Gays and new US policy
Something happened some weeks ago that might seem astonishing in Asia but was barely noted in Europe.
The new prime minister of Belgium ― after an almost two-year absence of a government ― is not only the first French-speaking premier in over 30 years, not only is he an Italian emigrant, not only a chemistry professor and an atheist, he’s openly gay. Thailand
Also some weeks ago, Hillary Clinton delivered an astonishingly powerful address to the United Nations on a new proactive American foreign policy, to make the defense of homosexuality an object of policy. It’s now officially a human rights issue.
She vigorously defended the obvious but not always admitted fact that gayness is universal, not a ``Western problem.” And she’s right; we have gay friends everywhere in the world ― Chinese, Africans, Latinos, Indians and Filipinos. From now on every American ambassador will have a ``kit” helping him or her identify the issue in every country where we are represented.
Now there’s something a little bit scary about this. The United States sends dozens of meat inspectors to Argentina to examine ― or intrude on ― the hygiene of beef. Argentina has to accept this if it wants to export the huge amount of beef to America that has been a big part of its trade for decades.
Starting in the 1970s, after Jimmy Carter’s election, ``inspectors,” in the form of assistant secretaries of state, toured the world prodding countries to improve their human rights standards. Some nations considered it highly intrusive and unacceptable. But then, almost every country needs something from Washington, so they had to treat the American ``honorable” with courtesy.
Of course the Saudis will just laugh it off. We need their oil, and they will continue to torment gay victims, sometimes executing them. But what about a poor country like Uganda, that has an extremely repressive policy toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but needs and is getting American military assistance in putting down the infamous ``Lords” army? Our guess is that President Musaveni will have to take American views into account. After all, South Africa already grants gays the right to marry.
We don’t think Ambassador Thomas, here in Manila, will have much need for his soon-to-arrive kit. Let us say, with some standing in experience, that the Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the world to be gay in. There’s a lot of discussion now because of the recently noted rapid spread here of AIDS infections, which is inevitable.
But more than in any country in which one of us has ever lived ― and that’s a large number ― people are treated as people in the Philippines, without a label pinned to their chest. Everyone knows that certain ranking officials ― senators, Cabinet members, and numerous other society leaders ― are gay. True, Ricky Reyes is open about it. But the important fact is that no one makes a big deal about it.
In America there are, to be sure, laws protecting LGBTs. But somehow, everyone refers to an LGBT friend as ``gay,” as if it is a big deal. And it is. Small wonder that gays tend to live in the same neighborhood and socialize mostly among themselves.
One of us once wrote an article favorably comparing Manila as a gay destination compared to Bangkok. It’s less phony here. And for all the propaganda about Thailand being gay-friendly, it isn’t. Thais are just not interested in what goes on behind closed doors.
But were one of us to receive an invitation to dinner within the elite, we’d most likely be in trouble to bring a boyfriend. It’s not even an issue here in the Philippines. We have firsthand experience, for example, of a very powerful Filipino political leader who didn’t even realize that all three men working on a project at his behest were gay.
And for all the friends in the provinces whose fathers have threatened to kick them out of the house if they say they are gay, we know more where the family is accepting. It’s yet another thing Filipinos can be proud of.
Oliver Geronilla is a language instructor based in Dasmariñas City. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. W. Scott Thompson served four presidents in the United States and is professor emeritus of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston. His email address is email@example.com.