Remarks by Special Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons

Pryvit.  My name is Randy Berry and I am the U.S. State Department’s first Special Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI persons.  It is a real pleasure and honor to be here with you today in Ukraine and to play a role in launching your Pride Week.  My job as Special Envoy is to lead U.S. Government efforts to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons globally.  Since I was appointed by President Obama and Secretary Kerry, I’ve traveled to over 40 countries worldwide, meeting with senior government officials, civil society organizations, the faith and business sector, and others all with the goal of growing a broader network and movement in support of LGBTI rights.  I’ve had some pretty challenging conversations in tough environments – but am constantly surprised at the openness in which I’ve been received, including in contexts such as Ukraine.

I know that this is a challenging moment for LGBTI rights in Ukraine, and this is why I’m so happy to be with you today as you kick-off Pride Week.  But it is also a moment of hope.  I’m happy to hear that last year you saw some genuine wins for Ukraine’s LGBTI community, and for all those committed to promoting human rights in Ukraine.  Your country passed an historic anti-discrimination law andUkraine’s first-ever National Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan.  Ukraine also successfully held its first Equality March since the Maidan Revolution, a revolution which demanded human rights for everyone.  Despite these promising gains, however, the March attack on the Equality Festival in Lviv remind us that progress can sometimes be slow and frustrating.

But I encourage you to remain hopeful and positive. Progress, even the slow and frustrating kind, depends on people like you — all of you.  Consider where the U.S. was a decade ago: our borders were closed to persons with AIDS; gays and lesbians had to hide who they were to fight for the nation they loved; and marriage equality was a distant dream.  But activism, education, unwavering commitment, and the conviction that recognizing rights for all people was simply the right thing to do, led not just to new laws and rules, but to real change and to recognition that everyone in the United States enjoys equal rights, no matter who they are or whom they love.  Yet we also know there is plenty of work to do in the United States to advance full equality for all persons – and there is an evolving and honest process to get us there.  We know that to achieve progress, there will be struggle, and challenge, and I think our institutions and people are ready for that.  Over time we have learned the importance of solidarity, of joint coalitions and of inclusive movements to advance shared goals – and this is why I think your approach centered on equality is so useful.

So I believe there is much hope for Ukraine and I encourage you all to remain hopeful.  Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay American elected to public office in the United State famously said, “If a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”  I think this captures the spirit of Kyiv Pride and the Equality March. Your trailblazing efforts will not only help improve the lives of Ukraine’s LGBTI community, but the lives of all Ukrainians, no matter who they are.

Ukraine needs you.  It needs your persistence, it needs your dedication and, most of all, Ukraine needs your talents, your contributions, and your abilities.  As you work to transform your country, Ukraine needs the unique skills of all of its people.  This is why the U.S., and the international community, and many others support you as you work towards a Ukraine where LGBTI people can live their lives free of fear, build loving relationships, raise families, and contribute to society and the economy without restrictions.

Thank you. I hope this week is productive, constructive, and continues your efforts to make Ukraine tolerant, open, and free.