Good evening – a very special good evening to Judy and Denis Shepard.
Thank you for joining us tonight.
Today, we are saddened to learn of the passing of former President and Prime Minister, Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson.
As a son of this great nation, his distinguished leadership and courage are well known to everyone here, but also extend beyond the borders of Trinidad and Tobago.
His commitment to justice and the universal protection of all people against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are part of his great legacy.
He will truly be missed by us all.
Please join me in a moment of silence in tribute.
We are honored to welcome Judy and Dennis Shepard to Trinidad and Tobago, as they generously share their story and their message.
Their message is about human rights. It is about understanding, compassion, and acceptance for all, regardless of sexual orientation. It is about recognizing that gay rights and human rights are not separate and distinct: they are, in fact, one and the same.
I say this, knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, same-sex relationships were still a crime in parts of our country. Many Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) Americans, like Matthew Shepard, have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. Like All nations, we have more work to do to protect human rights at home.
We know that this is a sensitive topic for many people, and we know that there are debates going on right now about whether and how to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.
We know that these debates stir deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. And….so we come before you today with respect, understanding, And humility. And, we come to you with the hope that the Shepards’ story — and message — will play a productive role in Trinidad and Tobago’s ongoing debate about this human rights concern.
Our two nations share many important family, cultural, and economic ties. We are trade and security partners. We are allies; and we each draw strength from our diverse populations. We also share a profound commitment to promoting and protecting human rights.
In the United States, protecting human rights has meant breaking down the barriers that once prevented certain races and classes of people from enjoying the full measure of liberty.
We have repealed racist laws, abolished legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status, and secured the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely. And in 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Act into law, expanding the federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation. In most cases, progress on the road to recognizing human rights was not easily won. People organized and campaigned in public and in private, not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds. It is important to recognize that every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races.
The struggle to recognize LGBT rights does not and should not belong only to the LGBT community. It is a battle that requires our full engagement.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” In the battle for human rights, your voices – our voices — are needed.
Trinidad and Tobago is recognized as a leader in the Caribbean, and leadership, by definition, means being out in front of people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all people, and persuading others to do the same. It means ensuring that all citizens, including LGBT citizens, are treated as equals.
So, I urge all of you – all of us – here today to be leaders. Let’s join our voices with the Shepards’, and stand for: understanding, compassion, and acceptance for all, regardless of sexual orientation. PLEASE, let’s not be silent.
- Source: U.S. Embassy Trinidad and Tobago – PDF