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US takes gay rights global, despite unsure welcome

BY VANESSA GERA
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WARSAW, Poland -- President Barack Obama's administration has taken the U.S. gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world as outposts in a struggle that still hasn't been won at home.

Sometimes U.S. advice and encouragement is condemned as unacceptable meddling. And sometimes it can seem to backfire, increasing the pressure on those it is meant to help.

With gay pride parades taking place in many cities across the world this weekend, the U.S. role will be more visible than ever. Diplomats will take part in parades and some embassies will fly the rainbow flag along with the Stars and Stripes.

The United States sent five openly gay ambassadors abroad last year, with a sixth nominee, to Vietnam, now awaiting Senate confirmation. American diplomats are working to support gay rights in countries such as Poland, where prejudice remains deep, and to oppose violence and other abuse in countries like Nigeria and Russia, where gays face life-threatening risks.

"It is incredible. I am amazed by what the U.S. is doing to help us," said Mariusz Kurc, the editor of a Polish gay advocacy magazine, Replika, which has received some U.S. funding and other help. "We are used to struggling and not finding any support."

Former President George W. Bush supported AIDS prevention efforts globally, but it was the Obama administration that launched the push to make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights an international issue. The watershed moment came in December 2011, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the United Nations in Geneva and proclaimed LGBT rights "one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time."

Since then, embassies have been opening their doors to gay rights activists, hosting events and supporting local advocacy work. The State Department has since spent $12 million on the efforts in over 50 countries through the Global Equality Fund, an initiative launched to fund the new work.

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