Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first let me say I’m just going to drop the microphone and leave it to these two, because who wants to follow that? (Laughter.)
It is so wonderful to see everyone here. And as Jessica said, there’s something wonderful about just being back in this room, in the Ben Franklin Room. We haven’t had a chance to use it very much because of COVID in recent years, but to see it filled with all of you, to feel the energy in this room that you’re bringing to it, is a powerful thing.
And in some ways, it’s very appropriate that we’re here with Ben Franklin. He was our nation’s first diplomat, as I think all of you know. He charted the Gulf Stream, he pioneered electricity, he authored America’s first treaty, he helped forge a new ethos of self-government. And virtually none of this did he do while sober. (Laughter.) So I know that’s not going to be an issue here tonight.
But first, Happy Pride, everyone. (Cheers.)
As you’ve heard, this is our first in-person Pride reception in far too long – six years – and I’m thrilled that we’re finally able to do it, because Pride Month is all about love, authenticity, justice, equality, and those are very much worth celebrating.
Jessica, thank you for that introduction. But mostly, thank you for your tireless efforts already as our special envoy to stand up for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world, to tackle discrimination and violence wherever we find it.
We spent some time together this week. I would not want to be in the way of Jessica Stern. (Applause.) I’m so glad that I’m on her team. (Laughter.)
And I also want to say a few words about a few other people. Uzra Zeya – Uzra, are you here somewhere? There. (Applause.) Uzra, as I think most of you know, is our under secretary of state for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and she is leading our efforts to defend rights around the world, including for LGBTQI+ persons.
And Michael, thank you, thank you, thank you for your extraordinary leadership of glifaa. You’ve done a remarkable job. We’re very, very pleased that you’re now off on a mission very soon to Luxembourg, but to you, to everyone from glifaa’s board and membership who is here, thank you, thank you, thank you.
We’re here tonight because, first and foremost, Pride Month is about supporting and celebrating LGBTQI+ persons everywhere, including in the workplace. And simply put, we wouldn’t be able to do our work without you – and we wouldn’t want to. You’re dedicated public servants, incredibly talented diplomats, cherished colleagues and teammates. You make our country safer; you make our foreign policy stronger. And we want to do everything we can to make sure that this department, the State Department, always recognizes your worth, supports you and your families, and is a place where you can bring your whole self to work every single day.
Now, to do that, we need to be honest about the work it’s taken to get where we are today, and you’ve heard reference to some of it. For a long time, LGBTQI+ people couldn’t live openly and still get a State Department security clearance. In contrast – in contrast – this week and this weekend, Diplomatic Security agents marched with glifaa in the DC Pride Parade. (Applause.) That in and of itself is a pretty remarkable journey. And it’s thanks in large part to glifaa, and to all the people who stood up and fought for America’s foreign affairs agencies to be better. That took courage. It took resilience. And it’s achieved real results.
But again, as you’ve heard, there’s still a lot of work to do. The work is ongoing, and in a sense, it always will be. We can’t ever become complacent in advancing equity in our workplace. And especially now, it is so critical that we reaffirm our shared commitment to an America where all people are treated with equal respect and equal humanity, and where all kids know that they’re perfect just the way they are. (Applause.) At the same time, we’re also working very closely with glifaa to see to it that when an LGBTQI+ officer serves overseas, they can do so with their partner. That is a priority for me and for all of us. (Applause.)
So we here at State have another responsibility as well. It is our job – and it’s quite literally Jessica’s job – to stand up for human rights all over the world. And the fact is, again, as you’ve heard, the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are vulnerable or actively violated in far too many places. Homosexual status or conduct is still illegal in 70 countries around the world. That’s about a third of the world’s countries. In some, it’s punishable by death. And in too much of the world, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, or simply gender non-conforming means that you’re going to be dealing with violence, you’re going to be dealing with harassment, targeted by the police or security forces, denied education, denied employment, denied equal access to the justice sector or to healthcare, experiencing profoundly isolating social exclusion.
These are human rights abuses – and the United States fights for human rights. Human rights are indivisible. Whenever one group of people is targeted, all vulnerable groups are less safe. And whenever one group’s rights are protected, societies as a whole become both more free, more prosperous, more secure. This is the “inescapable network of mutuality” that Dr. Martin Luther King talked about when he said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That’s why it’s not just enough to stand up for LGBTQI rights at home. We have to continue and we will continue to stand up for equal rights everywhere, in partnership with local activists and local communities.
Human rights are also central to our support for democracy around the world, because any system in which some groups are treated as “less than” – as second-class citizens with fewer rights and protections – is fundamentally flawed.
Wednesday, as you heard, President Biden signed an executive order to advance LGBTQI+ equality at home and abroad that includes direction to this department, to the State Department, along with other relevant agencies, to develop a plan to promote an end to the profoundly harmful and medically discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” around the world and to ensure that our foreign – (applause) – and to ensure, to ensure, that our foreign assistance dollars do not fund it.
At the Human Rights Council, we are supporting renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity for another three years, so that this vital work to protect people facing violence and discrimination continues.
We’ll keep supporting marriage equality and legal recognition for same-sex relationships around the world.
And this year, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the State Department’s Global Equality Fund. With support from Congress, from other countries, private sector partners, we have provided more than $100 million to LGBTQI+ organizations in more than 100 countries. (Cheers.)
We will continue to find ways to advance this work around the world. And I have a pretty good feeling I can count on everyone in this room to help us do that – (laughter) – because many of you have been pushing us to do more and to do better for a long time.
So as Mike noted at the outset, this is the 30th anniversary of glifaa’s founding. I think probably all of you know the backstory, but for the few of you who don’t: David Buss was a Foreign Service officer. He was posted to the Seychelles. David Larson was there with the Peace Corps. They became great friends. Eventually, they fell in love.
As a result, David Larson was removed from the Peace Corps for his, quote, “inappropriate lifestyle.” David Buss learned that the State Department was investigating him because of his sexuality. He also learned that other people at State and USAID were going through the same ordeal.
So the two Davids invited some of those colleagues over for brunch one weekend back in 1992. They included Bryan Dalton, Danny Hall, Jan Krc, Eric Nelson, John Schneider. That’s how glifaa was born.
This story reminds us that powerful moments are often rooted in necessity, but also – also – in love, in friendship – and sometimes brunch. (Laughter.)
It’s a story about who we were but also who we’ve become.
And I just want to thank everyone who has courageously carried forward that legacy, the legacy that glifaa’s founders began all those years ago. We will continue to march together. Thank you very much. (Applause.)