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Kerry: U.S. has obligation to defend LGBT rights abroad

Secretary of State spoke at GLIFAA Pride reception

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Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry
Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the United States has a “moral obligation” to defend LGBT rights abroad.

“We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons,” he said during Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event at the State Department in Foggy Bottom. “We have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair and tolerant.”

Kerry spoke hours after President Obama specifically referenced gays and lesbians in a speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The former Massachusetts senator’s comments also come against the backdrop of increased anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria and other countries.

He referenced French advocates whom he said successfully stood up against a “very bitter” and “very divisive” opposition against the country’s same-sex marriage law in response to a question from GLIFAA member Doug Morrow who is on post in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev about how to respond to anti-gay legislation and homophobic rhetoric from government officials and religious leaders.

“We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve,” Kerry said. “Using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 proclaimed “gay rights are human rights” during the landmark speech she gave in Geneva to commemorate International Human Rights Day. President Obama on the same day issued a presidential memorandum that directed government agencies that implement American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights in the countries in which they work.

Kerry pointed to the 2011 adoption of a United Nations resolution in support of LGBT rights, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the nomination of three gay men to ambassadorships last week as examples of the administration’s ongoing commitment to gay issues abroad. Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told the Washington Blade after Kerry’s speech the Global Partnership Initiative that includes public and private partners has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support activists and underrepresented groups since its 2011 inception.

“Your work is so important,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said during the GLIFAA event after Kerry’s speech. “It’s literally saving lives and building up real people around the world.”

The GLIFAA gathering also took place ahead of the expected U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to be against discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Georgia Congressman John Lewis said during the event. “No government — be it state or federal — should be able to tell a person who they can love and not love, who they can marry and not marry.”

Kerry, who was among the 14 U.S. senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, said he is hopeful the justices will strike down the law that then-President Bill Clinton signed.

He cited the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s election to the U.S. Senate last fall as examples of the progress he said this country has seen on LGBT-specific issues. Kerry noted, however, the lack of immigration rights for bi-national couples is an example of the work he said that remains to be done.

“We have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel,” he said. “Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Blake Bergen

    June 20, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Great article Michael! Best I’ve read on this event – very comprehensive!

  2. Arturo Schultz

    June 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Well we need more of that at home too! Sign the Executive orders Mr President!

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Victory Fund honors gay Guatemalan congressman at D.C. conference

Aldo Dávila a vocal critic of country’s government

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Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila speaks at the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference after he received the Global Trailblazer Award. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Victory Fund on Friday honored an openly gay Guatemalan congressman who has faced death threats because of his efforts to fight corruption in his country.

Dávila — a member of the Winaq movement, a leftist party founded by Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — in 2019 became the first openly gay man elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila, who also lives with HIV, had previously been the executive director of Asociación Gente Positiva, a Guatemala City-based HIV/AIDS service organization.

Supporters of President Alejandro Giammattei have lodged several formal complaints against Dávila after he publicly criticized the government over corruption, its response to the pandemic and other issues.

Three men on April 19 approached Dávila’s vehicle near Guatemala’s National Library and tried to rob him. One of Dávila’s bodyguards shot one of the men, but the two other assailants fled the scene before police officers and passersby arrived.

Dávila told the Washington Blade in September during an interview at a Guatemala City hotel that he and his partner installed cameras in their apartment after someone killed their dog.

Two female police officers who arrived at the hotel with Dávila sat in the lobby while he spoke with the Blade. The government a few weeks later reduced his security detail.

“Guatemala is living through the worst democratic crisis in the last 40 years,” said Dávila after he accepted the Victory Fund’s Global Trailblazer Award at its 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that is taking place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “Guatemala right now is being paralyzed by corruption and impunity and my voice is uncomfortable because of this.”

Dávila became emotional at the end of his remarks.

“I will keep fighting for our rights,” he said.

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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