March 15, 2016 at 9:06 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Randy Berry: LGBT rights ‘a global issue’
Randy Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry speaks at the Atlantic Council on March 14, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry on Monday said the promotion of equality based on sexual orientation and gender identity is “a global issue.”

“This is a global issue and it demands a global response,” he said in a speech he gave the Atlantic Council’s offices near McPherson Square.

The Atlantic Council and GLIFAA co-sponsored the event that gay U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe and more than 200 others attended.

Gill Foundation Vice President of Policy Gautam Raghavan moderated a panel on which incoming U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Luxembourg Kerri Hannan, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Croatian Embassy Mario Skunca and Mira Patel of the U.S. Agency for International Development sat. GLIFAA President Regina Jun and Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson also spoke.

Berry in his speech noted that a dozen countries now contribute to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership the State Department manages with USAID to promote LGBT rights around the world.

The LGBT Core Group at the U.N. includes two-dozen countries and an observer state. An international LGBT rights conference that is scheduled to take place in Uruguay in July is expected to draw advocates and officials from around the world.

Berry specifically applauded Chile, Colombia and other Latin American countries for advocating for LGBT-specific issues on the U.N. Human Rights Council. He also noted the Organization of American States has created a special rapporteur for LGBT-specific issues.

“Global change is truly underway,” said Berry.

LGBT issues at ‘very core’ of U.S. human rights agenda

Berry delivered his speech nearly a year after he assumed his position within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

He has visited 42 countries since April 2015.

“LGBTI rights are at the very core of our human rights agenda,” said Berry.

Berry earlier on Monday attended President Obama’s speech to diplomats who were gathered at the State Department for the annual Chiefs of Mission Conference.

“We’ve got to keep standing up for citizens who are striving to forge their own futures through fair and free elections and open government and insisting on the dignity of all people so that we’re respecting human rights around the world,” said Obama, which Berry noted in his speech.

Gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, who is subject to a petition that urges Obama to remove him from his post for promoting an “LGBT agenda,” is among the diplomats who are in D.C. this week.

The openly gay ambassador received a sustained round of applause when Raghavan noted he was among those in the audience. A growing number of Brewster’s supporters — including some of those who attended Berry’s speech and the subsequent panel — have begun to post pictures of themselves with him on their social media pages with the hashtag #ImWithWally.

Visibility ‘single most important act’

Berry in his speech singled out Russia, Uganda and Indonesia as countries in which anti-LGBT crackdowns continue to take place.

He noted that he recently met with a former head of state who “changed his position on LGBT rights” after leaving office because of a lesbian’s coming out story he had heard.

“It was remarkable to me because it was the most common story that we all know that is repeated every day a thousand times a day,” said Berry. “It was heartfelt though. It was personal and it was a supremely human story.”

“That has the capacity to change the mind of a leader just as it has the capacity to change the minds of our families and our friends and our co-workers and those who care about us,” he added. “In any society visibility is perhaps the single most important act a person can take.”

Berry stressed that coming out in many parts of the world can lead to harassment and “far, far greater consequences” that include execution.

He noted that he recently met a young transgender woman in Turkey who was a victim of “unspeakable violence.” Berry said she nevertheless continued to fight for herself and other trans people in her country.

“Her brave visibility demands our respect and our support,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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