MONROVIA, Liberia -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to West Africa this week looking to highlight the Obama administration’s efforts to promote democratic institutions and credible elections. But in Liberia, a staunch ally that receives more than $200 million annually in American foreign assistance, the conversation in the run-up to the visit concerned a different policy: the first government-wide effort by the U.S. to combat the criminalization of homosexuality overseas.
President Barack Obama signed a memorandum outlining the policy on Dec. 6. In a speech that day at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Clinton proclaimed that “gay rights are human rights,” reprising a line she famously used with respect to women in 1995. Although neither leader provided many details on how the policy would be implemented -- a National Security Council deputy spokeswoman said the U.S. would not be “cutting or tying” foreign aid to changes in other countries’ gay rights records -- the announcement ruffled feathers in sub-Saharan Africa, where homosexuality is outlawed in a majority of countries.
Liberia has been no exception, with at least three newspapers condemning the U.S. policy. A Dec. 15 editorial in the National Chronicle called the U.S. initiative part of an effort “to coerce the rest of the world to allow homosexuality to be practiced.”