SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good evening, everyone. And first, Happy Pride. (Applause.)
So, I’ve learned a few things on this job over the last few years. Maybe one of the most important is never follow Jessica Stern to the podium. (Laughter.) Jessica’s just back from Geneva, representing the United States at the UN Human Rights Council. I want to be known as the person who unleashed Jessica on the world. (Laughter and applause.) We could not be more fortunate having not only an expert like Jessica leading the fight to advance the rights of the LGBTQI+ community, but someone of extraordinary passion and just a little bit of tenacity. (Laughter.) So I’m grateful for your partnership and for everything that we’re working to do together.
We’re also joined by a number of other senior officials in the department, including Uzra Zeya, who’s our under secretary of state for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Uzra, where are you? (Applause.) Uzra does extraordinary work to protect and promote the human rights of all people, including the LGBTQI+ community.
A few other people I’d like to recognize that I think are important. Lucia Piazza – where are you? Where’s Lucia? Right there. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you not only for your leadership of glifaa, but also in your day job, hiring the next generation of Foreign Service officers, helping this department harness our nation’s greatest strength, which is our diversity. Thank you. (Applause.)
So this evening – and this entire month – is all about embracing and elevating our LGBTQI+ friends, family, and colleagues. And that has been a priority for President Biden from day one of this administration, including, as you heard Jessica talk about, through his historic executive order last year to advance LGBTQI+ equality.
So we’re here to reaffirm our commitment to America and to the world where everyone – everyone – is treated with dignity, and where all people – especially young people – are able to live freely and safely exactly as they are. (Applause.)
The United States is proud to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the globe. Not as some “Western” value, but as a universal value. LGBTQI+ people exist in every country, in every culture, in every religious tradition. Respecting their full humanity, respecting their rights – this is not a foreign imposition. It’s living up to the principle – enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that all people are born free and equal.
Democracy and LGBTQI+ rights, these are inextricably linked together. We know that inclusive democracies are also stronger democracies. When every citizen is included, when every citizen is treated equally, societies as a whole are more secure, they’re more stable. Democracies are healthier. Economies do better.
So this is in our national interest. It’s why advancing the rights of LGBTQI+ people is a priority for every part of this department, in every part of the world.
Just in the past year, we’ve gotten more countries – in the Middle East and South Asia – to accredit our diplomats with same-sex partners, so that they can serve overseas with their loved ones. This is day-in, day-out work. We’re making progress every single day on this. From West Africa to the Baltics, openly gay ambassadors are skillfully promoting American interests and American values. And again, we are proud to partner with glifaa as we work together to build an institution where everyone can bring their whole self to the office every single day.
Drawing on the leadership of Jessica’s mighty team, we’re also working to integrate and institutionalize LGBTQI+ efforts throughout our foreign policy agenda. Expanding the Core Group at the UN. Incorporating LGBTQI+ considerations into our foreign assistance. Supporting grassroots champions of LGBTQI+ rights.
Just this last week, the United States welcomed New Zealand as the 19th government to the Global Equality Fund. Together with the private sector, the Global Equality Fund has dedicated over $100 million to more than 100 countries – providing advocates training, giving them tools to prevent violence, to prevent discrimination.
These and other efforts we’ve been making have produced real progress in the past year. Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis decriminalized same-sex conduct. Switzerland and Slovenia legalized marriage equality. Iceland, Spain, Cyprus banned so-called “conversion therapy.” Kenya expanded protections for intersex children. France appointed an ambassador for LGBTQI+ rights. Last month, Latvia elected its first openly gay president.
So this is progress; it’s real. But – but, for all our progress, we recognize the urgency of this moment. It’s an urgent moment when LGBTQI+ individuals are being targeted simply because of who they are. It’s an urgent moment when there are still too many places where LGBTQI+ people can’t gather openly like this – where they fear being harassed, where they fear being denied a job, where they fear being turned out of their homes – even attacked. It’s an urgent moment when, in a third of the world’s countries, just being with the person you love is considered a criminal offense. In almost a dozen, it is punishable by death.
So we feel the fierce urgency of now.
Uganda’s discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, in particular, has deeply alarmed everyone in this room and many of us. As President Biden has said, “The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda.” The President made clear that this law will factor into Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and we will consider additional steps against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses.
There are, alas, many other countries on the wrong side of history. And, even at home, we know how much work remains to be done.
But I am also confident that we and you are up to the task of confronting this urgent moment. And by “we,” I mean everyone in this room.
When it comes to advancing the rights of this community, every single one of us at the State Department has a role to play, whether that’s getting a trans asylum seeker to safety, ensuring the procurement process doesn’t discriminate against gay business owners, pressing host governments to guarantee same-sex parents the right to pass citizenship on to their children. We all are determined to remain committed to this undertaking day in and day out, bilaterally, multilaterally; across issues, across regions, across our entire government.
And as we do this work, let’s take inspiration from those who have long been on the frontlines of the struggle: people like Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s many brave LGBTQI+ activists. Asked how he sustains his advocacy – which, under the country’s new law, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison – here’s what Frank said: “I guess I am going to be in trouble a lot, because I am not going to stop.” (Laughter and applause.)
We – we are not going to stop either. Everyone in this room, this department, this United States Government – we are going to continue to stand proudly with individuals like Frank, and stand proudly for the human rights of all people, everywhere.
So, to all of you gathered tonight, I simply want to say this: thank you, thank you, thank you. You make our department, you make our efforts, stronger. You make our foreign policy better. You make our nation safer. You bring us closer to our highest ideals. And our department will continue to have your back every single day. Happy Pride, everyone. Thank you. (Applause.)