Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter in January to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk because of his concern over what he called the barbarity of Uganda‘s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill (“kill the gays bill”).

In his response to Senator Wyden, the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs, Richard R. Verma, revealed that not only is the Department carefully monitoring the situation in Uganda, it has broadened its view to the entire African continent.

The State Department is also evaluating attitudes and laws that marginalize and criminalize and penalize the LGBT community in Africa more broadly.  We have asked all of our embassies in Africa to report on host country laws and pending legislation that criminalizes homosexuality.  In addition, our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has established a task force on LGBT issues to strategize a United States Government response to LBGT issues worldwide.

This is not only excellent news for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people living in African countries, but for those of us right here at home.  The more light that the Department of State shines on policies in other countries that are infringing on the human rights of LGBT people, the more scrutiny our own policies here at home will receive in return.  You can’t be a beacon of liberty abroad if you oppress your own.  It seems that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton understands this.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor describes itself this way:

“In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day-by-day, it is the reason they govern.” – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago. The United States supports those persons who long to live in freedom and under democratic governments that protect universally accepted human rights. The United States uses a wide range of tools to advance a freedom agenda, including bilateral diplomacy, multilateral engagement, foreign assistance, reporting and public outreach, and economic sanctions. The United States is committed to working with democratic partners, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, and engaged citizens to support those seeking freedom.

I was not immediately able to find any information on the LGBT task force mentioned in Mr. Verma’s letter.  However, the brand new fact sheet “Tracking Human Rights Worldwide: The State Department Country Reports” lists the following bullet point in the section titled “What’s new about the Country Reports this year?”

Expanded coverage of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, as well as a section on “Other Societal Discrimination” covering persons with HIV/AIDS.

Kudos to Secretary Clinton and President Obama for recognizing that LGBT rights are human rights, and for making LGBT people a visible part of the equation.  I count this as solid progress.

Related: Senator Ron Wyden asks for review of Uganda’s trade status if the gay genocide bill passes