On June 29, HRC staff participated in the Obama White House’s final Pride event. The event brought together government officials, diplomats, activists and civil society leaders to discuss the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world. The event entitled “Assessing Progress, Setting Goals” reviewed the Obama Administration's accomplishments advancing LGBTQ equality abroad and laid the groundwork for the movement going forward.
In conjunction with the event, the White House also released a fact sheet detailing the Administration’s historic achievements on advancing LGBTQ human rights, from the Presidential Memorandum signed in 2011 laying out “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons” to the appointment of high ranking LGBTQ-focused officials at the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the last two years.
From those larger initiatives to smaller ones, this administration has seized countless opportunities to promote greater understanding for LGBTQ people around the world. The fact sheet explained:
“In forums ranging from the UN General Assembly to The Human Rights Campaign to the Tonight Show, President Obama and senior administration officials have spoken publicly, engaged privately, and made clear our conviction that all persons deserve to live lives free from violence and discrimination.”
The event kicked off with welcoming remarks from Randy Berry, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons.
"We have to redouble our efforts to combat hate and intolerance wherever we find it,” Berry said, “whether here or abroad." Citing “courage in abundance” among LGBTQ leaders around the world with whom he’s met, Berry quoted civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, who said, "You cannot be afraid to speak out and speak up for what you believe."
The event then moved to a series of panels with diplomats, LGBTQ activists and other experts, including Eric Gitari from Kenya, Frank Mugisha from Uganda, Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas, Indian transgender activist Abhina Aher and Vietnam’s Tran Khac Tung. Panelists focused on opportunities to advance LGBTQ human rights through international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), and through visits like President Obama’s to Kenya in 2015. On the panel, Gitari asserted that this visit helped combat anti-LGBTQ legislation that the Kenyan parliament was considering.
Between panels, Ambassador Samantha Power spoke about her work at the United Nations, and highlighted the recent UN Security Council statement condemning the massacre in Orlando, the first such statement ever to mention “sexual orientation.”
Five years ago, she said, no one could have dreamed that the UN Security Council would unanimously agree to a statement including those words.
The event closed with emotional remarks from USAID Administrator Gayle Smith, who told the tragic story of the murder of Xulhaz Mannan, a gay USAID staffer in Bangladesh. Assailants claiming affiliation with ISIL hacked Mannan to death. Mannan’s death, she said, shows how important this work is and how far we have to go, but she remained hopeful that this work would continue until inauguration day on January 20, 2016, and beyond.