February 27, 2015 at 1:50 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
John Kerry introduces LGBT envoy
Randy Berry, U.S. Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

Randy Berry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday formally introduced Randy Berry as the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights.

“We have a moral obligation to speak out against the persecution and the marginalization of LGBT persons,” said Kerry during a State Department reception where he formally introduced Berry. “The United States of America remains unwavering in our commitment to advance the human rights of all being, and that includes LGBT persons.”

Berry’s husband and their two young children joined him during the reception.

“This love still stands ground for imprisonment, harassment, torture and far worse in too many places around the world,” said Berry, referring to his spouse who is originally from South Africa. “That is a violation of human rights.”

“We can and we must do better,” added Berry. “Lives, futures, hopes and dreams depend on that and that is why we are here today and that is also why this type of role is needed.”

Berry has been the consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Amsterdam since August 2012.

He was the consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Auckland, New Zealand, from 2009-2012 and the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nepal from 2007-2009. Berry during his State Department career has also been posted in D.C., Bangladesh, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa.

“Secretary Kerry has rightly recognized that the unique human rights abuses facing LGBT persons require a unique candidate in a unique role,” Selim Ariturk, president of GLIFAA, an association of LGBT employees of Foreign Service agencies, told the Washington Blade after the reception. “We couldn’t be more proud to see Randy take this important job.”

LGBT rights advocates around the world also welcomed Berry’s appointment.

“With the appointment of the special envoy for LGBT Rights, the U.S. has shown its strong position to ensure everyone has the same rights including for LGBT people,” Midnight Poonkasetwattana, executive director of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, which is based in Bangkok, told the Blade on Friday. “I hope the strong and open political commitment can also happen in our part of the world — in Asia Pacific as well — and that he’ll be able to help LGBT groups and networks advocate at the national level for LGBT rights.”

“ILGA-Europe welcomes Randy Berry’s appointment as the U.S. State Department’s first-ever LGBT envoy,” said ILGA-Europe in a statement. “ILGA-Europe see his appointment as an opportunity to strengthen the involvement of allies to the LGBTI community, both from the LGBTI sphere and others working on related human rights issues.”

Dindi Tan of the Association of Transgender Philippines agreed.

“The appointment of Special Envoy on LGBT Affairs Randy Berry is a bold move by the U.S. government and shows the unflinching resolve of the Obama administration to make good its promise of ‘substantive’ integration of LGBT agenda in the mainframe of his administration,” she told the Blade in an e-mail. “I join the other world LGBT leaders in welcoming this move with optimism.”

Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, on Friday during a Skype interview with the Blade from his country’s capital of Bogotá questioned what exactly Berry would do to promote global LGBT rights as a State Department envoy.

Albarracín noted the State Department last week appointed Bernie Aronson as a special envoy for the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel group, that continue to take place in the Cuban capital of Havana.

“It’s good the Obama administration has appointed (Berry,)” Albarracín told the Blade. “It sends a message to the world, but it needs a clear plan.”

Tan expressed a similar point.

“We hope that with a key person at the helm of fighting for equal rights anywhere in the world, we are assured that LGBT voices will be made more pronounced than ever,” she told the Blade.

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

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