Deafening Silence

Barack Obama Had 5772 Words for the Middle East. None of Them About Gays

We’ve already placed out bet on whether Barack Obama will address gay rights during his July visit to Ghana, his first return to the continent since moving in to the White House. (Our guess: Hellz no.) But early this morning the president was a little farther north, in Cairo, Egypt, where he addressed the Muslim community in what some are calling a welcome olive branch to the Islamic community. (Others criticize him for, uh, forgetting about 9/11.) And while we won’t pretend gay Americans are single-issue citizens, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t point out that, once again, Obama had nothing to say about GLBTs.

As the tweets and Facebook blasts went out, and Obama mentioned the word “rights” more than a dozen times — the right for American Muslim girls to wear a hijab, the right for Palestinians and Israelis to live without fear and enjoy their own states, “the rights of minorities” — there were noticeable absences in Obama’s speech.


Perhaps because they’re assumed to be non-issues in the Middle East, but neither abortion nor rights for gays and transgender citizens were mentioned. This should be no surprise; while Sec. of State Hillary Clinton continues to call for an end to gay persecution, the White House is all but silent on the institutionalized assault on gays in Iraq, and elsewhere.

Obama urged the Muslim community to embrace democracy (and not only when it was convenient), to give permit Palestine to form its own true nation, and to treat women as equals.

But in a region of 400 million people, where gay rights aren’t even an after-thought, Obama did nothing to provide a voice to the millions of GLBTs persecuted and living in hiding and shame. Yes, Obama tailored his message for the community he was speaking to. But he missed an enormous opportunity to include queer people in his call for global human rights.

And he did it on purpose.

(The full transcript of Obama’s speech is available here.)