBT communities worldwide. Moreover, it underlined the enormous differences in the situation and problems the LGBT communities face country by country, region by region. Some have successfully achieved equal rights, and are now conquering the final frontiers, like marriage. Others however are still in the gray zone of "half-hearted acceptance," while the majority is in a terrible, even life threatening situation. The deterioration of their conditions in Russia is a case in point. It has turned LGBT rights into a frozen conflict.
Perhaps countries with a generally negative track record of human rights and democracy turned immune to the Western criticism. Maybe red flags and sanctions no longer impress. But isn't this also the result of the lack of a vision? Have we all done a good enough job to explain that if a small, vulnerable community is subject to violent actions or hate crimes, the safety of the whole population is at stake? Have we explained that if the security of the LGBT community increases, cutting edge economic opportunities rise and new jobs are created? Have we been smart enough to explain the enormous economic benefits of gay tourism or the creative and innovative power of this community? Have we done a country by country, community by community analysis, which should form the basis of a sophisticated and visionary effort worldwide?
The essence of the debate is about how to serve the LGBT international community, have a long term and lasting impact, while at the same time addressing their immediate needs, including issues of personal safety. It is also important to be clearer about what kind of support they can expect short and long term. It is important not to raise false expectations, but credibly deliver on actual promises we make. It is of course in part a matter of financial and human resources, but that's not all. The right answers should be the result of deep rethinking of the widely different situations, build on the successes, the lessons learned, the mistakes made and, (maybe most importantly), the embrace of a global and comprehensive view of the world outside the LGBT "bubble."
Unlike other human rights issues, this particular one touches upon the most personal and intimate aspect of somebody's life: their sexuality. Unlike other struggles for human dignity, LGBT issues are not limited to race, color, gender, social classes, religious or cultural background, economic possibilities or political convictions. An LGBT strategy should be global and comprehensive in vision, consider every group's sensitivities. Within the global LGBT strategy, communities should be considered and approached based on all their distinctive characteristics including the political environment, cultural, historic or social particularities.
It is useful to take into account the history of other human rights struggles, but this is not enough in today's international context, overwhelmed by security challenges, pressured by economic worries and with a live streaming existence. The LGBT experience is not the exclusive attribute of the Western world, much less a contemporary reality. Social environments that today are scandalized by the potential presence of LGBT people or even deny their existence, forget the tolerance their ancestors preached centuries ago. Abu Nuwas in the ninth century or Shaikh al-Nafzawi three centuries later depicted in their works the tolerance of the Arab world towards any sexual minorities. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria recently threw a gay man from a tower to his death.
Developing a "Strategic Concept for the LGBT Community" is long overdue. This, while US leadership is important, must be the result of a truly international cooperation. It must become a priority for the transatlantic community. There has never been a more important time for it, than now, when human rights, in general, and LGBT rights in particular are at risk even in countries which seemed to have been on track to become solid and lasting democracies, just a few years ago. It does not matter if one is gay or "straight." We need to strengthen the alliance of those who believe that this is at the core, at the center of our democratic societies. We know the goal, now we need a strategy.