Telephonic Media Briefing with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry

January 27, 2016


Africa Regional Media Hub Telephonic Media Briefing with 

U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry

U.S. Department of State

January 27, 2016

Briefing on Visit to Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, January 18-27, 2016 and U.S. Leadership in Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons across Africa and Globally

Date: 01/27/2016 Description: U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry - State Dept Image

 

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Transcript

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the continent, and media gathered at our various missions in Africa.  Today, we are joined by Randy Berry, U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.  Special Envoy Berry is speaking to us from Johannesburg, South Africa.  

 

We will begin with remarks from Special Envoy Berry, and then we will open it up to your questions.  For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue.  If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1.  For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email, and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to afmediahub@state.gov.  If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the #LGBTI and follow us on @africamediahub.  Today’s call is on the record, and will last approximately forty-five minutes.  And with that, I will turn it over to Special Envoy Berry.  Welcome.

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Great, thank you.  Thank you, Tiffany.  I am really pleased to be here.  And to all of the journalists on line, welcome, and I am really happy to have the chance to talk a little bit about the work that we are doing globally on behalf of the interests of the LGBTI community.  I know that there is going to be a specific interest in some of the meetings that I have been having here in Africa, and some general views therein, but I wanted to start out by talking a little bit about the policy and about the activity that the United States is engaged in on this essential issue.

 

Back in 2011, the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, established the first framework for us to engage from the U.S. State Department on the issue of human rights for LGBTI persons, with an initiative and a keynote speech that was given in Geneva, and then established Lifeline: Embattled Civil Society Organisations Assistance Fund [corrected from the recorded “a civil society assist fund] that exists to this day.  So that was the beginning, the origin, of the policy framework for the United States.  And really, it was a pretty modest concept, and a pretty easy one to understand, and that is that LGBTI rights are human rights, human rights are LGBTI rights, that it’s at the core of our human rights policy, more broadly writ, and that very much is the context from which we approach our work.  

 

Over the years between 2011 and this year, or sorry, early last year in 2015 when I joined this initiative as the Special Envoy, there has been a gradually escalating level of engagement, a level of discussion and involvement on this key issue.  Back in April of this year, I took seat in my office in Washington D.C., and at the request of the President and the Secretary of State, began a series of consultations around the world that is really intended to begin a conversation.  And I think that that is an important key that I will probably come back to, is to begin a conversation on the essential nature of our conversation.  And here in Africa, and anywhere else, the core of that discussion ultimately is a discussion about equality and dignity under the law, under the Constitution of many different jurisdictions around the world.  

 

I believe that there is a willingness, a desire sometimes, to portray our work somehow as focusing on a special right, a special category that members of the community should be involved in, but in fact, that couldn’t be further than the truth.  That what we are doing is really looking at this as a core human rights issue, a core issue of equality that is essentially no different from forms of discrimination or violence that is aimed at on the basis of gender, on the basis of racial or ethnic identity, other immutable parts of what makes a person a person.  

 

There is also, I think, sometimes a tendency to presume that we are out there actively agitating, that we are out there actively pushing governments and societies to adopt a form of civil marriage or same-sex marriage.  That also is not core to our policy.  We have two key components to the policy and they are, and please remember this, violence and discrimination, that we are working globally to see where we can work with our partners in government, in civil society, in media, with business, religious leaders, and traditional leaders, to decrease those key levels of violence.  And it really is no more aggressive than that key context. 

 

So in that framework, I began traveling.  I am here in South Africa today.  South Africa is the thirty-sixth sovereign entity, country, that I have travelled in to have these conversations.  And I will tell you that I am ever more hopeful, I am ever more convinced of the utility of engaging in these conversations to produce a greater awareness, I believe, of the issue.  So I will stop there with a basic summary and see what kind of questions you have.

 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you, Special Envoy Berry.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, which is Envoy Berry’s visit to Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, and U.S. leadership in advancing the human rights of LGBTI persons across Africa, and globally.  

 

Our first question was submitted by email.  This question comes from a journalist at the listening party in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Mr. Manjakahery Tsiresena, a freelancer and a stringer for AFP, asked, “What is the foundation of the rights of LGBTI persons?  Is it sexual freedom or the rights of minorities?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Essentially, I believe it is more closely affiliated with the latter, but ultimately it has to do...it spurs off of something more fundamental, and that is the foundation is, in fact, the concept, the belief, that all persons were created equal, and that as such they are entitled to equal protections, to equal access of opportunity, equal access to healthcare, equal access to the same elements that make up a productive life, as any other person in that society.  So really, it comes down to that issue of equality and dignity under the law.  

 

Now, you referenced in your question the reference to rights of minorities.  What I do find is that oftentimes discrimination that is based on, that stems from this difference, also it is really impossible to disconnect that from other types of discrimination against members of minority communities, whether that has to do with ethnic minorities, religious minorities, or others.  So I think those things are connected, but ultimately, at the end of the day, it is about an issue of equality.

 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Our next question is from Kobby Gomez-Mensah from Starr FM in Accra, Ghana.  He is on the line and has a question.  Operator, can you open the line, please?

 

OPERATOR:  Kobby, please go ahead with your question.

 

MEDIA:  My question, basically, is whether countries that have laws prohibiting gay and lesbian activity, what would the United States do about that?  Because if there are laws prohibiting their activities in the first place, then one may not be able to act.

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Thank you for the question.  That is one that we talk about a great deal.  In seventy-five countries around the world, including forty within the commonwealth, the relationship within the commonwealth, have some form of legal penalty for same-sex activity or for same-sex relationships, including a small handful that levy the harshest type of penalty for members of the community, and that is death.

 

I believe that ultimately it is about the conversation, that clearly we believe in the United States that criminalizing persons based on a fundamental part of their identity, in fact, is a violation of human rights.  It is going to take some time I think, in a pragmatic sense, to engage in a conversation to see what can happen, to have a discussion about whether or not these types of laws have a place in our world today.  Certainly, from my point of view, they do not.  

 

But what we are dealing with are sovereign jurisdictions.  In many, many countries there are national processes and dialogues that have to take place.  But what I am most interested in is the role that the United States can play in beginning that conversation.  And I don’t think this is too unreasonable.  I think that the fact that we can actually have a rational, coherent, quiet conversation is really important.  I worry sometimes that there is a tendency to get very, very emotional, to get very heated up about all of the ramifications if there is a greater appreciation for the rights of the community.  

 

Some things I hear frequently are in fact that if these laws were to be abolished, if there were an allowance for people to live freely, that in fact there would be serious ramifications for a society.  And I would agree that in fact there are serious ramifications, but they are positive ones.  I think for countries that have taken that step, they see that in fact they get stronger through an embrace of all that makes them a country, a people, a society.  I think they understand that that strength then can turn into some wonderful embraces and progress for the good of society.  

 

The concept...the question often gets asked of me, in fact, that if you let these laws drop away, then you are promoting homosexuality, or you are creating homosexuals, or lesbians, or transgender people in your society.  And I really think that is a silly question because we know...we know for a fact, that these...this is a key marker of identity.  This is not a learned behavior, it is not somehow produced by external forces; this is how people are born.  And once we get around to contending with that notion, then I think there is a much greater optic, a much greater ability to talk about this.  

 

So frequently what you see is not more...the question is not whether or not these people exist in your society.  They always have, they do, and they always will.  The conversation that we are interested in having is what we do as responsible, progressive polities to make sure that everyone has a fair and equal shot at success in their society.

 

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much.  Our next question was submitted by email from Bridget Mananavire of the Daily News in Zimbabwe.  She asks, “Zimbabwe has in the past refused to entertain any kind of engagement in relation to LGBTI rights.  What is the U.S. position on that?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Well, I think it is regrettable.  I think that Zimbabwe poses a particular challenge right now.  But the essence of a conversation is that there have to be two parties to that, and we are very interested in having that calm, rational conversation about the issues at hand.  I think that is how countries relate to one another, I think that is how societies relate to one another, and I think as long as we can keep our focus on issues of identity, equality, and sharing views, that is how international relationships work.  So whether it is Zimbabwe, or whether it is other jurisdictions around the world that would prefer not to engage on these issues, of course you can’t force someone to the table to have these conversations, but I do believe that there is inherent in a conversation a productivity to at least getting the issues out.

 

In so many places a discussion of these issues tends to be treated as sort of taboo, and it is frequently pointed out to me, whether it is in Africa or in other places around the world, that, “Our society is not ready for these conversations,” or, “We just don’t talk about these things.”  And my response to that is really, in the United States thirty years ago, we didn’t either.  But you only break a taboo once, and I think there is nothing so frightening to this conversation except to understand that when we are talking about members of the LGBTI community, we are simply talking about your brothers and sisters, your aunts and uncles, your coworkers, your teachers, your doctors, and do we have the capacity as human beings to embrace them and let them live freely?  That is what the conversation is about, whether it is in Zimbabwe, or any other country around the world.

 

MODERATOR: Great, thank you.  Just as a reminder to our listeners, to ask a question please press *1 on your phone.  Please state your name and affiliation before asking your question.  Our next question was also submitted by email from Jacob Nankhonya of Nation Publications Ltd. in Malawi.  He asks Envoy Berry, “I would like to find out the impressions you have of LGBTI rights in the countries that you have visited recently?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Thank you, Jacob, for that question.  I have had a really wonderful couple of weeks in a part of the world that I used to call home when I was posted in South Africa for the United States Government years ago.  So I have had the opportunity to have a really excellent range of meetings with representatives of government, civil society, and media in Malawi, in Botswana, in Namibia, and here in South Africa.  I would say the same of these four interactions the same thing that I would say in a global sense, and that I come away from them ever more hopeful that it is possible to have a rational conversation, and that I believe, in all of these countries, there are seeds of hope, some greater than others, about the global movement that I see.

 

In the thirty-six countries that I have visited so far, I have yet to find one where I am deeply disturbed by something that is happening, because even though I don’t want to discount for a moment the challenge that many individuals face in a number of countries, especially when we look at issues of violence that is perpetrated against persons based simply on their identity.  And let me be clear, this happens in every country.  It happens here in South Africa, it happens in Malawi, it happens in Namibia and Botswana, but it also still happens in the U.K., it still happens in Sweden, and it still happens in the United States.  So this is a global issue of global importance.  So the context of these conversations within these four southern African countries I have had the privilege to visit these last couple of weeks has been consistent.

 

I think that wherever you see a certain set of dynamics present, I am ever hopeful.  One is where you have a government that has the ability not only to have a constructive conversation about these issues of equality, and all of these are a little bit unique because they have to do with the constitution and the legal framework that each individual country has, where you have that government playing a responsive role in terms of interacting with members of civil society, and where you have civil society with space enough to do their fundamental work, which is to educate people.  

 

I have said very frequently that I think that the problem that we face in a global sense is one of ignorance and non-exposure. That I think once people begin to understand through personal contact, they will see the essential humanity of the argument here.  

 

And the third part I would mention, and it is significant for the audience that we have on line today, is the role that the media can play.  Because I think once you have a responsible media that can actually report, and inform, and educate, rather than sensationalize or attempt to titillate a population of their readers, if you have those three elements present, I think anything is possible.  Because what you have is the capacity to present the human face, you have the vehicle for reporting it fairly, and you have a government that is sensitive and responsive to the demands of its citizenry.  And realizing that we are starting from a very low baseline in some places that, to me, is the key for success.  And I see in all three of those countries that I visited, with government representatives, I found them to be sensitive to the issues, wanting to engage very clearly, aware of the issues that are facing civil society, and also fundamentally aware of the role that the media has to play. So after these consultations I am quite hopeful.  

 

I might just reserve one special comment for South Africa, since that is where we are seated today.  And I would tell you that South Africa really grabbed the attention of the world during its constitution drafting process by being the first the first country to provide these basic protections at a constitutional level.  I think that is incredible.  I think also that the legal framework in South Africa has traditionally provided a significant degree of freedom, but I think this is an unfinished business, and I think it is an unfinished business in just about any country.  So I think that really the challenge that comes down to any of us, whether we represent government, civil society, or media, is to really think, how can we advance the conversation, how can we how can we engage in an honest and transparent way, just so we understand what the key issues are?  

 

One thing that pains me greatly, and I will mention this in the context of media as well, is I think a real disservice is done sometimes when media tries to report on these issues in the most sensational way possible, and somehow reduces the human beings that are attached to the other end of these stories to somehow a one or two dimensional character, or to some cartoonish figure.  I think that is dishonest, because there are, at the end of the day when we are talking about violence or discrimination against members of the community, there is a human being attached to the other end of that.  That is somebody’s child, that is somebody’s brother or sister, and I think we always have to be mindful of them.

 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  Another question, “What can the U.S. government do to assist LGBTI activists, individuals, or NGOs that help them, in the many African nations that have laws or practices that are highly discriminatory toward LGBTI persons?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  I think there are several ways in which we engage here.  Again, going back to the basic nature of a conversation is, I find the consultation with civil society actors, especially in some of the more challenging jurisdictions, to be a deeply motivating one because this is incredibly hard work, the people that are standing up in these societies, and sometimes among the first in their society to say, essentially, “I am gay, I am not ashamed of who I am, and all I would like, please, is to be treated as an equal citizen of this country.”  Again, I do not think that is too much to ask.  

 

And I think we in the U.S. have a responsibility to engage with these people, also to help them understand that there are vibrant civil societies working on this issue everywhere around the world, and that it may seem very isolating sometimes if you are in a difficult environment.  And I think one of the pleasures I have is to be able to visit a place, to listen to some of the good work that has been done, to learn about that, and then have the ability to make connections with other civil society organizations around the world that are facing some of the same challenges, and again to see how we can really understand the pressures that a society faces.

 

So one of the principles, the core principle in fact, that I am bringing to this work, that the State Department has brought to this work, operates under the banner of, as it relates to civil society, of do no harm.  We always want to make sure that through all of our efforts we are looking at the wellbeing of civil society to do their work, because that is the only way change occurs.  Change is not going to occur because the United States wants it to or says it should.  That change comes through the efforts of those people working indigenously within their societies to produce a more equitable framework for its citizens.  We have an obligation, I believe, to honor that, to support it, to speak and act on behalf of those values.   But I would mention that “do no harm” doesn’t mean, do nothing, because I always think that there is room for a space for conversation.

 

Also, one of the more tangible ways, also, that we can interact with civil society is, again, by sharing best practices that we see, is by establishing those links so that groups working on similar sets of issues have the chance to consult.  We also adjudicate a fund on behalf of a consortium of twenty different entities, eleven national governments, and a number of private sector and foundation supports, through something called the Global Equality Fund.  This was stood up in 2011, and it was designed to provide targeted support to civil society organizations simply so they can do their work.  So we have found that to be an effective mechanism, and it really enables folks to organize and begin to have those rational conversations.  

 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  Again a reminder, to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone, state your name and affiliation before asking your question.  Our next question was submitted by email, again, from Mr. Manjakahery Tsiresena from the U.S. Embassy listening party in Antananarivo, Madagascar.  He asks, “How can you protect LGBTI’s rights while preserving at the same time the morals and customs of society?  Or does it belong to the majority to accept the wishes of the minority?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  That is an excellent point, and we do have conversations about this.  Let’s talk, I think, about what is truly moral.  Is it moral to, for example, deny a person their equal rights based on a completely immutable part of their character?  Is it moral to promote discrimination, to promote violence against members of this community based on something that people, frankly, cannot control?  Does custom trump the rights of people to live free and equal?  I think that is at the core of morality.  I think I understand the use of that word, sometimes, counter to I think a conversation on this issue, but in fact, I think if we look at a deeper sense of morality we are going to see that that has to do with treating people with equal dignity and respect.  

 

Any society, anywhere, including my own, has traditions and has customs, and I don't ever want to dismiss that.  I think that these are parts that make up the identity of our society at large.  But I don’t think that, when you come to an understanding of the fact that we are talking about an immutable part of a person’s identity, when we are talking about issues of violence and discrimination, when we are talking about a core human rights issue, these are not culturally defined.  I think that is not part of the conversation.  These are not customary or traditional.  

 

But we have had some discussion about this, even as the conversation evolved in the United States, that tradition, itself, doesn’t mean...none of our societies are completely unchangeable.  Of course, our societies are changing all the time, and I think that we need to allow them the flexibility and the understanding here.  I really think that when we look at any country where there has been progress on this or any other issue, that we can't hide behind those false pretenses of denying basic equality to citizens.  

 

Let me use a case in the United States.  I mean, if you took another element of identity, a marker of identity, and I will mention two in the U.S., issues of gender equality and issues of racial equality in the U.S., as well.  If we had hidden behind, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the notion that, no, no, it’s just part of our culture that men and women are unequal, that women shouldn’t have the right to vote, that women shouldn’t have the same access to legal structures, the gender rights movement, the equality movement, that then blossomed in the U.S. would never have happened if we had restricted our conversation there.

 

Likewise, I think there is a great respect here in Africa, and certainly there is in my country these days, about all of what Dr. Martin Luther King worked for and brought to our society.  That again, he challenged the notion at the time that this was okay, that discrimination based on race, another fundamental marker of reality, somehow he challenged that notion that this was okay.  

 

And I think probably the same arguments about this being an issue of tradition were raised back then.  But that is the nature of civil society and it’s the nature of change that our societies grow stronger when we have people simply looking at something that doesn't make sense, or looks inherently unequal, and say, this is wrong and we need to have a conversation about how to change it.  So I encourage a conversation on morals, absolutely, because this is where I think the crux of our argument lies.

 

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much.  The next question, “Do you feel the tide is turning against or for more tolerance and legal protection of LGBTI persons on the continent?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  I think the trend is absolutely one towards greater appreciation and greater freedoms.  I think it would be easy to overstate that, and I think that it wouldn’t honor the very difficult circumstances that many people certainly face in their daily lives.  But I do believe that having this real honor of traveling in thirty-six countries in every part of the world over these months, is to witness something that I think is truly remarkable, and that is a global evolution, a global conversation.  And to see the progression of the conversation that is taking place in South America is extraordinary, and that’s taking place in Central America, also extraordinary.  Do I wish it would move faster?  Absolutely, I do.  I think that would be the best thing for us all.  But these things will take their own course.  

 

But I do believe that if you look at this in global terms, what we are seeing are really tens, hundreds, thousands, millions of points of hope and light, and they are civil society workers, human rights defenders, all around the world, they are progressive folks in government who are acting as a responsible and trusting entity on the other side of the fence, they are those folks in media who will tell a story of violence and discrimination for what it is, and that is something deeply tragic in our society, rather than promoting violence, or talking about this somehow as a defense of the traditional values of our country.  I think that there is still a long, long way to go, and I would expect that we will be having aspects of this conversation for many years to come, but these are issues of gradual change, and I think the trend, the movement, is truly positive. 

 

I mean, let’s look at another issue of change that has taken place in my own country, and that is, I referred earlier to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Now, his work, I think, was so critical to advancements in my own society, but does that mean these days that we don’t have issues involving racism in our own country?  Of course it doesn’t, of course these remain challenges for us, of course we have to remain vigilant to make sure that those aspirational words that Dr. King shared so generously with our country before he was so tragically murdered, is to honor that and to keep working at that, and make sure that we understand that equality, whether it is under South Africa’s Constitution or under the United States’ Constitution, that we have a responsibility to make sure that is real.  And that is never going to be a perfect equation, but I do think that the struggle...I think that the work in that direction is deeply important.

 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you very much.  Our next question is, “Do you agree with those who say that the United States is imposing its cultural norms on countries that are traditionally intolerant of LGBTI rights?

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Well of course I wouldn’t be doing this work if I thought that were true.  Again, I think we are looking at core issues of equality that are truly universal, that we all, for most countries around the world, we have committed ourselves to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  And universal means universal.  It doesn’t mean situational, it doesn’t mean applicable to only one part of the world.    

 

I think one question that I do sometimes get is a question about the United States’ own difficult path to greater equality, and whether or not that makes the United States the right partner to engage in this conversation.  And in fact, I think that makes us perfectly well positioned to have this conversation, because when we talk about the issues at hand that really form part of the basis of the struggle, we know what we are talking about because we have walked that path.  The first steps for the rights movement in the U.S. came in the late 1960s through the Stonewall riots.  That was more than forty-five years ago.  It took us a long time to really engage in a manner, and really deepen an understanding of the core values here.  We know what that struggle feels like.  

 

I know, as a gay man growing up in the seventies and eighties in the U.S., what that struggle was like.  I understand what it feels like to be...to have someone discount your contributions on the basis of your sexual orientation.  And then, so do so many of my brothers and sisters.  So I think that that makes us rather an authentic point of contact on these issues because this is territory that we have walked, and we have walked it fairly recently.  

 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  We have time for just one last question, and to that I will refer to Bridget Mananavire again from the Daily News in Zimbabwe.  She asks, “I noticed that Zimbabwe was not among the countries visited by the envoy.  Is the reason in any way linked to the harsh stance taken by the government against the LGBTI community?”

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  It isn’t.  The inability to visit Zimbabwe at this time merely is a limitation of time and space, and that I travel a substantial part of my time.  In fact, I am going back to Washington this evening, and I am only back for two days before I commence a six country visit in East Asia to have these same conversations.  We are engaging in some very tough places around the world, and we are finding good partners there.  So the issue of Zimbabwe or any other place I think that poses a particular challenge, we really value the conversation and will continue to engage in those as those limitations of time and space will allow.

 

MODERATOR: Great, thank you.  Well, that was our final question.  Special Envoy Berry, did you have any final words before we close the call?

 

SPECIAL ENVOY BERRY:  Just to really focus on a key issue, and I am sorry if I am coming back to something that I have already discussed, but I believe very, very firmly on it.   I thank you for your interest in engaging with us today and sending in a few questions.  I believe that media has an absolutely critical role to play here, and I want to talk just a little bit about that.  In too many places, I have had the chance to see just how devastating to lives inaccurate reporting or somehow not taking into account this human element can actually be.   There are results to that.  

 

Likewise, I have had the chance to look at some really meaningful reporting, some really meaningful consideration and interaction with the LGBTI community, that has produced that kind of understanding that only comes through your influence with people in your country, can actually educate.  I think the media has historically played, in so many places, an absolutely key role about making sure people understand their rights and understand the evolution of our society.  But I think this is a hard one, particularly if you are reporting from a place where there is a great deal of stigma, to report in a way that is as helpful as it could be.  

 

And I think this is especially true if you don’t know members of the community in your country.  And I would really urge you to take a look at how you can engage with them.  There are some marvelous stories out there, and there are some tragic stories out there, but you have to be out there and engaging with the people.  And then I think also there is a role to challenge, to press, on this broader issue of equality, that so many of the countries in Africa really are founded on that principal of equality and dignity under the law.  Let’s make that real.  And I think that media has a key role to play there.

 

And then the other part that I would maybe close out on is really to share the view that I believe there is hope.  I often am asked what I believe success in this job would look like.  When I finish my work, how will I know that we have had some impact?  And I think there are several ways in which I can answer that, but I am going to answer it in the one that is closest, I think, to my heart, and I would hope you understand.  And that is that, at the end of the day, there is a degree of hope that I hope we can instill; a vision of what a future might look like if we can really commit ourselves to issues of equality.

 

There is a phenomenon in the U.S. that I am deeply disturbed to watch, that still remains a problem for us, and that is for members of the young LGBTI community, for those people who are just at the beginning of their life, and realizing that there is something fundamentally different about them, that in too many locations, from too many sources, they are told that they are an abomination, that they are not loved by their creator, that they are sick, and somehow need to be healed.  And I think it is devastating to me to understand how harmful that is to young people.  And I think what we have seen in my own country and many others is that the rates of self-harm and suicide by members of this community are much higher than their straight counterparts.  I think that is absolutely tragic, and the reason that happens is because we have collectively, as a society, failed to give them hope.  

 

I think we are all entitled to a basic fairness, we are all entitled to believe that our lives are going to be unique, and productive, and happy, and I think that if we get this piece right, we can make sure that we give that hope.  And I’m going to consider that a success.  If we see civil society actors standing up in a dozen, in twenty, in fifty countries world-wide, who are the first to be able to just be visible and public about who they are, for that young person who believes that their life is over at the age of seventeen or eighteen, they see an alternate outcome for their life.  They see a life that can be filled with hope and love.  

 

And I think, ultimately, that is what it is all about.  Again, I have been talking about the fact that the core of this discussion is really one of equality, but it is also one about love.  I mean, I frequently grapple with the concept somehow that people should be victimized on the basis of...in the context of a completely consensual adult relationship...should be stigmatized because they choose to love another person.  

 

MODERATOR:  Alright, that concludes today’s call.  I want to thank U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov.  Thank you, and goodbye.