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Coming Out or Staying In? Depends Where You’re Going.

Stonewall placard, courtesy of Helen Rickard/flickr

Last week, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, Europe’s first openly gay foreign minister, said he would not take his partner along on official trips to countries where homosexuality is a prosecutable crime. Westerwelle, who is also Germany’s vice-chancellor, told the magazine Bunte that it is important that he and his partner “live according to our own measures of tolerance and that we do not adopt the sometimes less tolerant measures of others.” At the same time, he and his partner wish to “promote the concept of tolerance in the world … but do not want to achieve the opposite by behaving imprudently.” This strategy of problem avoidance became apparent when Mr Westerwelle made official visits to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and left his partner back in Berlin.

It is understandable that Mr Westerwelle does not wish to be reduced to his sexuality. As the German foreign minister, he cannot allow his sexuality to stand in the way of healthy foreign relations for his country.  However, traveling without his partner, and thus shunning the subject altogether, will not make him any more nor less gay. Nor will it change the way his host countries will perceive – or treat – him. So while the German Republic places the promotion of human rights at the core of its foreign policy, the foreign minister himself is exhibiting a strange tolerance towards the intolerant of this world.

There are currently at least 75 countries that prosecute gays and lesbians. Seven countries even treat homosexual activity as capital offence, namely Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Somalia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. In Iran alone, more than 4000 men who were allegedly or actually gay have been hanged over the past 30 years.

Westerwelle was elected foreign minister by the German voters. They obviously did not care whether he is gay or not. No government in the world opposed his election. Nor did anyone declare Mr Westerwelle a persona non grata in their country. And certainly nobody is suggesting to have him or his partner arrested on arrival. So why should Mr Westerwelle choose to hide his relationship?

Well, he should not. On the contrary, the time is ripe to stress the simple truth that gay rights are human rights. They belong to no region, are not “western values” and should be subordinated to no religion. Those who oppose them must be challenged. This is neither relativism nor ethnocentrism, it is rationality. The situation for homosexuals in those 75 countries only stands a chance of improving if their leaders are confronted with the normality of homosexuality whenever possible.

Mr Westerwelle should be a beacon of hope for all homosexuals – not the spearhead of cultural relativism.