Today I am proud to call myself a citizen of the People's Republic of San Francisco, a city where gay rights are considered crucial political and civic matters and visiting public officials are asked about the human rights violations of gay people around the world.
Thanks to a written question from gay journalist Matthew S. Bajko of the Bay Area Reporter, which was posed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her May 27 talk to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, Rice was asked about the struggles of gay people in two countries.
The response from Rice embodied both good and bad things.
First, on the positive side, I am amazed any member of President Bush's cabinet endorses tolerant societies that include democratic ideals that extend to all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
And, to her credit, Rice seems to conflate the matter of gay issues into a larger human rights context in China and Egypt.
However, Rice's words are mere crumbs tossed at a local audience which of course welcomes such comments, and her words are not matched by enough actions to protest the many abuses of the civil rights of gays around the world.
For example, when was the last time the Rice or anyone at the State Department publicly deplored the arrest and punishment of gay men in Saudi Arabia in the past few months?
Nevertheless, I'm damn pleased Rice had to address gay rights in her talk, and I wish that her questioner, Gloria Duffy, CEO of the Commonwealth Club, had not phrased Bajko's question as one that can and should only come up in San Francisco, when we all know concerns about gay human rights should be broached everywhere.
Even with gay matters raised during Rice's appearance here, I didn't find any reference to her comments on this in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post or other mainstream stories that came up from a Google news search.
Yes, I would expect at least the hometown rag to make a passing reference to gay human rights issues in Rice's comments, but that didn't happen, and I hope readers of the Chronicle ask why.
You can find the audio tape of her speech, including loud shouts from the handful of protesters who interrupted her talk, and the transcript at the State Department's web site.
Here is the excerpt of the exchange about gay civil rights:
MS. DUFFY: Moving on from Iraq, let's talk about human rights a bit. We are here in San Francisco and there's a question, what are you doing to ensure that countries like China and Egypt uphold the civil rights of its gay citizens, of their gay citizens?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, from our point of view, a democratic and tolerant society is exactly that. It is a society in which all people are included. It does not matter what race, what gender, it does not matter what sexual orientation -- all that matters is that you are a citizen of that country. And indeed, we note that in countries that are democratic, in countries where there can be pressure on government, in countries where there can be checks and balances on government, then the rights and -- the rights of the most vulnerable in society tend to be more protected. And so we are concentrating in places like China and in Egypt and in other places on human rights. Whenever we have discussions with these countries, we talk about human rights. And the United States issues something called a Human Rights Report every year that talks about the human rights conditions in each country and so -- very much in line with the notion that every citizen needs to be represented and rights protected. We believe that this is the way to handle this situation.
The full transcript is at: Public Affairs Office, State Department .