Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Executive Director and Board Chair of the Global Justice Institute, a nonprofit international human rights group, on the Obama administration’s new and unprecedented efforts to address the on-the-ground reality of daily life for oppressed sexual minorities in many parts of the world. She is also Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Rev. Pat Bumgardner
(Hillary Clinton speaking at the United Nations in Geneva, Dec. 6, 2011): Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct. But in fact, they are one and the same.[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: That’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the UN in Geneva earlier this month, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day. In addition to strong words emphasizing the innate rights of all persons, she announced a Global Equality Fund to support civil society organizations working for LGBT rights worldwide.
Earlier, President Obama issued a memo directing agencies to “Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.”
This was very big news. Stunning news. I’ve never heard the Secretary of State more passionate, more articulate.
Single-digit presidential candidate Rick Perry once again demonstrated his so-called Christian convictions by calling the initiatives “a silly idea.” Far-right media mogul Pat Robertson promised the wrath of God.
It’s entirely predictable that the loud voices on the religious and cultural right in this country offer wholesale condemnation, and paint the administration’s efforts in starkly political terms. But there is so much more to it. And although we have spent a good deal of time on this show addressing the epidemic of bullying and youth suicide, as well as LGBT rights and discrimination, I want to talk today about the on-the-ground reality of daily life for oppressed sexual minorities in many parts of the world – the reality that the Administration is now directly addressing. We have just the right person with whom to do that.
A year ago, Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of New York, was with us in this studio to announce the birth of the Global Justice Institute, a non-profit international human rights organization for which she serves as Executive Director and Board Chair.
I’m very pleased to welcome Rev. Pat back to State of Belief Radio as we seek to contextualize the Administration’s efforts. Rev. Pat, thanks for being with us again on State of Belief Radio![REV. PAT BUMGARDNER, GUEST]: Thank you so much for having me. [WG]: You travel a lot of places, to where life is brutal for LGBT people. I would like for you, if you will, to talk about some of the situations that are going to be impacted by the administration’s recent actions. [PB]: Well, I think there are many, many situations that are going to be impacted. I mean, the scope of both the President’s announcement and then Secretary of State Clinton’s speech involves a wide range of things, not just – you know, what our opponents focused on was that we’re somehow going to cut aid to people, or shape foreign policy based on how people treat LGBT people. But there’s a broader perspective here, and much of what Secretary Clinton was addressing was the day in and day out suffering of LGBT people in their communities, in their nations of origin, in their families of origin.
For example, this past year, when my colleague Pastor Joseph Tolton and I traveled to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, we met with people who had been chased from their homes and their villages and lost their jobs only because somebody suspected that they were LGBT; and so they lost not only the roof over their head but any means of surviving. And then what happens is local newspapers pick this story up and publish their faces, sometimes their names, and so they have no place to go. And what the President was addressing and what Secretary Clinton was addressing is the fundamental right that we have as human beings – not because of government policy, not because of political persuasion, not because of culture, not because of religious belief, but the right we have as human beings, by virtue the fact that we are born, you know – we have the right to be safe, we have the right to work for a living, we have the right to be free from persecution, and certainly from violence.[WG]: All that you say is true, and you would think we would have seen that and done something about it a long time ago; but we didn’t, and so this announcement stunned me. Did you feel that way about it? [PB]: Well, the truth is that people have been working behind the scenes for a long, long time with this particular administration – but even prior to this administration. It just so happens that the Obama administration is an administration that, I think, takes fairly seriously its commitment to human rights abroad, and sees that commitment as going hand-in-hand with our beliefs here in this country that all people are born with inalienable rights by virtue of their humanity, and that it’s a fundamental tenet of democracy: that people have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to be safe in their own communities…
But a lot of people have been working a long time behind the scenes, and I have to say… I want to single out Secretary Clinton in particular. I mean, since the beginning of her tenure, she has been addressing this issue of – the universality is how I would like us to talk about it – the universality of human rights, and you cannot speak about universal human rights if you’re singling out a particular sexual orientation, or a particular gender identity, or a particular religious conviction or, you know, women or children. And all of those groups, actually, are involved in the pursuit of LGBT rights. Many people tend to think of us as this segregated kind of anomaly, almost, we’re sort of odd; but in fact, when you’re talking about women’s rights – you’re talking about LGBT rights; when you’re talking about providing for the poor – you’re talking about LGBT people; when you’re talking about protecting children – you’re talking about our children, children who are identifying as a minority.[WG]: You have given us a good understanding of the broad application of this. Now, given your knowledge of the international community, where is it most urgent that this new doctrine, this new principle be applied? [PB]: It might be easier to say where it isn’t most urgent.
I think one of the really excellent things that Secretary Clinton did in her speech was say: “This is not the United States preaching to anyone; in fact, in our own nation, over…” – she didn’t use the statistic, but the truth is – over twenty transgender people were murdered in our own nation this past year simply because of who they were; there was no other reason that anyone can identify. So she basically stepped up to the plate and said: “This is something we all have to work on.”
The truth is, there are 80 countries in the world that still – or over 80 that still – criminalize just our existence, just being LGBT. And there are places like Nigeria, which is trying to not only criminalize our relationships, but criminalize those who recognize them; there are places like Russia right now, that’s trying to criminalize any positive statement about LGBT life. So, for example, if I went there as an MCC minister and preached a sermon that said the Bible does not condemn us – that could be a criminal act, and could incur penalties.
So, I think it’s a global phenomenon, and there are places where we could say more progress is being made: certainly in the United States we’ve seen some victories in the past year alone, things like Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell being repealed, or certain equality victories around marriage or equality, victories around employees, that kind of thing. But overall, I just want to say that, in my opinion, those victories mean nothing if the women I know in Pakistan can’t simply go out to the market to buy food for their household without fearing that someone’s going to think that they are lesbian and decide that they should be the victim of a, quote, “honor killing.” Those victories mean nothing to me if people in China, you know, by creating a blog or something for LGBT rights are subject to some kind of criminalization or imprisonment. So I think the imperative of Secretary’s Clinton speech was that we all look at this in the bigger framework, from the bigger perspective, and see what we are doing every single day – that was her last point in her speech – that we should all ask ourselves what our part is in promoting universal human rights. And I think, for LGBT people, our part is to see this as a global phenomenon, and to see every step we take as something that is for all of us.[WG]: I have to say that you have just articulated the best perspective on that that I’ve heard, and I appreciate that.
There are two schools of thought on countries like the US and, for that matter, international human rights agencies interfering, some would say, in domestic policy. Nationalist governments sometimes use their own resistance to foreign influence to bolster internal support. At the same time, the anti-gay public speech law proposed for Saint Petersburg in Russia, which seemed sure to pass, is now on hold. We’ve seen some government actions in Malawi, in Uganda, for example, that could be interpreted as perhaps responding to international pressure. Where do you come down on that issue?[PB]: Well, I think, first of all, we all have to acknowledge the fact that the United States has long used its influence, if you want to put it that way, in some sense its wealth and resources, to influence policies around the globe. And in my opinion, influencing policies for the recognition of human rights is a good thing, and part of how we understand the moral imperative of who we are as a nation. So I think, you know, I understand what people are saying in the sense of not enforcing or not imposing our beliefs on other cultures; but this I have to say, also: it’s not a cultural right to kill somebody, it’s not a religious tenet; it’s not…. You don’t have the right to kill somebody because of your religious persuasion or your cultural or social situation. So I think that the United States, and any other government that stands up to the brutalization of any group of people and says: ”You know, we don’t think this is right, and we won’t support it with either our personnel or our funding,” I think that what we’re trying to do is shape a more compassionate world, and I happen to think that that is the role of government. [WG]: Pat, is there going to be conflict internationally about this? I mean, you and I favor what’s being done, the victims all over the world are going to favor it, but we’re dealing with some very mean and powerful people. How are they going to respond? [PB]: Well, I think, you know, there are many ways to look at that. I think there will be a lot of rhetoric that’s, kind of, tossed around back and forth, and people will be, kind of, beating their chests about, you know, “This is my country, or my government,” or, “You don’t tell us what to do.” But I think the bottom line is that most people of good will, will understand the context in which these remarks were made, and understand them as supportive of a broader global vision. I think people on the ground in countries who are working to curtail the spread of HIV or AIDS will see this as supportive of what they’re doing, no matter who’s funding them. You know, the simple truth is that Catholic relief agencies that don’t favor giving out condoms, or dental dams, or that kind of thing, could find support for their work in simply compassionate care for everyone living with AIDS because of these remarks by Secretary Clinton, and because of President Obama’s position on this. So I think most thinking people on the ground, in universal cultural context, will understand the broader vision here. [WG]: Let me ask you this. Do you think – I mean, and understand I’m talking pragmatics, I’m not talking morality here, I’m talking about pragmatics – do you think it’s true that there will be some situations in which the leadership will continue their mean-spirited rhetoric about the GLBT community, but also quietly be sure that the laws of the land are more in compliance with the vision of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton? [PB]: I think you’ve just described how most governments, including our own, work on a daily basis; so I absolutely think that’s true. And I think a case in point is Uganda, which has continued its rhetoric, but not really made substantial progress – and we hope they don’t, of course. So I think that’s a great example. [WG]: You know, here on State of Belief, as well as the Interfaith Alliance itself, we want to change heads and hearts; but if you don’t get the heads and hearts changed, you try to get a law that makes people, behave whether they’re ready to or not. [PB]: Correct. And, you know, there are at least two schools of belief here. Secretary Clinton, toward the end of her speech, said the importance of changing laws is that those laws then shape culture; and there are others who believe that it’s a more ground-up kind of thing, you work from the bottom up. I think what we have to do is just work from every position we have open to us, and hope that it meets on higher ground, so to speak. [WG]: We have to take what we get… [PB]: Exactly. [WG]: …But let’s not be satisfied with that. [PB]: Never be satisfied, yes. [WG]: Pat, I tell you what. I remember well us sitting in here talking about this, now, almost an year ago; and after a year of hard work in which you have been responsible for some of the developments that we’ve talked about today, instead of seeming worn out from doing that, you seem more energized than ever, and more passionate then ever, and I commend you for that. [PB]: Oh, thanks. There’s no way you can go the places that we’ve gone and work with the people we’ve worked with and not come back energized to, really, work for what, for me, is the vision of the Gospel. [WG]: Sure. Tell our people how they can find out more about the work of the Global Justice Institute. [PB]: Well, you can find out more in several ways. You can go to www.mccchurch.org and click on our Global Justice page; we will shortly launch a separate new website, because we’ve incorporated, as you mentioned earlier, as a separate corporation; but you’ll be able to find that information there. You can always contact me directly at Metropolitan Community Church of New York, our phone number there is: 212-629-7440, and my assistant Bradley would be happy to give you my personal email. [WG]: And if you forget all of that, or didn’t get to write it down quickly enough, go to State of Belief’s website and we’ll help you get in touch as well.
I’m talking with Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Executive Director and Board Chair of the Global Justice Institute. It’s a nonprofit international human rights organization; she’s also the Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
Rev. Pat, it’s always good to see you, and I really appreciate what you’ve done for us today on State of Belief Radio.[PB]: Thank you. Thank you very much.