Remarks By Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl D. Mills At Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Event

Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 23, 2009

Thank you very much, John, and thank you, Michelle, and we won’t say who was actually twisting her arm. You know, Richard Holbrooke was with her when she fell, as you all know. (Laughter.) But I would never say that about Richard. I want the record to reflect I love him.

First, on behalf of Secretary Clinton, I am honored to be here today and to celebrate LGBT Pride Month with members of the State Department family and representatives with so many other government agencies where gays and lesbians are serving with dedication and distinction and commitment. And I know that the Secretary was personally, personally saddened that she couldn’t be here today, and I thought it was important to share that with you and also to make sure that I was here to be able to speak at least half for her. As you all know, it’s hard to speak for her.

I want to thank the members of the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies as well as the Office of Civil Rights for all the work that you all are doing every day, and not just in organizing these types of events to properly commemorate and celebrate appropriate occasions like this, but also to promote equality and justice here in Washington, but also around the world.

We are meeting at a very critical time in the history of gay rights. We can celebrate past accomplishments, but there is also so much work that still needs to be done. Forty years ago, as Michelle alluded to, the gay rights movement began with the Stonewall rebellion in New York City where gays and lesbians decided that there needed to be an end to the persecution that they had long endured. And Secretary Clinton observed in a recent statement today that that fight has grown into a global movement with communities on every continent standing together against violence and fear that are a daily part of the life for gays and lesbians in too many parts of the world.

The persecution of gays and lesbians is a violation of human rights. It must end. Secretary Clinton has pledged to advance a very comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. And she has already begun. With the strong support of the United States, she signed, we signed a UN declaration this March that condemns this type of violence and this type of discrimination.

As we stand for equality and opportunity around the world, there is much that we need to be doing here at home to better live up to the values that we hold so dear by honoring those who have carried forth our nation’s mission and our message, even though they have not always been treated equally by the government that they serve.

On behalf of the State Department, Secretary Clinton is profoundly grateful to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of all of our nation’s Foreign Service agencies, some of whom are here with us today. You and your families make sacrifices to serve your country. Your contributions are essential to establish stability, prosperity, and peace worldwide.

The recent changes to our government’s policies toward gay and lesbian employees are long, long overdue, and they are a reflection of the valuable work that you do. From the start of her tenure here at the State Department, Secretary Clinton pledged to work hard to end inequality in our workplace by extending benefits to same-sex couples. The new policies that President Obama announced last week rectify injustices that have been endured for far too long, and Secretary Clinton applauds his leadership on this issue.

Since the President announced these policies, we’ve heard from members of the Foreign Service from around the world who are appreciative that their families finally will be recognized and supported by the government that they serve.

One officer who wrote to Secretary Clinton said he had decided to retire after 20 years of service because, as he put it, he and his partner were tired of struggling with the bureaucracy that denied his existence. But now, they have reevaluated their plans and he is postponing his retirement, and we are all the better for his decision. As he wrote to the Secretary, quote, “This is not about the benefits themselves, which are, of course most welcome. It is also about the fact that my partner is now recognized and respected as an equal member of the Foreign Service family.” He then said, “P.S., by the way, Cheryl, I was in your law school class.” (Laughter.) I was very excited. But I won’t – you won’t get more there.

Stories like these are worth celebrating. But the road to full equality, as we all know, for LGBT Americans is long. There’s much to do, and there is so much more that we need to ensure that we are accomplishing to give everyone the equal chance to serve their country and support their families.

This month, as we recognize 40 years of a movement that has changed the nation, Secretary Clinton has called on all of us to recommit ourselves to achieving a world in which people can live safe, happy, and free lives without regard to who they love. Let us begin that today.

It is my great pleasure now to introduce a woman who has spent years serving the American people at Amtrak, at the Justice Department, at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She is a dear friend of Secretary Clinton, and she has been a wonderful public servant model and friend to me, Eldie Acheson. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2009/633