It is a pleasure to be here with the Gay Straight Alliance as you celebrate the fifth year of the Rainbow Award!
The work of the Gay Straight Alliance and other LGBT and human rights organizations is essential to protecting and advancing the rights of LGBT persons. The United States remains committed to advancing the human rights of all human beings: that includes LGBT persons here, and around the world. That is why the Embassy and I have been proud to support the work of the Gay Straight Alliance.
The Rainbow Award serves as an important recognition to an individual or institution that has contributed to the fight against homophobia and transphobia in Serbia.
The road to LGBT rights in Serbia, as elsewhere in the world, is not an easy one. We have seen some progress in just a few years, but the most recent State Department Human Rights report notes that harassment of LGBTI groups and individuals continues to be a serious problem, and that members of the community were frequently exposed to threats, hate speech, and even violence. So we still have far to travel.
For many people in America, acceptance is the “new normal.” That was not always the case. It is important to remember that it was not until 1977 — when I was already out of high school – that the United States elected its first openly gay politician – a city council member in San Francisco named Harvey Milk. Three years later, when I joined the U.S. State Department, a gay person was ineligible for employment. Forty years later, gay marriage is the law of the land, and there have been openly gay people elected in every state in the United States. It did not happen overnight, and it did not happen without tragic results for some individuals. But in time, change has come. And in time, through the hard work of committed people like this year’s Rainbow Award nominees, I am confident that will be true in Serbia, too.
The United States Embassy contributes to the advancement of rights of LGBT people in Serbia in a number of ways. We support a variety of rights organizations, such as the Gay Straight Alliance, and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
LGBT people and those that know them are their own strongest advocates. The diplomatic community and Serbian individuals, organizations, and institutions are proud to offer their support, but no voice is more convincing or compelling than the human voice, telling their own story. It is too easy to condemn something that you don’t know; but when your voices are heard, when people who know you and respect you for who you are also learn that you are gay, as the same Harvey Milk I mentioned earlier once said, “You break down the myths, you destroy the lies and the distortions.”
The multitude of voices around the world speaking for LGBT rights are making a difference. Change is in the air. Today’s event is about celebrating that impact. It is about crying out for a world in which people love and respect each other. It is about celebrating a world governed not by fear, but by greater acceptance and understanding of diversity. Today is one more step on this long journey.
I applaud all of the nominees for their hard work and support for human rights – in my book, you are all winners.