Hirst: We’ve got to fight

America has a storied history of fighting for right and freedom “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” We have shed blood and spent treasure to ensure that people around the world could be free. As a nation, we are especially concerned with ensuring the safety and prosperity of those who have been oppressed by their governments.

Today, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are in need of this protection. These efforts will require an America active on the world stage, and even an America willing to use force.

The Ugandan government is poised to ban “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” In Iran, one can be arrested, imprisoned, flogged and executed simply for being gay. The same is true throughout much of the Middle East with the exception of Israel, home to Tel Aviv, the gay capital of the Middle East. In 2007, 18 Nigerians faced death by stoning for celebrating a gay wedding. In Venezuela, the police regularly attack and harass the LGBT community. These actions go against the United States’ conception of fundamental human rights, which the U.S. applies to all its citizens, whether gay or straight — Matthew Shepard’s murderers are spending the rest of their lives in jail.

There are, of course, other marginalized groups in need of American defense. How a regime treats its LGBT population is often a litmus test of its liberalism; the nations that oppress homosexuals are likely to do so to other minority groups. Many of the tactics used to help these communities, however, don’t apply to defending LGBT citizens of oppressive countries. Like women, those who identify as LGBT exist as a perpetual minority within a country. We can’t partition a country or airlift its LGBT population. We cannot resettle them as we did with Soviet Jewry trapped behind the Iron Curtain because they are not an isolated community and because they exist in every generation.

As such, the spreading of liberal institutions is the only way to permanently guarantee the protection of those who identify as LGBT.

America is the only nation in a position to establish such institutions in regimes without a tradition of such institutions. While many Western European countries generally treat their LGBT populations better than America treats its own, these countries have not demonstrated the moral temerity to defend human rights outside of their borders. The other would-be world powers on this issue — those with economic and military might to take on a campaign of protection — are either silent on the issue of LGBT rights or, like China, worse. And given the farce that has become the United Nations Human Rights Council, we cannot expect too much from them, either.

Although defending LGBT rights abroad is a good in itself, it is also in America’s national interest. Successfully creating regimes that prioritize the rights of their citizens increases the United States’ prestige abroad. Not only does such prestige — especially when that prestige comes from a reputation as the defender of freedoms abroad — make other countries more likely to be on our side in struggles that are less clear cut, but removing despotic, oppressive regimes removes a threat to American leadership. Forcing illiberal regimes to reform is pushing them to have interests that closer resemble our own.

There are those who would say that America should not go to the mat on an issue that has not been clearly adopted at home. It’s true that ensuring LGBT rights is hardly something that is of paramount importance to most people in their day-to-day lives (though we care about it a lot on college campuses). But whatever people think about LGBT rights, Americans should value and be willing to fight for human rights of all people.

Moreover, American interest is not a static phenomenon. Over time our priorities change; moreover, we have the power to change them. Let us not allow today’s standards of perfection to limit the good we can do. Even if the defense of minority rights is not prominently in the minds of Americans right now, it would be a shame to look back in five, 10 or 40 years and think we missed an opportunity. When the United States has turned a blind eye to human rights violations, we regret it — just think of Rwanda or our hesitancy to involve ourselves in World War II.

America must choose: We can scale back our commitment to defend liberalism or we can defend the human rights of those who identify as LGBT. The former is keeping with our best traditions. We defend human rights. We argue for them — at times more or less vociferously than others. And sometimes to defend them we must use force.

Adam Lior Hirst is a senior in Branford College.


  • Candide

    Moral evolution takes time. It took America 200 years to stop selling human beings for money. It took until the 1960’s to guarantee equal rights and then another 20 years to extend that guarantee to women and people with same gender magnetism.

    Why would you think you could wave a magic political or military wand and expedite evolution in countries and religions which are slogging along in primitive stages of the process? Isn’t that what “democratizing” Iraq amounts to?

    Il faut cultiver notre jardin says Candide: Cultivate your own garden.


  • FailBoat

    It’s ok – Levin will invite the offending leaders for a special visit to campus.

  • ’10

    Not to be a dick about this, but what freedom were we fighting for in the halls of Montezuma?

  • factchecker

    “The Halls of Montezuma” refers to the Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican-American War, where a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle.

  • ?

    Did Keanie Weanie just refer to a certain religion as “primitive??????”

    Let’s look: “Why [do something for] religions which are slogging along in primitive stages of the process?”

    My goodness! To what religion, pray tell, could an over-privileged lefty white guy be referring to in such derogatory terms? Did the mask covering deep-seated and implicit bigotry and arrogance just slip a bit? Oh my…

    BTW: One can infer at least one good point from KW’s hit bit: why don’t we work to end global SLAVERY before focusing on more esoteric topics? In the hierarchy of oppression, ending the “selling [of] human beings for money” I think should rank first.

    America ended slavery nearly 150 years ago: when can we expect KW’s “primitives”–e.g., Sudan, Saudi, Malaysia, etc.–to abandon the peculiar institution?

  • Recent Alum

    I don’t understand this column. Adam Hirst is a liberal Democrat, shouldn’t he be attacking Christians like Sarah Palin and George Bush rather than complaining about autocratic Muslim regimes? What is going on here?

  • Paul Keane http://theantiyale.blogspot.com


    Overly privileged lefty white guy? Impudent puppy: My grandmother lived in a slum lord’s third floor walk-up with no hot water, two blocks from the palaces of Yale at Elm and State Streets.

    Read my stuff before you judge this book by its cover.

    Lefty? Try
    and read the paper I submitted on the topic for Outka’s Religious Ethics and Modern Moral issues class in 1976.

    Otherwise stuff your opinions back in the sack of flesh from which they were vomitted.

    White? My great great great grandmother was a native American squaw.

    BTW: it is my contention (if you read my stuff) that ALL religions evolve and that SOME religions are further along in the process (and process is not necessarily progress, unless you consider the materialistic christianity of America “progress”.)

    NB: We could feed every starving child in the world for a DECADE with the money spent on fuel for one MONTH to heat the huge hollow sanctuaries christians use for worship every Sunday in America.

    Of course I am speaking about religion in derogatory terms. Are you deaf?

    I have been doing so for forty years beginning with Holy Smoke, my student authored publication at Yale Divinity School (which I attended BTW while serving as an apartment superintendent for an 88 unit low income housing project on Elm Street–hardly a privileged lefty white guy position (glorified janitor).

    I guarantee I have compacted more garbage than #6 has ever come near, unless we count what issues forth from his mouth (and I make the “his” inference with dubious certainty)

    Primitive? The women at the time of the Salem witch trials were treated in the same manner as some women in current Middle Eastern and African religions: their bodies were considered sinful and it was mandated that they be covered from head to foot except for the face and hands so that the poor helpless males would not be reduced to trembling blobs of erotic protoplasm in the presence of sinful female flesh.

    This custom still prevails in the US
    in some sects today.

    Now the question is: is evolution progress or is it merely a process.

    “Primitive” seems to have irritated

    It was used in the sense of “in the beginning stages of”. However if evolution is simply a process and not progress, the beginning stages have no more inherent value than any other stage.

    In fact, all of Judaism and Christianity worship through interpretation of a “primitive” text: Old and New Testament to which has been ascribed magical value by countless generations of the superstitious.

    It is interesting that #6 like so many of the posters hides his invective behind the veil of anonymity.

    Rather primitive on the courage-continuum, don’t you think?

    Decidedly unprivileged,un-white and un-left