2011 Celebration of LGBT Pride Month
Secretary of State
Well, this is an especially momentous and extraordinary time for us to meet for the State Department’s annual Pride celebration, the third event we’ve had here at State since I became Secretary, and the first following the historic vote in New York, which I think gives such visibility and credibility to everything that so many of you have done over so many years, because I look out at this audience and I see a lot of familiar faces of people who have been on the frontlines for many years and have worked so diligently and smartly for the progress that we are seeing.
I do want to recognize, in addition to John, Patrick, and Arturo, who have already been mentioned, Under Secretary Otero and Assistant Secretary Posner and USAID Deputy Director Steinberg and Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer and all who have led our efforts, including Counselor Mills, to protect the rights and well-being of LGBT people worldwide. And I thank Jon Tollefson and GLIFAA for being an invaluable partner in coordinating personnel and policy matters here at State. I’m very honored to receive this award. It really belongs to all of you and so many others in recognition of the work that we’ve had the opportunity to do together to advance equality around the world.
It is an inspiration, however, to keep working, because we have a long way to go toward a world that affords all people the respect, dignity, and equality that they are entitled to. So in that vein, I wanted to share just a few stories from the past year that I hope will keep us going because they are stories of perseverance and creativity by our Foreign Service officers and civil servants who are representing the United States.
In Honduras, as many of you know, anti-gay violence increased significantly in 2009 and 2010. More than 30 LGBT people were murdered and the investigations into those crimes appeared to be going nowhere. Then our Embassy team got involved. They publicly called on the Honduran Government to solve the murders, bring the perpetrators to justice, do more to protect all Hondurans from harm. Soon after, the government announced it was creating a taskforce to investigate and prevent hate crimes. And with the help of a United States prosecutor and detective, which our Embassy arranged to be made available to assist in this effort, we are making progress. And I particularly want to thank and recognize Assistant Secretary Valenzuela, because it was his leadership on this issue that really made a difference.
In Slovakia, the country’s first-ever Pride parade last year ended in violence. So this year, our Embassy staff worked overtime to help make the parade a success. They brought together more than 20 chiefs of mission from other nations to sign a public statement of support for the march. They hosted a respectful, productive debate on LGBT rights. And on the day of the parade, our ambassador marched in solidarity right next to the mayor of Bratislava.
And then there is the work that our Embassy team in Rome has been doing. Two weeks ago, they played an instrumental role in bringing Lady Gaga to Italy for a EuroPride concert. (Laughter.) Now, as many of you know, Lady Gaga is Italian American and a strong supporter of LGBT rights. And the organizers of the EuroPride event desperately wanted her to perform, and a letter to her from Ambassador Thorne was instrumental in sealing the deal. Over 1 million people attended the event, which included powerful words in support of equality and justice.
And then there is the tremendous work that our diplomats have been doing in regional and international institutions to strengthen a shared consensus about how governments should treat their citizens. And we’ve made the message very consistent and of a high priority. All people’s rights and dignity must be protected whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In March, President Obama and Brazilian President Rousseff announced their shared support for the creation of a special rapporteur for LGBT rights within the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. And we have our Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs and our permanent mission to the OAS to thank for that.
Also in March, the United States led a major effort at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to get other countries to sign on in support of a statement on ending violence and criminalization based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the end, 85 countries signed the statement, 18 more than ever had signed onto any previous UN statement on LGBT rights.
And in the very next session of the Human Rights Council, just two weeks ago after another major push by American diplomats in Geneva as well as our teams from IO, DRL, EUR, WHA, and other bureaus, the Council passed the first ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of LGBT people worldwide. And it was especially meaningful that we had South Africa cosponsoring that resolution with us. And with that we took a huge step forward in our work to refute the hateful suggestion that LGBT people are somehow exempt from human rights protections, and we made it absolutely clear that, so far as the United States is concerned and our foreign policy, and our values - that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.
Now, it is not just momentous achievements like the Human Rights Council resolution that contribute to progress; it is the day-to-day work of our embassies and AID missions around the world to increase engagement around the issues affecting LGBT rights, especially in those places where people are at risk of violence, discrimination, or criminalization. That’s a concern that Johnnie Carson, our assistant secretary for African Affairs, who is currently on travel to Africa, raises regularly with his African leader counterparts; the op-ed that our ambassador to Barbados wrote in support of LGBT rights; the work that our Eric Schwartz, our assistant secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration is doing to lead the training of humanitarian workers to better protect and assist LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; the discussions that undersecretary Maria Otero led about the human rights of LGBT people in our first Global Issues Dialogue with Norway.
And so I want to applaud all of our diplomats and our development experts who continue to reach out to those advocating around the world in Uganda, Malawi, Russia, Turkey, China, and so many other places. Our colleagues are meeting with human rights activists, health authorities, youth activists, sex workers, the full range of people who are involved in and working to protect LGBT people’s rights and lives. This is people-to-people diplomacy at its best.
Now, all this progress is worth celebrating, but we cannot forget how much work lies ahead. Because let’s just face the facts: LGBT people in many places continue to endure threats, harassment, violence – including sexual violence – in public and private. They continue to flee their homes and nations and seek asylum because they are persecuted for being who they are. They continue to be targeted for trying to build public support through pride activities such as parades. And what we have long thought is becoming the case, and that is if we can convince people to speak out about their own personal experiences, particularly within their own families, it does begin to change the dialogue.
If you followed closely, which I’m sure all of you did, the debate in New York, one of the key votes that was switched at the end was a Republican senator from the Buffalo area who became convinced that it was just not any longer fair for him to see one group of his constituents as different from another. Senators stood up and talked about nieces and nephews and grandchildren and others who are very dear to them, and they don’t want them being objectified or discriminated against. And from their own personal connections and relationships, they began to make the larger connection with somebody else’s niece or nephew of grandchild and what that family must feel like.
So we have to continue to stand up for the rights and the well-being of LGBT people, and sometimes it’s hard when you’re in the middle of a long campaign to see where you’re getting. But I’ve always believed that we would make progress because we were on the right side of equality and justice. Life is getting better for people in many places, and it will continue to get better thanks to our work. So I ask all of you to look for ways to support those who are on the front lines of this movement, who are defending themselves and the people they care about with great courage and resilience. This is one of the most urgent and important human rights struggles of all times. It is not easy, but it is so rewarding.
Pride month is a time for gratitude, for joy, and of course, for pride – pride in ourselves, in our families and friends, in our colleagues, in our community. And at the State Department, there are so many reasons for pride, and the same is true for all of our foreign affairs agencies represented here, from AID to the Peace Corps and others, because we do have so many talented people, and we have so many who are LGBT serving our nation with honor, courage, and skill. And shortly, our military partners will be able to say the same.
So think of the amazing work that has been done in the last year or two, because it truly is a great tribute to those who have fought for these rights, for those who have sacrificed for them, and mostly for our country, because it is our country and our values that truly are being put at the forefront.
And so I say to all of you, thank you. You make our country proud and you make me proud as the Secretary of State to work with you and serve with you every day. But please don’t forget that for every proud moment we can share together, there are so many around the world who live in fear, who live in shame, who live in such difficult circumstances. And our work must continue until they have the same opportunity that all of you and so many other Americans have, which is to be recognized for who you are and to be given the respect that you so richly deserve.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)