At a parade, those gathered in attendance normally look forward to celebrating and being inspired by those marching. But at this weekend’s Capital Pride Parade, it was the marching European Union Delegation that drew its inspiration from those gathered in attendance.
I realized this the moment I turned the corner onto 14th Street on Saturday afternoon and gazed into the huge assembled crowd from the middle of the European Union’s float. The organizations in the center of the parade suddenly did not feel like the main drivers of the event. The true inspiration were the hundreds—thousands—tens of thousands—that I was facing in deep gratitude as they lined the streets of Washington.
The EU decided to officially march in Saturday’s parade because showing public support for the LGBT+ community is at the core of our values and mission. Numerous EU Member States joined our float—and a handful had their own as well—as we gathered to display international advocacy for the freedoms of assembly and expression and the principles of equality and non-discrimination, which are among the most basic of human rights.
I am new to D.C., but not new to this. Before assuming my post as EU Ambassador to the United States, I served six years as the EU’s first Special Representative for Human Rights, where it was my mission to help implement the European Union’s strong stance on promoting equality and protecting all human rights not just in Europe, but around the world. From defending democracy to advocating for the basic protections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I was honored to spearhead the EU’s leading international presence in this critical cause.
And in nearly every event that I attended, this sensation of inverted leadership rang true. During visits to over 50 countries all over the world, I witnessed that the human rights movement does not exist because some “elites” impose it (as goes the most popular allegation among committed human rights violators); instead, it draws its universal power and legitimacy from the fact that millions of ordinary citizens demand it. Saturday’s DC marchers and those lining the streets of Washington did not all share the same gender identity—in the same way that defenders of religious freedom or racial equality do not necessarily share the same religion or race. What they did share was the conviction that all human beings deserve the same respect and rights regardless of who they are or who they choose to love. Human rights leaders—to the extent that leadership also consists of inspiring others by example—are rarely the ones presenting on stage, or speaking to the cameras, or walking in the middle of the parade…but the ones in attendance, filling the seats and lining the streets.
It is from this determination that the European Union gets its directive. Guided by our 2015-2019 Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, the EU approaches its foreign policy on the basis that all individuals are entitled to the right of non-discrimination—and with this, of course, comes the LGBT+ community, front and center. Our European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights supports countless global projects that work to improve LGBT+ organizations’ visibility, enhance dialogue with authorities, combat prejudice, promote the change in discriminatory laws, provide training and legal support, and protect human rights defenders at risk.
The EU is now about to renew and re-vamp its Action Plan. In an effort to foster this conversation here in the United States, we are starting by hosting a panel discussion and reception to focus on a unique angle of this fight for equality: LGBT+ entrepreneurship. Fittingly held at D.C.’s Red Bear Brewing Co, we’re partnering with the Human Rights Foundation, Open for Business, and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to discuss the EU’s promotion and protection of LGBT+ businesses, entrepreneurs, and employees—and learn what more we should be doing to ensure equality in the workplace. The event is free and open to all; we’d be delighted to welcome you.
I will be on stage at this event, but just like at the Parade on Saturday, I will be looking to those in attendance for inspiration and true leadership.
Stavros Lambrinidis is the EU ambassador to the United States.