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June 19, 2013

Kerry Speech Recommits U.S. to Protecting Rights of LGBT Individuals

On Wednesday, John Kerry spent a good chunk of time on human rights. He delivered the keynote at a ceremony announcing the World Food Prize laureates, celebrating their achievements in increasing “food security through the responsible application of science.” Prior to that, the U.S. Secretary of State had instructed his Department to prepare a package of sanctions on China, Russia, and Uzbekistan for backsliding on human trafficking.

The Secretary also gave a speech (watch it here) on gay rights—his first major remarks on the subject since Mr. Kerry’s departure from the U.S. Senate, where he had built a strong reputation for seeking greater protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Now at State, John Kerry vows to improve the internal policies for gay employees and ensure that the U.S. deliver on the commitment to protect the rights of LGBT individuals around the world.

Secretary Kerry’s speech follows in the footsteps of President Obama, who—in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate and a crowd of six thousand in Berlin, Germany—said that, “When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well. We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness.” John Kerry underscored the president’s commitment to LGBT rights by reiterating the groundbreaking nature of the 2011 Presidential Memorandum on LGBT rights. Whatever progress we’ve seen is “just a start,” according to Kerry.

LGBT activists around the world should be able to look to the United States as a voice against the ongoing marginalization and bias-motivated violence targeting their community. The ability of LGBT persons to exercise their fundamental human rights is undercut in many parts of the world by outright government persecution, underhand municipal administrative restrictions, and non-state violence. Gay pride events, commonly used by activists to celebrate their identities and speak up about their rights, meet fierce opposition among governments bureaucrats and street bigots.

The encouraging words by America’s leaders should be fully reflected in government policies. In response to the challenges faced by LGBT people around the globe, the State Department should integrate the advancement of LGBT rights in its bilateral and multilateral relationships, by:

  • Challenging laws that criminalize same-sex relations.
  • Addressing impunity for violent acts targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Speaking out against acts of violence and equipping U.S. international law enforcement programs with the tools they need to provide assistance to foreign governments in combating bias-motivated violence.
  • Supporting increased capacity for civil society and other local actors to assist LGBT people with emergency protection needs and raise the profile of these groups by arranging meetings with them when U.S. delegations from the U.S. State Department travel abroad, especially at the highest levels.
  • Providing direct assistance to LGBT people, including refugees, facing immediate risks of violence and assisting individuals who cannot be protected with the country.
  • Mainstreaming the protection of LGBT people into related State Department funding, development and other initiatives.

As President Obama said today, “Peace with justice begins with the example we set here at home, for we know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice.  Whether it’s based on race, or religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are stronger when all our people – no matter who they are or what they look like – are granted opportunity.”

Today’s remarks show that President Obama and Secretary Kerry know their role in advancing LGBT rights so that justice and tolerance for all people are a reality around the world. Let’s see how they work with activists around the world to make things better.