WASHINGTON — Secretary John Kerry pledged to step up U.S. efforts to promote LGBT rights abroad during a Friday State Department reception to welcome Randy Berry, the first the ever special envoy for the rights of LGBT persons.
"The United States of America remains unwavering in our commitment to the human rights of all human beings," Kerry said. "That includes LGBT persons prominently, appropriately, equal to everybody else here at home and around the world,"
BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month that Secretary Kerry would name Berry, using his own authority to establish the special envoy post after legislation to create the position, sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), stalled in Congress. Berry, a career foreign service officer, currently serves as consul general to the Netherlands and has previously served in posts in countries including New Zealand and Uganda.
Kerry said that Berry would provide the "senior-level firepower" to "update and build on our roadmap for how the United States responds to anti-LGBT laws and practices," and called for the department to strengthen its partnerships with LGBT rights activists in other countries to advance change rather than just respond to crises. Kerry also said that the US must work to "fully integrate LGBT rights" into its work with other countries and international institutions.
Kerry got the loudest applause when he said the department should "set the gold standard" for the treatment of its own LGBT employees, including "making certain that LGBT spouses and families get the same treatment overseas as any other diplomat." Currently, foreign services officers cannot count on host countries to allow their same-sex partners accompany them to their post the way that the an opposite-sex spouse would be able to.
Berry held up his family's story as a symbol of how America had changed on LGBT rights when he took the podium following Kerry's remarks. He said that his husband, a South African named Pravesh Singh, would finally be able to become an American citizen when they relocate to Washington in April thanks to the two-year old Supreme Court ruling striking down the law that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Singh spent much of the reception in the back of the room holding their two children.
Berry did not offer many specifics about his priorities for the post, but said that he hoped that he could help build "a positive future for the young LGBT person out there who sees no hope, who sees no opportunity, who sees no safe space."
"My children deserve a better world than that," Berry said, "as do all children regardless of where they live, who they are, or who they love."
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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