Special Envoy Berry and GLIFAA Take Stock of Remarkable Progress and the Road Ahead

Jeremy Kadden

In honor of an annual gathering of U.S. ambassadors stationed abroad, Randy Berry, the State Department's Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, headlined an event in at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. GLIFAA, the LGBT employee resource group for all foreign service agencies, organized the event.

"Change is coming to our world," Berry, who is openly gay and a member of GLIFAA, declared in his speech. "Global change is truly under way." He has visited 42 countries, carrying a message about the need to respect the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTI people. HRC fought hard for the creation of Berry's post, which was announced in February 2015, with more than 26,000 HRC members writing in to Secretary of State John Kerry in support of the position.

Berry focused part of his remarks on the power of LGBT visibility and coming out. He shared a story about the former president of a country who began to support LGBT rights after a conversation he had with a lesbian from his country. As we have learned time and time again, every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.

“This is a global issue and it demands a global response,” Berry noted, emphasizing HRC’s global business coalition and the need for more partnerships from governments, civil society and from corporations. “We try to do no harm, but we should never confuse that with doing nothing.”

After Berry’s remarks, Gautam Raghavan, Vice President at the Gill Foundation and former White House LGBT liaison, moderated a panel. Mira Patel of USAID, Kerri Hannan of the State Department and Mario Škunca of the Croatian Embassy in the U.S. were the panelists.

During the panel discussion, openly gay U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius, one of the founders of GLIFAA and currently serving in Vietnam, recalled the drastic changes in the State Department over the past several decades. He also emphasized the positive change under the Obama Administration.

Patel noted that there has been particular progress at the State Department for transgender Americans, who can now receive a passport with their correct gender.

While there was much cause for celebration at the event, Raghavan reminded the group that there is more work to do, noting that there are no women, people of color or transgender people at the highest levels of our LGBT diplomatic corps. Škunca also reminded the crowd to be careful in their roles and to remember that human lives are at stake.

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