Remarks at the ILGA-Europe 2014 Conference

Riga, October 8, 2014

By Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Sharon Hudson-Dean

Hello, and welcome everyone. Thank you to Evelyne for that warm introduction, and to ILGA-Europe for hosting us today The United States is so happy to partner with ILGA, as we work together to advance the human rights of LGBT persons.

And a special thank you to our panelists from Riga and Zagreb for taking the time to share their experiences, as we explore different ways that government and civil society can collaborate to promote and protect the human rights of all people, including LGBT persons.

The theme of this year’s ILGA-Europe conference is MOVEment: Leading Sustainable Change, which makes this conversation feel very timely. We know that for change to truly be sustainable, it requires broad alliances of stakeholders working together across sectors to advance the message that human rights are universal, and belong to all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In too many places, LGBT persons continue to be targeted for violence, even murder, and face significant levels of official and societal discrimination. This is true in my country. The United States does not have a perfect record on LGBT issues – but we are taking steps every day to make sure that all people, including LGBT people, can exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In all countries, there are costs to not protecting the human rights of LGBT persons: in lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred when members of any group are treated as lesser or “other,” whether they are women and girls, indigenous peoples, or members of a racial, ethnic, or religious minority, or the LGBT community.

The fundamental principle that guides our efforts in these areas is that the human rights of LGBT persons are not different than or separate from the human rights of everyone else.

In December 6, 2011, the same day that then-Secretary Hillary Clinton made her historic speech on the human rights of LGBT persons in Geneva, President Obama released a Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.

That directive lays out five main areas that guide our engagement on LGBT issues around the world: 1) Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad; 2) Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers; 3) Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination; 4) Swift and Meaningful U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad; and 5) Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination.

We are making good progress in implementing the Presidential Memorandum. We have developed strategies to target laws that criminalize consensual same sex conduct in countries around the world, and have a rapid response mechanism in place to address violence against LGBT persons. Since 2011, this mechanism has helped over 200 LGBT human rights defenders and civil society organizations to continue working and to improve their safety and security in the face of threat or attack.

Through the Global Equality Fund, which was also launched in December 2011, the Department works with 16 like-minded governments, including the Government of Croatia, private foundations, and business sector partners to support programs advancing the human rights of LGBT persons worldwide. Through this partnership, the Fund has allocated more than $17 million in funds for programs in more than 50 countries.

U.S. Embassies around the world engage with host governments and local civil society organizations on LGBT issues. Every year, embassies and consulates host Pride and IDAHO events, include LGBT civil society organizations in their official events, and make public statements supporting the human rights of LGBT persons. We rely on our colleagues in civil society to help us shape our engagement on these issues.

We also work with other governments at the United Nations, the OSCE, and many other multilateral fora. The United States was proud to co-sponsor the first-ever UN Human Rights Council Resolution on LGBT issues in June 2011 and very pleased to vote in support of the second LGBT resolution just passed in Geneva a few weeks ago.

But we also know that this work is not just something that happens when governments come together – it is something that is part of the day-to-day work of all of us here today. So I am pleased to welcome our panelists, who will share a bit about the great things that can happen when governments and civil society organizations work together to advance the human rights of LGBT persons.

From Latvia, I am pleased to welcome Kaspars Zalitis, human rights activist, and board member of Mozaika; Mr. Viktors Makarovs, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and we are pleased and honored to have Ambassador Baiba Braže with us as well.

From Croatia, I am happy to introduce Marko Jurcic, Head of Zagreb Pride, and Ana Puljic-Zunjic, Head of the Division for Human Rights and Regional International Organizations and Initiatives in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kaspars, if I can ask you to start us off, we look forward to a good discussion.