Vice President Joseph Biden made an extensive case Saturday night for international LGBT rights, saying other nations are looking to the United States to lead the way as a champion on the issue.
Before an estimated 1,000 attendees at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in Los Angeles, Biden said the the rights of LGBT people is an “inseparable” part of the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda and “dignity and respect has to remain our North Star.”
“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” Biden said during his 30-minute speech.
Noting that being gay is illegal in 80 countries, Biden laid out the challenges faced by LGBT people overseas. In places like in Jamaica, he decried the practice of “corrective rape” for lesbians, and was critical of the anti-gay law in Nigeria that makes entering into same-sex marriage or supporting LGBT rights punishable with time in prison.
The vice president also criticized Russia, which has recently been condemned by the United States by military incursion into Ukraine, over its law banning pro-gay propaganda to minors.
“By the way, as the great Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said, ‘A country that does not respect the rights of its citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors,’ and we’re seeing that today in Ukraine,” Biden said.
Earlier in the week, Biden met with global LGBT activists in the West Wing of the White House. During the speech, Biden said they had one thing in common: taking incredible personal risks to fight for the rights of others.
“The single most basic of all human rights is the right to decide who you love,” Biden said. “It’s the single basic building block; it’s the single most important human rights. And hate can never, never be defended because it’s a so-called cultural norm. I’ve had it up to here with cultural norms.”
Biden also commended other countries for enacting pro-gay policy, saying Albania recently enacted into law hate crimes protections based on sexual orientation and Mongolia recently hosted its first-ever Pride celebration.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of LGBT rights overseas, Biden also maintained work remains incomplete within the United States and called on Congress immediately to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying the lack of prohibition on anti-LGBT workplace discrimination is “close to barbaric.”
“It’s almost beyond belief that today, in 2014, I can say to you as your employee in so many states, ‘You’re fired because of who you love,’” Biden said. “Think about that. It is bizarre. No, no, no. It really is. I don’t think most Americans even know that employers can do that.”
At no time in Biden’s speech did he mention a heavily sought-after executive order from Obama that would bar federal contractors from engaging in discrimination against LGBT workers.
The vice president alluded to his endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2012, which came days before President Obama’s announcement, and expressed satisfaction that recent polls have found a majority of American agree with him on his position. Biden was preceded in his remarks on stage by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and second lady Jill Biden.
Biden also spoke generally about the progress on the perception of LGBT issues in the country, saying the growth in support is the result of hard work by LGBT activists and has “freed” those who used to have prejudices against LGBT people.
“The only way to prevail to continue to step up and speak out because we are all one,” Biden said. “People fear which they do not know, and you all continue to do that. That’s why things are changing. Not because of Barack Obama or Joe Biden, but because it’s powerful, it’s powerful.”