Earlier today Secretary John Kerry spoke to a packed house at the LGBT Pride Month event organized at the State Department by the employee organization Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), to which I belong. I was unable to get back to Washington, but I enjoyed viewing the Secretary’s warm, forceful, and inspiring remarks remotely. Shared below are the text and video of his remarks as well as the Q&A session that followed.
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Remarks by John Kerry, Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
June 19, 2013
SEC. KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Please, please, please, please. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very, very much. Ken, thank you for a generous welcome. Thank you all. Under Secretary Pat Kennedy and Director General Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for being here, and others. We appreciate it. Tara, everybody, thank you for being here.
And Ken, when I heard you say you could talk forever about my efforts on behalf of LGBT, I was sitting there, like any formerly elected person for 29 years, and I said, “Go ahead, keep talking, keep talking.” (Laughter.) But no such luck today.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here with all of you, and very, very special to welcome just some super special guests here, and I want them to stand up and I want everybody to say thank you to them and recognize them. Judy and Dennis Shepard are here, and we’re so grateful for you being here. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
I remind everybody that it is amazing to think, but it has been nearly 15 years since we mourned the tragic murder of their son, Matthew. And I can remember very clearly meeting them previously and speaking to the crowd gathered on the National Mall in front of the Capitol building at a vigil that was held two nights after he was killed. Thousands of people came together to share their grief, but also to share their sense of outrage that such an act could be carried out, such a senseless, violent, terrible heartbreak. And we were all standing with Judy and Dennis on that dark night, and frankly, since then, they have helped to lead the way through darkness and into the light, and they’ve turned their pain and their loss into a remarkable global message of hope and of tolerance. So, Judy and Dennis, make no mistake: You really do inspire us and we are very honored to have you here with us today. Thank you.
I also want – I know Congressman John Lewis was here a little bit ago, I think, and he had to leave to go vote. There are few members, few people I’ve met in life who I admire as much as John Lewis. He was almost killed on that day down in Selma, and he led, at the side of Martin Luther King and others, to break the back of Jim Crow in this country. John is just without doubt one of the most self-effacing, beautiful human beings I have ever met and an amazing person of courage who demonstrates what you can do against, as Bobby Kennedy said, the enormous array of the world’s ills. So we thank him for being here today, and most importantly, we thank him for standing up on the front lines of fighting for people’s rights for all of these years.
I also want to thank Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Thanks for being here and for your contributions. And I want to thank Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya from our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. We’re very, very grateful also to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington for that wonderful rendition of our national anthem, and thank you for their performance.
As Ken said, I have had the privilege of being involved in the struggle for rights, for LGBT rights, for a long period of time. And it is a privilege. Coming from Massachusetts, maybe we inherently know something about fighting for rights from the inception. But it wasn’t that long ago, as I recall, and many of you, I’m sure, do too, when things looked very different from the way they look today. If you want an amusing read before you go to sleep, go get the transcript of my testimony before Strom Thurmond on the Armed Services Committee 20 years ago, when we first pushed for an end on the ban on gays in the military. If you want to read a Senate hearing that is actually literally like a Saturday night skit – Saturday Night Live skit, that is it. And I won’t go into all the questions that Strom and his inimitable accent posed to me – (laughter) – but I walked out of there thinking that I was truly on a different planet, or he was; one or the other. (Laughter.)
But we ran into a wall of misunderstanding and of misperception. But as we are learning even today, as we look at various places in the world where homophobia raises its ugly and frightened head, we see that there is fear and that a lot is driven by fear – always has been – not always with respect to LGBT issues, but with respect to people generally, with respect to race and religion. And this is an ongoing battle for all of us, and believe me, not just for us; it is an ongoing battle in hidden parts of this planet, in dark corners where there is no light, where people are thrown into jail, or worse, beaten brutally, tortured and even murdered because of who they are or what they believe.
So we have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and all of you, every single person here, because you have the privilege of being here in this building, in this freedom, able to talk about this; it is because of that that you actually bear also a larger responsibility. When I voted, as Ken said, in 1996, I don’t claim any great act of courage. Maybe it was because I did represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but nevertheless I was proud to be the only person running for reelection that year in those 14 who actually voted against DOMA. And I am confident that if the Supreme Court adheres to the law and to precedent, that it must be found unconstitutional.
Now, we also know that we’ve made progress where – (applause) – now, if it isn’t, you can take that applause back in your home someday. (Laughter.)Obviously, the landscape has changed remarkably fast. And every one of you here deserves credit for that. You all know your individual journeys in this effort, whether you are a member of the LGBT community or whether you are a supporter and a friend and here in solidarity with it. But everybody understands that things are changing because people have dared to stand up and show solidarity and speak common sense and talk truth to sometimes ugly power.
And the fact is that we have an Administration today that I am proud to say no longer defends the constitutionality of DOMA. That’s an enormous step forward. We also have a Senate that recently welcomed its first openly gay member, and we have a record number in the House of Representatives. I can remember when the first person came out in the House of Representatives within the service – time of my service in the Senate. We also have seen how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now a part of history, and that no American who wants to wear the uniform of their country that they love will be denied the chance to serve the country they love because of whom they love.
So we’re making progress. And that is the sort of change that we are seeing spread across the country, as state after state breaks down the barrier – the real barriers – to honest equality, not only in the workplace but throughout life.
But we have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel. Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws. Two of my former constituents, just to give you an example – I got to meet them – a fellow named Junior and Tim, who were married in Massachusetts, but because of DOMA the Federal Government didn’t recognize their marriage. And so the law treated them differently than if they had been man and woman, married. And time after time, when I met with them – and I did frequently and learn how hard it was that they couldn’t choose the path that they wanted to for themselves – but they also reminded me in the course of their life history what, in fact, marriage is supposed to be all about, which is an enduring love, a love that actually keeps you together even when you’ve been separated and it’s as if you hadn’t been. And I’ll tell you why, because one of them was out of the country and couldn’t come back in and we had to go through hoops to be able to actually ultimately reunite them here in our country because of our immigration laws.
They’re not alone. A few weeks ago, I was standing right here in this room at my first town hall when a young FSO named Selim Ariturk stood up and told a similar story about his life and his partner, whom he’d met overseas during his first tour. And he had to jump through hoops to be treated fairly. I know that many of you have probably experienced very similar stories, or even experienced them individually.
So the reality is, even as we celebrate, we have to come here today and commit ourselves to the ultimate task of fulfilling equality under the law here in our own country, and we have to be clear-eyed about the challenges that remain. I believe that we are on an irreversible course, and I believe happily that the United States of America is helping to set a global example for how people ought to be treated in life. I think that – I make this commitment to you that as Secretary of State, I will continue to stand right where I have stood throughout my years of elected service, and that begins with how we treat our LGBT colleagues right here in the State Department.
And I think under Pat and Linda’s and other people’s stewardship, we are already doing an outstanding job. Same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all of our employees’ families. And we’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It’s now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a big deal. And we’ve stated unequivocally that this Department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’m happy to say that these steps reflect not just the Department view, but President Obama’s view, and President Obama’s commitment to full equality, no matter who you are or who you love. And as Americans send us out to show our face to the world in this Department, we will set an example through our respect for the rights of people everywhere. Having GLIFAA members as part of that American face, frankly, helps us demonstrate our leadership.
Our work, though, is more than just setting an example. We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve, and where using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values. That’s what this represents. This isn’t an aberration. This isn’t some step out of the mainstream. It’s actually the mainstream is out of step with what ought to be the mainstream. The mainstream represents the recognition of universal rights that have been true since humankind began writing about them and defining them, and as we have moved through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to this place in the 21th century, where we understand that dignity and equality and the rights of all people are at the center of what we ought to be espousing in our public and our private life.
When we see the abuse of those values that are directed at the LGBT community, we have a moral obligation to stand in pride with LGBT individuals and advocates. We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair, and tolerant.
It is the right thing to do. It’s also in our country’s strategic interest. Greater inclusion and protection of human rights, including those for LGBT people and for their communities, leads to greater stability, greater prosperity, and greater protection for the rights of human beings. Stronger partners on the world stage are built out of this endeavor, and the truth is that in the end, it can actually help project peace and security across the whole region.
And that is why, in 2011, President Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on the human rights of LGBT persons globally, directing that all agencies abroad must ensure that our diplomacy and our foreign assistance promotes and protects these rights. And I think we have accomplished a great deal on this issue.
With our support, the UN Human Rights Council passed its first-ever resolution affirming the rights of LGBT persons. Through PEPFAR’s blueprint for an AIDS-free generation, we are working to scale up HIV services for LGBT individuals, who are often at higher risk. Our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is expanding our effort to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. And we are providing LGBT travelers with information about countries where they may face prosecution or arrest – persecution.
Overseas, we’re encouraging our missions to think about how do you best support these goals. And here at home, we’ve set up a Department-wide task force that will develop new approaches in order to try to better integrate LGBT policy into our foreign policy.
And through our Global Partnerships Initiative – I just met with members of it a few minutes ago – we have set up the Global Equality Fund, and that will support LGBT human rights defenders on the front lines. We’re working with likeminded governments, including Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Finland. And we have partnered with private sector leaders, including the MAC AIDS Fund and the John D. Evans Foundation. I think they both are here. And we are especially grateful to the Arcus Foundation, which will match any corporate contribution that we receive up to $1 million. And we hope that additional partners are going to join us in this critical effort.
So all of this that I’ve talked about is a good start, my friends, but it’s just that. It’s a start. Last week, the President appointed three openly gay ambassadors to Denmark, Spain, and to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe. And they will build on the tremendous record and work by Ambassador Huebner and former Ambassadors Hormel and Guest. In fact, I remember the confirmation hearing for former Ambassador Hormel, which in itself was a kind of groundbreaking, difficult process which we ultimately succeeded in winning.
So we are committed to seeing more LGBT persons in senior positions in this Department. And I ask for your input and all of your ideas, so that in the coming days I can sit down and work with our team here to ensure that the Department is properly resourcing and prioritizing our international efforts for the next generation of LGBT progress.
I think everybody here knows this isn’t automatic, not always an easy path. There is fear, and from the fear, the hate that sometimes comes with it that translates too often into violence. We still see anti-propaganda laws in Eastern Europe that are targeting LGBT demonstrators. We still hear reports of violence amongst – against transgender persons in Latin America and Asia. We still see the enforcement of archaic sodomy laws in the Caribbean, and we see abuse and incarceration of LGBT activists in Africa.
But I believe, as I think you do, that today we come here in pride, with pride, to celebrate the fact that the winds of freedom are blowing in the right direction. We know that the intolerance towards LGBT brothers and sisters fades with each passing generation. And it is with a belief in our common humanity, in the fundamental worth of every human being, that we have to keep moving forward towards our goal of shared justice and equality here in our country and around the world.
So I especially join here today in saying to our GLIFAA members and to all of you, Happy Pride every day the world over. Thank you for the privilege of being with you. Thank you. (Applause.)
Please sit down. I gather we’re going to do a couple questions, so we’ll – I’ll do that.
MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great, great. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I loved what you said about where homophobia rears its ugly and frightened head, we’ll be there. I thought that was a really powerful statement, and demonstrates your long-held and heartfelt belief in equality and human rights for everyone. So thank you very much. Thank you as well for your mention of GLIFAA, and it’s great to know that we have your back – or you have our back, and you’ve got our back, and we’ve got your back.
SEC. KERRY: You’ve got to have mine too, folks, or I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) I’m counting on you.
MR. KERO-MENTZ: So – and thank you for answering a couple of questions. We asked our GLIFAA post representatives overseas – we’ve got about 100 serving in our embassies and consulates – to send us some questions that maybe we could pose to you. And you’ve got probably time for about two of them, if that’s okay.
SEC. KERRY: Sure.
MR. KERO-MENTZ: The first question from our GLIFAA post rep in Kyiv, Ukraine, Doug Morrow. He asks, “I’ve noticed a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements made by host country government officials and religious leaders in many countries around the world, including Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, and elsewhere. There seems to be a relationship between this sort of state-sponsored homophobia and increases in hate crimes against LGBT activists and individuals. Many of us have seen it firsthand. I know that the Department in our missions overseas are promoting human rights for everyone, including LGBT persons, but what more could we reasonably do to combat state-sponsored homophobia?”
SEC. KERRY: Well, that’s a great question. What we need to do is do things like we’re doing here today, where you speak out and where you show people what is appropriate as well as permissible. In a lot of places – I’ve seen it for years. I used to – when I was in the DA’s office, I used to be a prosecutor. I remember going and meeting with kids, young kids, because I wanted to find out why kids were falling into the criminal justice system at age – whatever, 14, 15, 16. And almost invariably, almost ninety-whatever percent it was, I found kids who came from very troubled families, from places where they didn’t have adult input. And like everybody in life, we all learn from people ahead of us.
And so this is going through a huge generational transformation where, in fact, today, we’re kind of learning from a younger generation where the kinds of things that older folks who lived in a different norm are not as in touch with, but where the younger folks coming up are realizing none of this really matters. They’re just growing up with a different sense of what’s important. And as kids have come out in high school or in college or whatever, and their friends are their friends, they realize this person isn’t any different, and it breaks down the barriers. So what you had is a whole transformation taking place that hasn’t taken place in many of these other countries.
I’ve never met any child – two and half, three years old – who hates anybody. They hate their broccoli maybe, or they hate – but they don’t hate people. They haven’t learned it yet. And so the issue is really one of teaching people, of setting up rule of law, of establishing a different norm where people begin to break down the fear and they recognize that they’re not, in fact, threatened. And I think – it doesn’t mean you’re going to change everybody’s minds overnight. There are people who hold a strongly held religious belief or cultural belief, and they may go to their grave believing that, but that doesn’t mean they have to be intolerant.
And that’s the key thing that I think America has so much more than almost any other place that I know. We’re not without fault. We’re not without ability to be criticized. But by and large, we are capable of showing more tolerance than almost any other people. Not exclusive; there are people in Europe and people in some other countries who also share that.
But I think what we have to do is help people to feel they are protected in their ability to be able to stand up, as they have in France recently, against very bitter opposition, very divisive, but they won. And it changed things, and it will change things, and the next generation that comes along will see that. And over time – and I mean time, real time – we will break down in some of these more difficult places this notion that you have to actually hate people and punish them for who they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it doesn’t mean you have to adopt that – or whatever, that you can give people space to live and live their life.
Now, interestingly, in a lot of these places where that challenge is particularly difficult, we also face the challenge of just getting them to accept democracy, or getting them to accept reasonable standards of rule of law and the ability of people to speak their mind and a whole bunch of other things that we value enormously as the defining assets of our nationhood and of our citizenship. Those things have to be able to be promoted elsewhere. So I think doing what we’re doing, going out and advocating, standing up against that injustice, speaking out in various countries about human rights as we will continue to everywhere we go, will over time allow the same evolutionary process to take place in some of these places of resistance as it has here and in other parts of the world, in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. And I think ultimately we just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity, and I guarantee you under this Administration we certainly will continue to do that and, I hope, for the long-term future.
MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, this next question comes from our GLIFAA post rep in Tijuana, Mexico, Victor Garcia-Rivera, who asks, “What preparations has the Department of State made for when DOMA is struck down, particularly with regards to expedited naturalization for our foreign national same-sex spouses? Should the court strike down DOMA, as hoped, can we all – can we expect all things to be equal, including immigration rights?”
SEC. KERRY: Well, I should probably let Pat Kennedy and Linda tackle this question, because they’re the ones who are working this through, but we’ve talked about it in our meetings. We are planning for the expectation that DOMA will be struck down in some form, and we’re laying the groundwork for all the things that we need to adjust. And I will just tell you, frankly, we are looking forward to the opportunity of doing that, because it will define the road ahead for us much more easily, it’ll be far less complicated, and I think everybody here will breathe a sigh of relief if that ruling comes through the way we hope it will.
So we’re laying all the groundwork necessary so that every law or every practice or every – whatever process is in place by history and precedent here will be evaluated against the notion that that law is no longer the law of the land, and therefore that everybody is indeed fully equal and we have to apply policies accordingly. And you can count on the fact that that will happen. And I think we’ll probably get a decision before too long here. So Pat Kennedy is anxiously awaiting that decision, folks. He’s crunching down further in his seat right now. (Laughter.)
Thank you. Anyway, Happy Pride to all. Thank you for the privilege of being here, and I wish you well. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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