Remarks at GLIFAA Pride

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 21, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Regina, thank you very much. Good morning to everybody. Regina is the first USAID officer to become president of GLIFAA, and I think everybody here will agree she is doing an outstanding job, so thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

I want to thank and congratulate at the same time Secretary Fanning. Thank you for your groundbreaking leadership, and we appreciate enormously what you are doing. Thank you for your words a moment ago. Thank you to Special Envoy Berry, who has been doing an outstanding job crisscrossing the world, and I’m proud of his efforts. Proud also of Assistant Secretary Starr. Thank you for your leadership and congratulations on an award well deserved today. And I’m particularly happy to be here with Walt, a friend of many years, and I appreciate his leadership and the engagement of the Atlantic Council in today.

Each speaker has recalled events that none of us can get out of our minds and probably won’t for a long period of time. The – not quite 10 days have passed since the early hours of June 12th in Orlando. And that is obviously not enough time for healing or for moving beyond the terrible realization that we are more shocked than truly surprised by the events of that morning. The memory of those who were lost will, above all, live on in the minds and the hearts of their loved ones long after the killer’s name is most likely forgotten. But as Stuart Milk put it, these victims of a hate crime targeting an LGBT club had their futures stolen, their dreams stolen, their future potential contributions stolen from us all in an abhorrent act that is a scar on some of our nation’s policies and certainly on our hopes and dreams.

No words can lift or enable us to get rid of this sense of tragedy, but I do think that our gathering today can help everyone to feel less alone, and I think it helps to know that acts of terror and hate rarely achieve their purpose beyond the immediate horror that they generate. And whether those actions stem from bigotry, insecurity, fear, or weakness, they are profoundly misguided – because they prompt people of good will to close ranks in opposition to the very viciousness and bile that the killers hope to spread. We saw that in Orlando – from the emergency responders, to city officials, the police, the average citizens who rushed to help, people who stayed to console, and vowed never, ever to give in to prejudice or hate. We saw it on Thursday with the President’s eloquent and compassionate remarks in Orlando. We saw it around the world in the many messages of solidarity that our country received from people in cities like Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Tokyo, Brasilia, Nairobi, and elsewhere – all of which have experienced their own days of terror and sorrow. We even saw it in New York at the UN Security Council, which for the first time explicitly condemned a hate crime based on sexual orientation – with Egypt and Russia among those supporting.

From Stonewall, to New Orleans, to Harvey Milk, to Matthew Shepard, to Orlando – the list of outrages committed against the LGBT community in our nation is long – too long. But those crimes have done nothing to prevent the historic gains that have been made in broadening anti-discrimination laws, legalizing gay marriage, exposing inequalities, and expanding public acceptance.

Now, all of us know that none of this progress would have been possible without courageous activists who stood against the tide and accomplished what, certainly in my political life and life I can remember a lot of people never thought would happen. This progress would not have been possible without organizations like GLIFAA.

And it wasn’t long ago that LGBT persons were banned not just from the military, as Eric talked about, but also from this very State Department. Today, we have eight openly gay ambassadors. It wasn’t long ago that our Diplomatic Security Bureau revoked clearances based on sexual orientation. Today, Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Greg Starr has volunteered to serve as the leadership liaison to GLIFAA. And we have hundreds of LGBT individuals in our bureaus at State, USAID, and posts around the world. And these men and women are not just great LGBT diplomats. They are great diplomats. And I want to thank them and the many more who are carrying the values of America to the world.

So we have come a long way. But make no mistake – every speaker has said it – we have a long way still to go, both here at home and around the world. In some 70 countries, LGBT status or conduct is still a crime. In more than 10, it is a capital crime.

So we have a distance to travel when, in April, gunmen burst into the apartment of a champion of human rights like Xulhaz Mannan, a local employee of our embassy in Bangladesh. Xulhaz was brutally murdered for being gay and for founding a magazine showing pride in that identity.

So we have to keep moving forward, and that is why we are engaged at every level of leadership – in Washington, through our embassies, with our global partners – in a concerted diplomatic effort to push back against bigotry, against violence in all of its forms. And we are particularly concerned about violence facing transgender persons, and we are taking steps with partners to reduce it.

It is why we’re giving our full support to a resolution before the UN Human Rights Council that seeks to establish and report on a mechanism to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. It’s why Ambassador Power will lead the U.S. delegation to an upcoming major LGBT rights summit to take place in Montevideo.

And it’s why, last year, I appointed Randy Berry as the first-ever U.S. special envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons. Randy has traveled to more than 43 countries promoting our message, including societies where that message is far from welcome, because those are precisely the countries that most need to hear that message. Our expectations, I think, are realistic, our language diplomatic, but our determination in support of equality is absolute. As Winston Churchill advised, “There is only one duty, one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right.”

We’re also doubling down on the Global Equality Fund, a groundbreaking partnership between governments, corporations, and foundations. And since 2011 – excuse me – the fund has provided help to partners in more than 80 countries who are advocating for legal reforms and social justice.

We’re also continuing to address challenges that many face as representatives of our government. I know that many of your family members have been denied diplomatic visas and accreditation by certain countries. And that is why I sent instructions worldwide, directing ambassadors to engage host countries at the highest levels on the specific issue of obtaining diplomatic visas and full privileges and immunities for all of our family members – no exclusions. And it is why we recently launched a LGBT working group on diplomatic accreditation.

The department and GLIFAA are also taking concrete steps on other personal issues. This past year, for example, FSI and GLIFAA introduced an online course to broaden education and awareness of LGBTI concerns. And GLIFAA and MED are working together to improve department medical services for transgender employees and candidates.

So we are moving steadily forward. And as each speaker I think has said, we underscore, even as we celebrate and come here to mark pride, our work has to go on and is far from complete. The fight is not yet won, but we should never, ever forget the distance we have traveled. We should never forget what makes America different from almost every other nation. It’s not a common bloodline, folks, or a common religion, or a common ideology, in many places forced on people, or even a common heritage. What makes us different is that we are united by an uncommon idea – the idea that we are all created equal and we are all endowed with inalienable rights.

That’s what defines America. It’s what makes us different from any other country on the face of this planet. It’s worth fighting for. That is the principle that defines us and it is, in the end, what pride means – to speak out for equality, to show solidarity in the cause, and to stand up and say loudly and clearly: No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you. Happy Pride to everyone and thank you once again. (Applause.)