(Remarks as prepared)
Thank you for that warm introduction, and thank you, Reverend Ogle and Bishop Christopher, for inviting me to speak today and for putting me in such good company on such an important set of topics. Bishop Christopher, the assembled crowd here today, and the people you’ve met with all across the United States, clearly recognize the importance of your work at home in Uganda. So thanks especially to you.
I want to begin today by sharing a bit about how I see protecting the human rights of LGBT people as fitting into a broader foreign policy context, and telling you a bit about what we’ve been working on at the State Department, and where we’re headed. And then I want to take a little time to zero in on some of the key challenges and opportunities that lie at the intersection of promoting human rights for LGBT people and engaging with religious leaders and communities of faith.
The Obama administration has forged a strong record of vocal and active support for the human rights of LGBT people as part of our overall foreign policy approach of principled engagement. In this and other areas we start from a commitment to universal standards that apply to everyone, including ourselves, and we are motivated by the belief that, as President Obama put it in his Nobel lecture, the only lasting peace will be one founded on respect for the inherent dignity of each person.
About 80 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Hate crimes against LGBT people continue to plague many more countries than that, including our own. Hatred of, discrimination against and marginalization of LGBT people hampers economic development, public health, and social cohesion wherever it occurs. And, like all forms of intolerance, the desire to stamp out or subjugate or ostracize certain individuals because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love stands as an obstacle for all members of society. Intolerance prevents the achievement of a rights respecting society that preserves the dignity of each person—and it is that sort of society in which both reason and morality dictate that we ought to want to live. The burden of intolerance is surely borne most severely by the victims, but like all forms of hatred, the active perpetrators and passive bystanders—who are by no means moral bystanders—also pay a price.
Intolerance is a moral, a political, and a social ill. But it is also a solvable one. It is not an immutable phenomenon. Unlike the aspects of identity for which people are hated, hatred itself can be left behind. And for that reason, the scourge of intolerance demands not only our analysis and attention, it demands our action. It’s not easy work, but it is urgent work.
Looking back over American history, the story of our nation’s progress toward a “more perfect union” is at its most inspiring when it is told through the series of chapters in which we have confronted intolerance and hate, both domestically and in our engagement with the world. At the same time, the most regretful chapters are those when we have failed to act. And as we look to the future, we know that the story is not over, the work continues. Our future progress will continue to be defined in part by our success at continuing to address false assertions of inequality and remove their manifestations in our laws and practice. And our progress in building the kind of peaceful, stable, and prosperous world in which we want to live will depend on our encouraging and promoting those around the world who are simultaneously working to make their own societies more inclusive and rights-respecting.
It is against this backdrop that this administration sees the work to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It is part of a broader effort, and it follows from our commitment to universal standards and our interest in being a positive force behind the efforts of many around the world to, as Secretary Clinton has put it, “make human rights a human reality.”
At the State Department we’re working hard every day to put that principled policy commitment into action, and we’re making real progress because we have strong support from the White House and steadfast leadership from the Secretary of State. The problems facing LGBT people are not new, but never before in American foreign policy have the human rights of LGBT people been an open, unambiguous, and clear policy priority. From her first days in office, and building on a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of those who have been left out or pushed aside, Secretary Clinton has made clear that, as she said in June 2010, echoing her famous words in Beijing fifteen years earlier, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
And Secretary Clinton’s leadership is changing the way that our diplomats and development professionals do business around the world. The Secretary has sent instructions to every single ambassador directing them to engage in support of the human rights of LGBT people with foreign governments and civil society actors as part of our comprehensive human rights policy. And in foreign ministries around the world, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with partners to collaborate on enhancing rights protections for all people, including LGBT people.
Here in New York and also at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United States has been leading within the UN system to make clear that human rights apply to everyone, without exception. About this time last year, a semi-annual resolution on extra-judicial killings at the UN General Assembly came up and an amendment was offered and passed that removed sexual orientation from the list of examples of reasons why people ought not be killed. Working with our partners, and by reaching out in capitals around the world, we built a coalition to reverse that amendment and successfully reinstated the deleted language. A few words in a resolution can seem like a small matter, especially to those who don’t follow the nitty gritty of the UN system, but reinstating that language sent a clear message that no, the international community would not countenance a spiteful step backward in the fight against violations of human rights. Earlier this year in Geneva, we were part of a cross regional group of countries that gathered 85 country signatories to a joint statement rejecting violence against LGBT people and criminalization of LGBT status or behavior.
And then—in a step that even the most hopeful among us thought unlikely even months earlier, on June 17 history was made when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing support for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I was on the floor of the Council that day, and there was an electrifying buzz in the room as the winning vote tally came in. It was a close vote—23 to 19—but everyone in the room recognized that it was a watershed moment.
We’re not just working with governments. Because we know that sustainable change is most likely to come from within societies, we’re redoubling our efforts to engage with local civil society groups who are working to defend LGBT people from human rights abuses, and who advocate for legal protections and accountability for abuses. As you might expect, these groups are often themselves marginalized and left out, even by other human rights NGOs, so our engagement can be a lifeline of moral support. We’re also working to help them build their own capacity and skills, and to connect them to each other so that they can become more effective advocates. And because we know that like all human rights defenders, those who call out wrongs and push for change often find themselves targets for intimidation or worse, we have created a special fund that can offer emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people so that when there’s no one else to turn to, we can help them stay safe and continue their work.
We have human rights officers in every embassy around the world, and while the United States has a long history of advocating for human rights abroad, we recognize that ramping up engagement on the human rights of LGBT people entails making contact with new actors and organizations at our posts. It entails knowing how to broach what is often a “sensitive” topic and being able to prioritize among a menu of options for action in a way that enhances the chances of our making a difference on the ground. For these reasons, in the coming months, we’ll be road-testing and rolling out a toolkit that can be used by our embassies to help guide their work.
And because effective advocacy depends on facts that make the case for change, we’ve beefed up our reporting in the human rights reports that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor publishes every year. We’re also supporting local civil society groups in this fact-finding and reporting effort, providing state-of-the art software and training that will help them document incidents in their communities, so that they can direct their own efforts and focus the attention of others on the realities that people are confronting day-by-day.
For my own part, I feel immensely grateful and fortunate to be a part of a team of professionals at the State Department and at posts around the world that has taken Secretary Clinton’s encouragement and leadership and translated it into action, and that is working every day to make a difference. Having a President and Secretary who are committed to defending the human rights of all people has put American leadership and hard work on the side of vulnerable people around the world.
My portfolio includes Africa and Asia, and as I travel the world, one of the sets of questions that I hear most often revolves around the role of the religious community in securing human rights for all people, how the religious community can help, and how it can, whether intentionally or not, undermine efforts to build a more humane and rights respecting world that includes protections for the rights that each person deserves by virtue of her or his humanity.
I am sure you can guess the kinds of questions I hear: “Aren’t we exporting hate?” people ask about the alleged role of American religious leaders in encouraging the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda, for example. “What are you doing to stop missionaries from pushing for criminalization?” Or “isn’t it true that the Islamic world will never accept the human rights of gay people?”
Conversations about the human rights of LGBT people are still difficult and awkward in many contexts—the legacy of stigma still burdens even well-intentioned actors. And throw religion into the mix and the conversations certainly don’t get any easier. But these conversations—conversations like the ones that this conference is fostering and making space for—are important. Misunderstandings and differences of opinion or belief don’t solve or resolve themselves. We’re talking about the intersection of some of the most important, and therefore justifiably sensitive, aspects of individual fulfillment and meaning in life. And when the subject matter is deep, skating on the surface doesn’t suffice—the only way to make progress is to wade right in. So I want to try to do that in the time that remains for me today. I guess I should stop here and say “pray for me.”
I won’t pretend I have answers, but I want to say three things about my own approach, and about why I don’t just see the effort to find common ground as imperative, but am also optimistic about the possibility of doing so.
The first point is that there are as many religious actors as there are religious people. Religious people are not a monolithic group, and there is diversity in views within religious communities as well as across them. So while, yes, there are examples of religious leaders preaching intolerance, not just of gays but of people of other religious groups or nationalities or of women, there are of course also numerous examples of those for whom religious values are the foundation for a commitment to compassion, tolerance, and human dignity. We should not forget the role of religious people and religious leaders in our own national struggles for social justice—many abolitionists understood their cause as God’s work, a number of northern Jews went south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement, and Reverend King was a man of cloth as well as of change. Last year, I spoke at an event in Geneva where Desmond Tutu delivered a message of tolerance. It’s worth pausing to quote his message briefly. “Sexual orientation, like skin color,” he said, “is a feature of our diversity. How sad it is that when God’s children are facing such massive problems – poverty, disease, corruption, conflict—we are so often obsessed with human sexuality. Is there not already too much hate in this world, without seeking to persecute those who love?”
Religious leaders have a positive role to play in fostering tolerance and respect for the dignity of all. If we start by assuming that there are only challenges, we lose perspective at the outset, and we aren’t poised to seize opportunities.
The second point has three layers—bear with me—philosophical, moral, and practical. So we’re going to have 2A, 2B, and 2C. (I know, that’s cheating.) But the overall point 2 is simple: that we can and should seek to engage those whose religious beliefs and teachings seem to be at odds with advancing human rights for all people. We can have the conversation, we should have the conversation, and we must have the conversation if we’re to make progress at all.
The philosophical part of this point—2A— is essentially to reject the contention put forward by some that religious thought and human rights doctrine are divided by an impenetrable epistemological barrier. The argument here is something along the lines that those who are concerned with understanding and obeying God’s law are necessarily operating, essentially, in a different conceptual universe from “secular” human rights standards. In other words, we can’t talk to each other because we’re using a different language. But such arguments are as thin philosophically as they are easy to disprove empirically. For in fact we can talk to each other, and we can use the ideas of religious thought to make sense of the moral demands of human rights, and vice versa. As I have already noted, in many cases religious and human rights leaders aren’t from separate epistemic communities at all; in fact some people are both religious leaders and human rights leaders, and they use the lexicon of each sphere of thought without any apparent philosophical dissonance. Religious people played a part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And our country’s own Declaration of Independence—in which the constituent concepts of human rights are salient—also grounds these rights in the idea that we are each endowed with them by our Creator. There is no legitimate philosophical excuse for not engaging.
The moral part of the point—2B— is that engaging those with whom we disagree in dialogue and debate, holding them responsible—in the literal sense of answering for their claims—is part of treating them with respect. The act of engaging and holding responsible is properly respectful, it indicates a preliminary assumption that that person is worthy of taking seriously; and similarly dismissing out of hand and refusing to engage someone who disagrees demonstrates a lack of respect. Engaging is the right thing, the respectful thing to do.
And the practical part of this point—2C—is that neither ignoring nor suppressing ideas has ever solved the problem of resolving apparent gaps or disagreements on how to build good lives or good societies. There are many who believe that we should limit speech that is offensive or hateful. But our position has been to avoid censorship, which is almost never perfectly executed, and which is in a sense, denying the problem instead of dealing with it. When people say hateful things we shouldn’t hide the hate, we should confront it, reject the premises on which it is founded, and attempt to refute it through force of argument. If we’re to make progress at identifying a common ground and forging a way forward, we have to engage. We don’t make progress by attempting to shut down or do battle, we make progress when both sides come together—shall we say “in good faith?”—and attempt to identify and correct misunderstandings and make the case.
So we need to take the tough conversations on. Obviously there are some people on both sides who aren’t prepared to come to the table—I know that—but there are plenty of others who are. And we need to make arguments that are aimed at finding common ground and forging a way forward. It may be that I will never find agreement with those who make religiously based moral arguments that homosexuality is wrong—though I certainly don’t start from the premise that that is impossible. But, even if we ultimately disagree about what constitutes a life well lived in the fullest sense, we might nevertheless agree that we ought to be unambiguously committed to defending the potential that is bound up with each human life. We might agree that in order to get to the conversation about what a good life looks like, one must start with protecting that life. And further that concern for life might lead us to be particularly careful to avoid unintended consequences of things we say or write into law.
And this leads me to my third point, which is that as difficult as the intersection of faith and sexuality is, I am hopeful and optimistic about the road ahead. This is partly because I don’t think we really have a choice: No serious person can think plausible a world without human spirituality or a world without human sexuality. Finding a way to transcend intolerance is not just what a commitment to human dignity dictates, it’s what any appreciation for the realities of human experience suggests as the only real lasting option for building a peaceful future together.
But I’m also hopeful because I think there is common ground to be found and that concepts that are familiar in nearly every religious tradition and in secular moral thought can help us get there—a sincere embrace of dignity, of generosity, of compassion, of patience can help us to uncover and appreciate what we have in common.
For many many people, religious belief and practice is a source of meaning, fundamental to their own flourishing and to making sense of the world around them and their relationships with others. Universal standards of human rights protect the freedom of each person to choose and practice her or his religion, and those protections create a space in which individuals around the world seek and find fulfillment.
Similarly, for most people, the bonds we share and the commitments we make to others, and particularly to those whom we consider family, are both crucial to our own identities and understanding of our place in the world as well as expressions of a uniquely human capacity. To deprive someone of a loving relationship entered freely is to deprive him or her of a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human, and to cut off a source of meaning and fulfillment.
The use of religion to advocate for limitations on the lives, rights, and freedoms of others, whether those of other faiths, as it often is, or those whose lives reflect other aspects of human diversity, is a manipulation of faith that tragically disregards the same goodness that religion itself can bring to human existence. There is no true love of God that can justify hatred of man.
I am optimistic because I believe that even if it is not apparent at the outset, a common purpose will reveal itself. And I am confident that a commitment to the universal human rights of all people, grounded in a respect for human dignity and made real through equal and real protections for all, will underpin the world in which each person can flourish.
I want to close with a final thought and personal reflection.
One of the virtues that is central to many religious traditions and to the aspirations of many religious people is that of forgiveness. And that virtue, in particular, is I think important for all participants in difficult discussions to keep in mind. 9 years ago I was visiting my father in the hospital as he was dying, and a young man, a nurse’s aide, was working around his hospital bed, checking the machines and such. He had gotten to know my dad during his long hospital visit, and my dad, enjoying the visit with one of his own sons, asked the guy about his father. The young man said that his dad had left his mom and siblings when he was young, and had offered neither financial nor emotional support throughout his growing up. “I used to really hate the guy,” he said “but in the last few years, he reached out, he’s made an effort, and we’ve actually become really close.” My father—who was a deeply religious man—immediately remarked “how kind of you to be able to forgive him, to give him permission to change.”
It’s a lesson that still rings true to me years later, and something I had never thought of before that moment, the empowering effect of forgiveness. As we engage in tough conversations about right and wrong, about the societies we want to make, and the beliefs we hold most dear, it’s something that I keep close at hand. We’re in this together, and we need to be prepared to forgive each other, we need to be prepared to give each other permission to change, in order to build together a stronger, more humane and holy world.
Thank you very much again for having me.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Secretary General. And thank you for your leadership in organizing this meeting. I am honored and delighted to be here with so many colleagues from around the world. And it’s a particular pleasure for me to be back at the Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture in this magnificent Yildiz Palace here in Istanbul. Fifteen years ago I was here when the secretary general was then leading this organization, and he and I participated in a remarkable dialogue with representatives from Istanbul’s diverse religious communities.
That conversation took place just a few months after the signing of the Dayton Accords. We were all deeply concerned about the sectarian tensions and violence, and we were all troubled by what we had seen happen in the Balkans. I had come from Sarajevo and Tuzla, where I had met with Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims all together. And I will never forget one woman saying that neighbors began turning on neighbor because of religious and ethnic differences. And this woman asked a friend from another religious background: “We’ve known each other for so long, we have celebrated each other’s weddings, we’ve buried each other’s family; why is this happening?” And her friend replied: “We were told that if we did not do this to you, you would do it to us.” And it was as clear a statement of what incitement to violence and hatred can lead to as any that I’ve heard. And the conflict proved so costly, we are still living with the consequences today.
In our conversation 15 years ago, I remember the secretary general talking about the imperative for us to move beyond these differences and how much the three great monotheistic religions have in common, especially our respective commandments to love our neighbors and to seek peace and understanding. Well, today, this wisdom that is ageless is as important as ever. We have seen violent attacks across our world, where those who are members of minority communities – either religious or ethnic – have been killed by their neighbors. We have seen the transitions to democracy that are so inspiring in the Middle East and North Africa, but have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers.
And in established democracies, we are still working to protect fully our religious diversity, prevent discrimination and protect freedom of expression. So for all of these reasons, this gathering and the shared commitment it represents is vitally important. It is one of these events that has great ramifications far beyond this room.
I want to applaud the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union for helping pass Resolution 16/18 at the Human Rights Council. I was complimenting the secretary general on the OIC team in Geneva. I had a great team there as well. So many of you were part of that effort. And together we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of expression, and we are pursuing a new approach based on concrete steps to fight intolerance wherever it occurs. Under this resolution, the international community is taking a strong stand for freedom of expression and worship, and against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief.
These are fundamental freedoms that belong to all people in all places, and they are certainly essential to democracy. But as the secretary general just outlined, we now need to move to implementation. The resolution calls upon states to protect freedom of religion, to counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue, and public debate, and to prohibit discrimination, profiling, and hate crimes, but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence. We will be looking to all countries to hold themselves accountable and to join us in reporting to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on their progress in taking these steps.
For our part, I have asked our Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, to spearhead our implementation efforts. And to build on the momentum from today’s meeting, later this year the United States intends to invite relevant experts from around the world to the first of what we hope will be a series of meetings to discuss best practices, exchange ideas, and keep us moving forward beyond the polarizing debates of the past; to build those muscles of respect and empathy and tolerance that the secretary general referenced. It is essential that we advance this new consensus and strengthen it, both at the United Nations and beyond, in order to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.
The Human Rights Council has given us a comprehensive framework for addressing this issue on the international level. But at the same time, we each have to work to do more to promote respect for religious differences in our own countries. In the United States, I will admit, there are people who still feel vulnerable or marginalized as a result of their religious beliefs. And we have seen how the incendiary actions of just a very few people, a handful in a country of nearly 300 million, can create wide ripples of intolerance. We also understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy. So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing antidiscrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.
In Europe, we are seeing communities coming together to address both the old scourge of anti-Semitism and the new strains of anti-Muslim bias that continue to undermine the continent’s democratic ideals. Across the Middle East and Asia, we look to both people and leaders to resist the incitement of extremists who seek to inflame sectarian tensions, and reject the persecution of religious minorities such as the Copts or Ahmadis or Baha’is.
In Egypt and Tunisia, we hope to see minorities brought into the process of drafting a new constitution and given a seat at the table as new democracies take shape. And I know that, here in Turkey, there is a potential upcoming constitutional reform process, and we look forward to new protections for religious freedom as well. Tomorrow, I will meet with his all holiness, the ecumenical patriarch. And as I do on every trip, and as my friend Ahmet knows, we will continue to urge the Turkish Government to reopen the Halki Seminary as a symbol of Turkey’s commitment to religious freedom.
No country, including my own, has a monopoly on truth or a secret formula for ethnic and religious harmony. This takes hard work and persistence and patience. But wherever we come from and however we worship, all of us can do more in our own lives, in our positions of leadership, and in our communities, to bridge the divides that separate us. Here in Istanbul, which for so long has symbolized a bridge between cultures and continents, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to this goal.
Fifteen years ago in this room, the secretary general said about Istanbul, “This is a city which for over five centuries has been one of those rare lands of peace, where people of different religions live together in an environment of perfect harmony.” So if you will permit us, Secretary General and Foreign Minister, we want to take some of that spirit home from wherever we came – (laughter) – and we want to do so by transporting it in our hearts so that it is imprinted there and continues to remind us of the work ahead.
Thank you very much.
Statement by the President on the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Today, for the first time in history, the United Nations adopted a resolution dedicated to advancing the basic human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings. The United States stands proudly with those nations that are standing up to intolerance, discrimination, and homophobia. Advancing equality for LGBT persons should be the work of all peoples and all nations. LGBT persons are entitled to equal treatment, equal protection, and the dignity that comes with being full members of our diverse societies. As the United Nations begins to codify and enshrine the promise of equality for LGBT persons, the world becomes a safer, more respectful, and more humane place for all people.
Ambassador Johnson Cook’s Remarks at the OHCHR Panel on ‘Combating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”
Good afternoon. First, let me express my sincere appreciation to the Office of the High Commissioner in arranging for this panel and for the privilege of addressing you on the topic of “Combating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.” I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness and discuss actions that the international community can take to implement the action-oriented approach laid out in the consensus resolution that called for this panel.
I am here in my capacity as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have honored me with this appointment and I will work assiduously within the Department of State, our Embassies and Missions abroad and our interagency community to devise and implement strategies that will constructively address systemic challenges to religious freedom and religious intolerance around the world. While serious problems exist, we also see areas of opportunity for a sustained campaign to implement worldwide the actions called for in the consensus approach to combat intolerance, discrimination, and violence.
President Obama has made clear that it is in the interest of security and stability worldwide to ensure fundamental freedoms for people of all backgrounds and all faiths to understand that religious freedom is a universal human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
States have tools at their disposal to combat religious intolerance; in many cases what is needed is the political will to use them. Governments need to develop robust legal protections to address acts of discrimination against individuals and bias-inspired violent crimes. Each country should determine if it has laws on the books that allow it to prosecute individuals who discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring, access to public accommodation and other aspects of public life, or who commit violence on that basis. Each country should determine if it has a capable and dedicated band of investigators and prosecutors to enforce such laws. Even more importantly, leaders in government, politics, religion, business and the rest of society must stand ready to condemn hateful ideology; and to vigorously defend the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely and exercise their freedom of expression. Leaders who remain silent are contributing to the problem and should be held politically accountable. Let me give some examples drawn from practice in the United States.
Combating Discrimination through robust legal protections:
The U.S. Department of Justice is the primary institution responsible for enforcing federal statutes that prohibit discrimination or acts of violence and intimidation on the basis of race, national origin, and religion. Bias-inspired violent crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of federal law for especially severe punishment. Each state in the United States has similar legal protections and entities responsible for enforcing them.
After the September 11th attacks, the Justice Department implemented an initiative to combat “backlash” crimes involving violence and threats at individuals who are or who are perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh, or South Asian. This initiative has investigated more than 700 bias motivated incidents since September 11, 2001. The Justice Department has obtained 34 federal convictions and assisted local law enforcement in bringing more than 160 such criminal prosecutions.
Personal religious belief is protected in almost all of the federal United States civil rights statutes enforced by the Department of Justice, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits religious discrimination against individuals in employment, public accommodations, and other sectors.
Condemn Hateful Ideology and Outreach to Affected Groups:
Legal safeguards are essential, but it is better to create a climate that seeks to prevent discrimination and violence before it happens, than to punish after the fact. This requires the commitment and courage of political and societal leaders. For example, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, former President Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties visited mosques and engaged in other visible interactions with members of the Muslim community precisely to build solidarity with them and to counter efforts to blame all adherents of a Islam for the actions of a violent extremist group. When an extremist pastor in Florida threatened to, and then burned a Quran, President Obama and political leaders from both parties condemned his behavior and rallied religious and social leaders to do the same. His behavior is publicly reviled and rebuked by virtually the entire society. The result has been that you can count on your fingers the number of supporters Pastor Terry Jones has in our country.
It would be a productive exercise for political leaders around the world to review their own reaction to similar events in their countries and ask whether they have used their own leadership skills to make such behavior unattractive to all but the most anti-social individuals.
The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department engages in extensive outreach to address September 11th backlash-related civil rights issues, by providing speakers at national and regional conventions and other community events, and hosting a bi-monthly meeting that brings together community leaders with officials from a variety of federal agencies to comprehensively address civil rights issues.
The United States Department of Homeland Security also works to improve the cultural competency of its personnel and leads training for Federal, State, and local law enforcement on effective policing without ethnic or racial profiling; best practices related to community engagement; and misconceptions and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, for example.
President Obama has emphasized the importance of interfaith collaboration as a way to advance religious freedom. The United States has implemented and facilitated initiatives all over the world to bring together people of faiths. For example, the U.S.-Indonesia Interfaith Conference brought together private sector, civil society and faith leaders from eight countries to work together on projects that will have an impact on their communities in the areas of poverty eradication, environment, education, and governance. Here in Geneva, we were pleased to partner with Jordan to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding earlier this year during World Interfaith Harmony Week. These collaborations have created long-term partnerships that have resulted in constructive dialogues as mechanisms to advance religious freedom and avoid violence and mistrust.
Vigorously Defend the Freedoms of Religion, Belief, and Expression:
Our founding fathers, understanding the importance of freedom of religion, made it first in our Bill of Rights. In 1790, George Washington wrote to a synagogue in Rhode Island, that this country will give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Rather than seek prohibitions on offensive expression, the United States advocates for other measures such as urging political, religious, and societal leaders to speak out and condemn offensive expression; creating a mechanism to identify areas of tension between communities; training government officials on outreach strategies; and encouraging leaders to discuss causes of discrimination and potential solutions with their communities. Indeed, we believe that laws seeking to limit freedom of expression in the name of protecting against offensive speech are actually counterproductive. The suppression of speech often actually raises the profile of that speech, sometimes giving even greater voice to speech that others might find offensive. In some countries, politicians will not condemn offensive speech, but instead will defer to the courts to judge if it is legally prohibited. In our view it is far more effective if political leaders know that they cannot point to the law as an excuse for doing little to nothing. They have a moral and political obligation to use their own freedom of expression to lead a strong counter effort, and should be held to account politically.
As I have said before no country is immune from the problems of intolerance and hatred, but governments can and must respond in ways that promote the human rights of all individuals. Here in this room where consensus and unity was achieved, I wish to conclude by thanking you for this opportunity. I hope that together we will move forward to achieve the substantial goal of combating religious intolerance, discrimination and violence.
Ambassador Brownfield met today with Father Mauricio Garcia Duran of the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) to discuss CINEP’s findings on “false positive” extrajudicial executions, threats against human rights defenders, and social intolerance.
Ambassador Brownfield congratulated Father Garcia for CINEP’s work tracking human rights violations in Colombia. The Ambassador emphasized that “human rights organizations like CINEP play an undeniable and important role in strengthening a free and democratic society such as Colombia’s.” The Ambassador noted that while the United States may not always come to the same conclusions as CINEP, we respect their courageous work to protect Colombia’s vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. “Every society must have those individuals and NGOs who speak out against injustice,” declared the Ambassador, “the United States applauds CINEP’s continued efforts to make a better future for Colombia.”
CINEP was founded in 1972 by the Society of Jesus with the goal of creating a more humane and equal society, the NGO promotes integrated and sustainable human development.
Bogotá D.C., 16 de abril de 2010
Thank you. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Gee, let’s do this every week. (Laughter.) It’s great after a hard week to tell you how delighted I am to join with all of you from the State Department and USAID and indeed from departments across our government and many guests who are here in the State Department celebrating Pride Month.
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.)