Chelsea Clinton: Progress on LGBT Issues Is Not ‘Success’

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LGBT issues are “unfinished business” from the 21st century, Chelsea Clinton said Sunday, adding that this needs to be at the forefront of discussion for human rights leaders going forward. Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made her remarks at the Human Rights Council’s Time to THRIVE conference.

“My mother has often said that the issue of women is the unfinished business of the 21st century. That is certainly true. But so, too, are the issues of LGBT rights the unfinished business of the 21st century,” Clinton said. LGBT — or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender — issues have been at the center of conversations around the world recently, and Clinton wants to ensure the discussion remains open and productive.

Throughout her speech, Clinton referenced a report by the Human Rights Campaign, “Growing Up LGBT in America.” The report interviewed 10,000 LGBT-identified youth between the ages 13 and 17. It found that 68 percent heard elected officials make negative comments about being LGBT.

Progress should not be considered a benchmark for success, Clinton said, noting that the work of people pushing for fairness in LGBT issues, like same sex marriage, cannot end at the Supreme Court. Changing the dialogue and changing laws is a starting point, but progress must continue beyond that.

She said initiatives to end bullying and harassment need to be undertaken, especially in schools, where LGBT children feel they do not have a safe space to avoid the physical and verbal assaults leveled at them by peers. Instead, young adults are turning to the Internet as an resource. In the report prepared by the Human Rights Campaign, 73 percent of youths said they were fully honest about their identities online; for non-LGTB youth, this figure is 43 percent.

Young adults who are persecuted are finding assistance in the public sphere, too, according to Clinton. She pointed to the examples being set by celebrities like actress Ellen Page, who announced at the conference that she is gay. ”I’m here today because I am gay. And because … maybe I can make a difference,” CNN reports Page said. ”I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission,” Page continued. “I suffered for years, because I was scared to be out.”

Earlier in February, prospective National Football League player Michael Sam announced he was gay. His courage in making the statement before the NFL draft was applauded by celebrities and sports stars, and President Barack Obama even praised Sam’s actions. “I really like the fact that Michael did it before the draft,” Obama told Charles Barkley in an interview on TNT. “Because his attitude was, ‘You know what? I know who I am. I know I can play great football and judge me on the merits.’”

Clinton mentioned Sam in her speech, as well, after praising another high-profile announcement by Jason Collins, a National Basketball Association player who came out in April. ”Now others have followed his courageous example, and I hope later on this year, we’ll be cheering for the first openly gay player in the NFL,” Clinton said.

Her message was hopeful but was also a call for continued action. It not only came at the closing of the conference but in the middle of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The games became a flashpoint for human and LGBT rights after controversial policies and comments began coming out of Russia. In June, it became illegal to provide minors information about ”non-traditional” sexuality in the country.

Later, the mayor of Sochi said no gay people lived in the city. Coupled with other statements and positions by Russian officials, human rights groups have worked to bring greater awareness to LGBT rights in Russia. On Monday, the Guardian reported that Vladimir Luxuria, a former Italian MP and the first openly transgender member of parliament in Europe, was arrested in Sochi for displaying a banner that read “Gay is OK” in Russian.

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