Hillary Clinton slammed world leaders whose nations support anti-gay policies at an event on Saturday hosted by the LGBT civil rights group Human Rights Campaign. But while the Democratic presidential candidate singled out Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, as a particularly outspoken opponent of gay rights, she failed to mention the leader of a west African nation who has publicly supported laws criminalizing “voluntary sodomy.”
The reason for Clinton’s apparent double-standard regarding Mugabe and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is simple: Clinton and husband Bill have a cozy relationship with the 76-year-old Liberian leader, who was elected president there in 2005.
Sirleaf was interviewed by former president Bill Clinton last week at a Clinton Foundation event. And Hillary Clinton has praised Sirleaf numerous times in person and in print for her work on women’s issues, all while avoiding the sticky issue of the west African leader’s stance on gay rights. (RELATED: Clinton Global Initiative Speaker Praised By Hillary Backs Law To Jail Gays)
During her remarks at the Human Rights Campaign event, held at Washington D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, Clinton criticized her Republican presidential opponents’ positions on gay marriage and workplace equality laws. She also for the first time backed an initiative to allow transgender people to serve in the military.
— Hult Prize (@hultprize) September 27, 2015
Clinton also hinted at her slow evolution on the issue of gay marriage, telling the audience of Human Rights Campaign staffers and volunteers that, “you’ve helped change a lot of minds, including mine.”
As a 2008 presidential candidate, Clinton supported civil unions over gay marriage. But as support for gay marriage gained traction across the U.S., she altered her position to support gay marriage at the state level. But Clinton has evolved even on that, siding recently with the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing it at the federal level.
Clinton also promised to address gay rights at the international level in her remarks on Saturday. As evidence of the work she says needs to be done in that theatre, she singled out Mugabe.
“Just a few days the president of Zimbabwe stood up at the UN and gave a furious speech about the dangers of equal rights for gay people,” Clinton said. “According to him, in Zimbabwe, he said ‘we are not gays.'”
Mugabe has been long been a vocal critic of homosexuality, gay rights and gay rights activism. Like many African leaders, he’s blamed gays for the nation’s economic woes. He’s also linked homosexuality to corruption, child murder and pedophilia. During his speech at the UN this week, the 91-year-old authoritarian spoke out against pressure from the West to “prescribe new rights that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions, and beliefs.”
“We are not gays!” he bellowed from the UN dais.
But Mugabe’s resistance to Western pressure is not dissimilar to Sirleaf’s stance.
During a joint interview with former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair in 2012, Sirleaf resisted calls for reform on gay rights saying that “we’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve.”
She also declined to overturn a law on the books in Liberia which criminalizes “voluntary sodomy.” Violators of the law can be imprisoned for up to one year.
Zimbabwe, too, criminalizes homosexual acts, as do many other African nations. But Liberia’s statutes are even stricter in some regards than Zimbabwe’s. According to Amnesty International, Liberia criminalizes homosexual acts between men and between women. Zimbabwe outlaws only those acts between men.
And according to human rights reports released by the State Department, no Zimbabweans are currently under prosecution for homosexual acts. In contrast, five Liberians are in jail for sodomy. Two of those have been imprisoned for more than two years.
Clinton’s aversion to confronting Sirleaf over her nation’s anti-gay laws was apparent in Jan. 2012, when Clinton attended Sirleaf’s inauguration.
The event came just a month after Clinton gave a rousing speech to mark International Human Rights Day in Geneva, Switzerland — an event she referenced in her remarks on Saturday.
“Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” she said in Geneva, she told the Human Rights Campaign.
“The United States does need to stand up for human rights everywhere,” she continued Saturday. “It’s who we are. And as president, it’s who we will continue to be.”
But when Clinton visited Liberia in 2012 — and while gay rights were a major topic of discussion at the time — she did not publicly address the issue.
Since then, Clinton has appeared publicly with Sirleaf and praised her during an event to promote her recent book, “Hard Choices.” Clinton and Sirleaf appeared together at an event this March to release a report on women’s leadership. And in June 2014, Clinton praised Sirleaf for her work on women’s rights. Sirleaf’s interview with Bill Clinton at last week’s Clinton Foundation event centered on Liberia’s struggles with the Ebola epidemic.
Emails recently released by the State Department also show strong support for Sirleaf within Clinton’s inner circle.
When Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 — for her work on women’s rights — Clinton’s then-chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, sent an email congratulating another Sirleaf supporter, then-U.S. Ambassador to Gambia, Pamela White.
“So fab – hope it helps in the election,” Mills wrote to White.
White assured Mills that the award would help Sirleaf’s re-election bid. Sirleaf won that contest after a run-off.
Other emails in the latest State Department trove show that Clinton holds a stance on traditional families that some gay rights activists would likely shun.
In Jan. 2011, Clinton expressed anger at news that the State Department had opted to stop using the terms “mother” and “father,” choosing instead to refer to “parent 1” and “parent 2.”
“I could live w letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father,” Clinton wrote to two aides. (RELATED: Now-Gay Friendly Hillary Clinton got Mad When State Department Stopped Using Terms ‘Mother’ And ‘Father’)