WASHINGTON — The United States will begin using U.S. foreign aid to promote gay rights abroad, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing U.S. agencies to look for ways to combat efforts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality.
The new initiative holds the potential to irritate relations with some close U.S. allies that ban homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton underscored Obama's remarks, in a speech in Geneva on International Human Rights Day. "It should never be a crime to be gay," she said.
The directive comes after the Parliament in Uganda decided to reopen a debate on a controversial bill that seeks to outlaw homosexuality, a move that could be expanded to include the death penalty for gay men and lesbians. That bill had been shelved earlier this year amid widespread international condemnation.
"I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world," Obama said in the memorandum, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, "whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women and children for their perceived sexual orientation."
Obama said in the memorandum that the State Department would lead other federal agencies to help ensure that the government provides a "swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights" of LGBT people abroad.
It was not immediately clear whether that would mean a cut-off of U.S. aid to countries that target the gay community.
Based on findings in the State Department's latest annual human rights report, several countries, including several vital U.S. allies, could face increased pressure over their treatment of gays and others.