Secretary of State John Kerry delivered his first Pride remarks at the State Department yesterday, curiously focusing mostly on domestic politics toward LGBT issues and the rapid, positive change in US public opinion.
Secretary of State John Kerry delivered his first Pride remarks, to the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) at the State Department yesterday, which included Judy and Dennis Shepard, the parents of Matthew Shephard, who was slain in 1998 in a horrible hate crime, and Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
His remarks were curiously dominated by mostly references to U.S. domestic politics and LGBT issues in his role as a U.S. Senator in addressing them. During the speech he stated that he had voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and shared his personal experiences in dealing with anti-gay Strom Thurmond:
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.
Kerry did not address U.S. foreign policy on LGBT human rights until nearly the 22nd paragraph of a 29 paragraph speech, although his first remarks were preceded by several paragraphs about the State Department’s supportive personnel policies for LGBT foreign service officers and their families.
He finally spoke about the tragic circumstances now haunting the LGBT communities in Eastern Europe and violence precipitated toward transgender persons in Latin America and Asia:
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.
Emerging at this year’s Pride event was the presence of Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor–which is known as the “Secretary of “Human Rights” within the State Department. She is replacing Michael Posner, who has since left the State Department to teach at New York University. Ms. Zeya is a career State Department officer, which is ordinarily filled by a well known human rights advocate. It will be interesting to follow her public advocacy on LGBT human rights during the next three years.
It was not surprising that the Shepard family was in the audience this years, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enlisted them to tour five Eastern European countries on behalf of the new State Department foreign policy on LGBT human rights in 2012. They have been actively supportive of advancing a foreign policy of dignity and respect toward the LGBT communities abroad.
Image of Secretary Kerry speaking at the Pride Event is courtesy of the U.S. State Department
Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.
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