And the purpose of this occasion is to recognize with gratitude the contributions made by LGBT members of the State Department family every single day. We celebrate the progress that is being made here in our own country toward advancing the rights of LGBT Americans, and we recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done but that we are moving together in the right direction. And we reaffirm our commitment to protect and advance the rights of all human beings, as Cheryl just said, of members of the LGBT community around the world. I want to thank Administrator Raj Shah who we are so delighted, is leading USAID into a very positive future. I want to thank Eric Schwartz, who has traveled tirelessly on behalf of his bureau here at the State Department, dealing with population, refugees, migration. And I want to thank Bob Gilchrist, the outgoing GLIFAA president, for his leadership.
I look around this room and there are not only familiar faces, but there are some longtime friends whom I have had the great personal pleasure of knowing over the years. And I must say that knowing my friends who are here, and assuming much about many of you, I know that this occasion is really part of a deeply personal effort that has impacted lives and has helped to create, as Cheryl said, more space and time for people to lead their own lives. And people in this room – I know from experience – have marched in parades and demonstrations; have lobbied our government and other governments to overturn discriminatory laws; have demonstrated courage, both in public and private, to confront hatred and intolerance; and have helped to build a national movement that reflects the diversity of America.
I have been really moved and greatly motivated by the personal stories and the testimonies of so many whom I have known over so many years. Ten years ago, I was the first First Lady – that is often a phrase that I hear – I was the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade, and it was so much fun. (Applause.) And one or two of you marched with me and I am still grateful to you. (Laughter.) As a senator from New York, I was proud to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would grant equal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees; and the Matthew Shephard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law this year. (Applause.)
Now, we, though, in the State Department have to continue the work that many of you have begun and many of you carry on around the world. And I’m very proud that the United States, and particularly the State Department, is taking the lead to confront the circumstances that LGBT people face in just going about their daily lives. So as we enjoy today’s celebration and as we mark the progress that has been truly remarkable – I know that when you’re in the midst of a great movement of change it seems like it is glacial, but any fair assessment, from my perspective, having lived longer than at least more than 75 percent of you that I see in this room – (laughter) – is that it is extraordinary what has happened in such a short period of time.
But think about what’s happening to people as we speak today. Men and women are harassed, beaten, subjected to sexual violence, even killed, because of who they are and whom they love. Some are driven from their homes or countries, and many who become refugees confront new threats in their countries of asylum. In some places, violence against the LGBT community is permitted by law and inflamed by public calls to violence; in others, it persists insidiously behind closed doors.
These dangers are not “gay” issues. This is a human rights issue. (Applause.) Just as I was very proud to say the obvious more than 15 years ago in Beijing that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, well, let me say today that human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights, once and for all. (Applause.)
So here at the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We are elevating our human rights dialogues with other governments and conducting public diplomacy to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
Our Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor produces an annual Human Rights Report that include a section on how LGBT persons are treated in every country. And recently, that bureau announced a new grant to provide emergency aid to human rights defenders in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East who are at risk, either because they work on these issues or because of their LGBT status.
Our regional bureaus are working closely with our embassies on this issue. The Bureau of African Affairs has taken the lead by asking every embassy in Africa to report on the conditions of local LGBT communities. And I’m asking every regional bureau to make this issue a priority. (Applause.)
Today, we are joined by four human rights activists from Africa who are working to protect LGBT rights in their communities. I want to welcome them to the State Department and ask if they would stand: our four African activists. (Applause.) I thank you for the work you do, often in unfriendly, even dangerous circumstances, to advance the rights and dignity of all people.
Now, the United States is also focused on threats facing LGBT refugees. Eric Schwartz is working to increase protection for refugees who face persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Dr. Eric Goosby, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, is working to ensure that HIV prevention, treatment, and care are provided to all members of the LGBT population. For example, in the greater Mekong sub-region, we support the Purple Sky Network, which helps protect the health of gay men and transgender people who are too often overlooked or excluded from lifesaving social services.
And around the world, members of the U.S. Foreign Service continue to stand with LGBT communities in ways both large and small. There are two people who are not here that I want to mention and recognize, because they are indicative of both what people face as they fight for these rights and what our embassies and posts across the globe are doing to support them.
In Albania, a young man named Klodian Cela recently came out on a popular television program called Big Brother. Soon after, our ambassador, John Withers, went on television to publicly express support for this man. He visited his hometown and he invited him to an event at our Embassy, conveying to all Albanians that the United States supports his rights and respects his courage.
In Slovakia, at that nation’s first ever Pride Parade last month, our chargé, Keith Eddins, marched to represent the United States. There were anti-gay protestors who became violent and the police used tear gas, which our chargé and other diplomats were exposed to – a quite unpleasant experience, but in service to a just cause.
So as we continue to advance LGBT rights in other countries, we also must continually work to make sure we are advancing the agenda here.
At the State Department, USAID, and throughout the Administration, we are grateful for the contributions of all of our team. And I just want to say thank you, thank you to those of you who serve, thank you for doing so by being open and honest about who you are and helping others see the dignity and purpose of every individual. Our work is demanding and we need every person to give 100 percent. And that means creating an environment in which everyone knows they are valued and feels free to make their contribution.
Last year, I received a petition with more than 2,200 signatures supporting equal benefits to same-sex partners. And I was delighted that soon after, the President signed an executive order to that effect. This month, the Bureau of Consular Affairs issued new regulations making it easier for transgender Americans to amend their passports, ensuring dignified and fair processing. And today, I’m pleased to announce that for the first time, gender identity will be included along with sexual orientation in the State Department Equal Employee Opportunity Statement. (Applause.)
Now, we know that a lot of work lies ahead, and I really want to challenge each and every one of you. Whether you’re LGBT or not, if you’re here, you obviously care about or at least were curious enough to come, and therefore are exhibiting an interest in what we are attempting to achieve here. And in looking at you and seeing a group of accomplished, successful, well-educated, professionally challenged people reminds me that many in our own country, let alone around the world, who are LGBT don’t have those tools, don’t have those assets to be able to speak for themselves, to stand up for themselves, to be in a position to claim who they are.
I used to, when I represented New York, have the great joy and honor of traveling across New York state, so I could go to a Pride Parade in New York City and then I could be a few days later somewhere in upstate New York, where someone would take me aside after an event and whisper their fears about the life they led and wonder whether there was anything we could do. And I used to remind my very activist friends in the Pride movement that they were doing this not for themselves, because basically many of them were well enough off to be able to construct a life that would be fairly immune from the outside world, but they were doing it for so many others who did not have that opportunity, that luxury, if you will.
Well, I still believe that. We’ve come such a far distance in our own country, but there are still so many who need the outreach, need the mentoring, need the support, to stand up and be who they are, and then think about people in so many countries where it just seems impossible. So I think that each and every one of you not only professionally, particularly from State and USAID in every bureau and every embassy and every part of our government, have to do what you can to create that safe space, but also personally to really look for those who might need a helping hand, particularly young people, particularly teenagers who still, today, have such a difficult time and who still, in numbers far beyond what should ever happen, take their own lives rather than live that life. So I would ask you to please think of ways you can be there for everyone who is making this journey to defend not only human rights globally, but to truly defend themselves and their rights. The struggle for equality is never, ever finished. And it is rarely easy, despite how self-evident it should be. But the hardest-fought battles often have the biggest impact. So I hope that each and every one of us will recommit ourselves to building a future in which every person – every, single person can live in dignity, free from violence, free to be themselves, free to live up to their God-given potential wherever they live and whoever they are. And I thank you for being part of one of history’s great moments.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)