Secretary's Remarks: Remarks at Welcome Reception to Commemorate the Announcement of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons Randy Berry

SECRETARY KERRY: Tom, thank you very much. Welcome, everybody. I’m particularly grateful for Tom’s introduction, and – but more importantly, for Tom’s work. He is relentless, he is always guided by his moral compass and his conscience, and I am very proud to have him serving as assistant secretary and working with me. It’s my privilege.
This is a terrific moment to be able to welcome Randy Berry as our first special envoy for human rights of LGBT persons. (Applause.) And I want to thank all those of you here today who really helped to make this possible. This is not just this moment; this is a lot of folks who have worked for some period of time. There are members of civil society here. There are members of Congress here. And they have all urged us to create this position. So to every single one of you who are committed to working with us to advance this important cause – including governments, corporations, and civil society organizations – we all say thank you for helping to push in the right direction.
Anyone who knows Randy will tell you that his devotion to country is matched only by his commitment to family, and this really is a family affair today, and I congratulate your sisters for getting Xander to sort of get into the real swing of things here. (Laughter.)
I want you to welcome his two sisters, Rhonda and Rita, his husband Pravesh, and their two children, Arya and Xander. And we’re happy to have you all here. (Applause.)
So this appointment really couldn’t happen at a more important time. And frankly, everybody being here today and my privilege of actually celebrating this appointment is really a way of sending a compelling message. We have a moral obligation to speak out against the persecution and the marginalization of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, fair, and tolerant. It is the right thing to do. But make no mistake: It’s also a strategic necessity. Greater protection of human rights leads to greater stability, prosperity, tolerance, inclusivity, and it is not a question of occasionally – always this is what happens.
So here today we’re underscoring a very important message. The United States of America remains unwavering in our commitment to advance the human rights of all human beings, and that includes LGBT persons prominently, appropriately, equal to everybody else here at home and around the world. (Applause.)
Now, the stakes could not be higher. In country after country, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack their dignity, undermine their safety, and violate their human rights. And many LGBT people continue to be harassed, arrested, killed simply because of who they are or who they love. That’s unacceptable. And we believe it has to change.
At the same time, we know governments and civil societies in many regions are taking positive steps to advance LGBT rights. And we need to build on and learn from those successes. So this is an important post that Randy is signing up for. And it’s an important moment to represent our country. It demands courage and commitment, and it demands character. And I think everybody here who knows Randy knows those are three words that define him.
When he served as the regional refugee coordinator in Kampala, he was responsible for overseeing our humanitarian aid to more than 1.5 million refugees throughout the Great Lakes region. He visited some of the most remote villages and refugee camps in order to make sure that lifesaving aid was reaching those who needed it the most. On one trip, he even crossed a wide river on a makeshift boat to visit Congolese refugees. And that tells you something about his courage and his commitment to be able to get things done.
When he served as the deputy principal officer and political chief in Cape Town, Randy supported the implementation of one of the world’s largest HIV/AIDS prevention programs to curb mother-to-child transmissions in rural areas. And we have made stunning progress in our effort to save lives. In fact, we are on the cusp, if we continue to do what we’re doing today, of the world’s first generation of AIDS-free children. (Applause.) Randy took on – but what’s significant about Randy’s commitment to that is that he took it on at a time when AIDS was a death sentence, back when in many positions of authority, people weren’t even comfortable saying the word. And I can tell you that from my experience in the United States Senate in the early 1990s. And his leadership and his compassion made a big difference.
If you ask his colleagues, the first thing they’ll tell you is that Randy cares about people. He makes connections. He listens. And he always seeks to try to find the common ground. As our deputy chief of mission in Nepal, Randy worked hand in hand with Ambassador Nancy Powell to promote political and ethnic reconciliation. In his most recent post as consul general in Amsterdam, he elevated LGBT issues in our bilateral engagement and was the first to host a Pride Event at the Consulate General.
So in Randy, we have both a man of principle and a proven consensus builder. He’s a diplomat who knows where he comes from, knows what he stands for, but also, importantly, knows where he’s going and knows the challenges ahead when it comes to promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBT persons.
First, we have to update and build on our roadmap for how the United States should respond to anti-LGBT laws and practices. And I’m proud that the State Department has devoted considerable time and effort to developing a strategy on these issues. But that strategy has to be continually refreshed and more importantly, has to acted upon. Randy, I believe, is going to give us the senior-level firepower that we need to make sure we do that.
Second, while crisis response may be unavoidable, we need to continue our efforts to support governments and civil society activists that are driving the change on the ground. And as everybody here knows, that’s where the rubber really meets the road, so to speak. We’re already doing a great deal through our Global Equality Fund. But it’s no secret that the needs remain substantially greater than the resources that are available, and we welcome any and all who are willing to help us fill this gap.
Third, we need to set the gold standard in terms of the treatment and the posture of our own diplomats. That means making certain that LGBT spouses and families get the same treatment overseas as any other diplomat would and that there is parity in the protections and benefits for LGBT and heterosexual couples. (Applause.)
Fourth, we need to double down on our nongovernmental partnerships, and that means working with a diverse range of allies in the faith community, the business community, civil society in order to advocate for tolerance and to promote equality.
And finally, we must fully integrate LGBT rights into our multilateral and bilateral engagement, working with regional organizations and with partners from the global south.
So we have a great deal of work to do, obviously, and a great deal of work that’s going to start right away. I can’t tell you how amazing it is, the distance that we have traveled in a short span of time. I mean, I can remember the questions that I was asked both in Senate races in the late 1990s, but more particularly when I ran for president of the United States, and I remember well the difference that a particular referenda in Ohio made to the outcome of that particular race.
So I know what this means. But I want to emphasize the fight may not be won, but this is no time to get discouraged. It’s time for every single one of us to remain active and to keep pushing and keep believing that the change that we’ve been able to embrace is really a change that ultimately everybody will as we break down the barriers and really educate and teach people there’s nothing to fear.
It is time to reaffirm, and we do so today with this announcement and appointment, the dignity of all persons, and to say loudly and clearly, no matter who you are and no matter who you love, we stand with you. That’s more than a message. That is a movement that we can ignite, and with our work here together, we will see this movement succeed. We will keep moving. We will keep going forward towards our shared goal of justice and equality for all.
So Randy, as you are surrounded today by family and by friends, I want you to know that you have President Obama’s full confidence, you have my full confidence, and you have the respect and the gratitude of the State Department family. And I look forward to working closely with you and with everybody here and the many people who are committed to this cause in the months and years to come. Let’s stay at it. God bless. And thank you, Randy, for taking on this task. (Applause.)
MR. BERRY: Thank you. Thank you all. Mr. Secretary, distinguished guests, thank you so much. I am deeply, deeply honored and humbled by the confidence and trust that you’ve placed in me in appointing me to this special envoy role. I’d further like to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your ongoing leadership and commitment in advancing the human and civil rights of members of the LGBT community both here and abroad, not only in leading the men and women of the State Department and in defining our nation’s foreign policy priorities, but also for your many years of advancing equality in the Senate.
I am well aware how lucky I am to be standing here before you today with such amazing and comprehensive support networks, not only professionally but also personally. I’m joined here today not only by my sisters, Rita and Rhonda from Colorado, but also by my husband and my fellow global traveler, Pravesh Singh. Pravesh left his native South Africa nearly a decade ago not only to join me, but I think he really didn’t realize he was also joining a larger family, and that is the Foreign Service, a family bound together in service to the United States. He’s as much a member of the United States Foreign Service as I am, and I am very pleased to say that post-DOMA, when we move here from Amsterdam in early April, he will move home as an American citizen. (Applause.)
Pravesh and I do not share a common culture, nor do we share a common religion, nor do we share a common race. As much as it pains me to say this, we don’t even share a common decade – (laughter) – really. What we do share, however, is love, and that love has built a good and happy life and a family that now includes our exceptional – (laughter) – our exceptional young children who are normally so well behaved – (laughter) – Arya and Xander. Yet as I say that, I think all of us in this room recognize just how unbelievably fortunate we are, for in far too many places around the world not only is this type of story impossible, but additionally, great and terrible injustices are visited on people like us.
This love still stands ground for imprisonment, harassment, torture, and far worse in too many places around the world. That is a violation of human rights. It is a violation of human rights by the standards set forth by many of our allies and partners around the world, and it is a violation of human rights by the standard of the universal declaration. We can and we must do better. Lives, futures, hopes and dreams depend on that, and that is why we’re here today. That’s also why this type of role is needed.
And that’s why we together must continue to build the bonds of common cause and effort. And that is why I am so, so proud, as I’m sure you understand, to serve this nation, this Administration, and work for this Secretary of State who has placed equality for all in the center of our global leadership on human rights.
Since Monday’s formal announcement of my appointment, I’ve experienced a deluge of messages of support, partnership, inspiration, encouragement, and importantly, offers to help. Much of that has come from people who I’ve known for many years, but many of those hopeful messages have also come from people who I’ve never met, both inside and outside the Department, both in the United States and outside. That reaffirms to me that there is such a great desire for progress in a world that’s still too hostile to members of our global community. In a period which has seen so much substantial progress in the United States, it would be so easy to believe that that story can be translated easily into positive developments across the globe. But in too much of the world, progress in recognizing the innate, fundamental human rights of LGBT persons has come too slowly, not at all, or has actually deteriorated.
But I also know there to be a groundswell of goodwill, good efforts, and good intentions. And now, the work at hand is how to ensure we continue to tap those resources, minds, and capacities to achieve great results.
As the Secretary noted, we have a great deal of work ahead, important and critical work. As the composition of this gathering here today demonstrates, though, there is a broad and willing coalition already at work to see greater progress made. Back in 2011, then-Secretary Hillary Clinton delivered a seminal speech which spelled out the U.S. Government’s view that LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights. It’s that simple. (Applause.)
In that same speech, she referred to the need for a constellation of conversations to occur across a broad span of viewpoints. These conversations have been occurring and must continue to occur with our friends, with our allies, with those who see things differently than we do, and most importantly with those who reject the notion that we are dealing with a fundamental human rights issue. Some of those conversations are going to be simpler and easier than others; some will be extraordinarily difficult and direct. But they must and they will occur.
Even though this special envoy position is new, most of you know that, in fact, the mission of promoting and protecting the human rights of our community is not. I am so proud to be joining a team of professionals here at the State Department within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and to work more broadly with the other J bureaus and USAID and other government agencies, which have been working with heart and soul for years to advance the cause which we hold so dear.
We’ve seen critical interventions in crisis situations, but also the use of such innovations as the Global Equality Fund to build local civil society networks and capabilities, ensure access to justice, and provide safe haven for those at risk.
Many of you in this room are foundational partners in that effort and I thank you for that. Looking ahead, I pledge to put forth my strongest effort to honor and deepen those friendships with our friends and allies and to seek out new partners and grow that momentum.
We are not alone in our efforts. We must continue to learn from and exchange clear views with our closest governmental allies in this fight, realizing that some, like Sweden or the Government of the Netherlands, which I happen to be a bit familiar with right now – (laughter) – continue to lead the world in some of the most tangible achievements for members of our community. Many governments in Latin America have also boldly led the way in providing great examples of how to protect the rights of an encourage respect for their LGBT citizens.
To our friends and partners working in the international civil society and global equality sphere and have provided a catalyst for change in many places around the globe, I look forward to encouraging – to engaging robustly, again, to continue to learn and to continue to refine our partnership. As leaders in social innovation and promotion of change, your role is invaluable.
To the members of the American and international business community, we have much to discuss. (Laughter.) Some businesses – that’s a good thing actually – some businesses with a global exposure have been – have long been at the forefront of LGBT-friendly policies in the workplace, not only because they believe it’s the right thing to do, but because they also know –as we do – that being inclusive and valuing the types of contributions that diversity brings, just makes good business sense, period. We need to bring that conversation increasingly to the attention of those around the world who would seek to grow their tourism and business economies. If you want to do that and discriminate, businesses will tell you that model doesn’t work.
I will seek to partner more with businesses not only to explore in greater detail how positive policies can encourage change, but also to see greater partnership through the Global Equality Fund, which carries great promise but needs additional support and participation. To our friends and partners, allies, and advocates doing the most challenging and difficult work in the most challenging and difficult of places, let me assure you that, as the Secretary just noted, the United States Government is fully committed to promoting and protecting your human rights. And to do that we must continue to engage with and listen intently to the views and needs of local rights organizations taking up the banner in hundreds of places around the world.
I am in the greatest admiration of those who at great risk to themselves refuse to leave, refuse to stay silent, and refuse to compromise in their knowledge that we are all entitled to equal rights and dignity under the law. They deserve to be heard and they will be leading the most effective change in the face of often massive obstacles.
And finally, to members of the global LGBT community and to friends and allies both abroad and at home, I would say there is no exclusive space in protecting these essential human rights. As many of us have found through our own personal journeys, there is great resolve, will, and justice in the minds of our friends, our families, our colleagues, and our partners and our neighbors. Visibility has been key in seeing progress achieved in America and in many other places in the world. And by that, I mean the members of our shared community have to be visible, they have to be heard, and they must be free to be open about who they are.
That sort of visibility has the power to change hearts, minds, opinions, and attitudes. Though government bears special responsibility in pursuing change and greater protections for the human rights of the LGBT community, it is not, cannot be, nor has it ever been alone in doing so. It will take the entirety of our efforts to see progress and I look forward with enthusiasm, with hope, with optimism, and with commitment to working with you to build a more positive future for the young LGBT person out there who sees no hope, who sees no opportunity, who sees no safe space. My children deserve a better world than that, as do all children, regardless of where they live, who they are, or who they love.
Mr. Secretary, thank you again for giving me this opportunity. Thank you to Pravesh for joining me on this international journey in service to the United States. And I’d like to also thank Arya and Xander for behaving reasonably well today – (laughter) – with some exception. Thank you very much. (Applause.)