Good morning everyone. I would like to thank Agim Margilaj and CSGD for inviting our Embassy to be a part of this important discussion. I want to extend Ambassador Jacobson’s greetings to you all, including LGBTI activists from Kosovo and the region, political party representatives, and experts. The LGBTI community is an integral part of Kosovo society and it deserves to have a voice in the country’s political discourse.
The U.S. Embassy in Pristina remains a proud partner of CSGD, as well as other NGOs working on behalf of the LGBTI community in Kosovo. You have planned a rich day of discussions that we hope will yield tangible ideas on how LGBTI persons can fully participate in Kosovo’s political life. Several U.S. Embassy and USAID colleagues are also here today to engage with you.
As you know, LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights. This is not a slogan, but a fundamental part of President Obama’s domestic and foreign policy. In his inaugural address in 2013, President Obama said: “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Cultural, political, and societal changes rarely happen quickly, as we have seen in my own country. Yet activism does work. Few participants in the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 or supporters of Harvey Milk’s efforts to pass a gay rights ordinance in San Francisco in 1978 would recognize U.S. views on LGBTI rights today. As of last count, 37 states and the District of Columbia now recognize marriage equality. That is not the same as 50 states, but it represents remarkable progress over the past few years.
On February 27, Secretary Kerry named Randy Berry as our nation’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. The Secretary said that protection for human rights always “leads to greater stability, prosperity, tolerance, (and) inclusivity.” Special Envoy Berry’s expertise will help the United States to respond to anti-LGBT laws and practices around the globe. Ambassador Jacobson is hoping she can get Special Envoy to come to Kosovo soon.
The State Department has made great strides in how we interact with our own LGBTI employees and their families. We are working to ensure there is parity for LGBTI spouses and families with heterosexual couples. I am proud we have several diplomats from the LGBTI community serving here in Pristina.
This brings us to Kosovo, where there have been a number of positive steps made for–and by–Kosovo’s LGBTI community. However, more must be done to ensure that the LGBTI community enjoys the rights and privileges guaranteed by Article 24 of your constitution.
We are proud to support a broad range of efforts to help empower Kosovo’s LGBTI community. USAID has sponsored an assessment of the community’s needs. We have also brought the first openly gay judge to be appointed to the California bench to Kosovo, along with his husband. Other activities included sponsorship of events involving the Kosovo Police and LGBTI community to raise awareness. In addition, USAID’s Basic Education Program added a session on LGBT rights to the inclusiveness model of its annual School Management and Leadership Program. USAID’s Transformational Leadership Program has also provided scholarships to help two LGBT students obtain their Master’s Degrees.
We are not shy about publicizing our support or LGBTI rights. Many of you probably saw the pride flag next to the American flag at our Embassy on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). USAID also sponsored the illumination of a government building in central Pristina with pride colors. We are also not shy about condemning hate speech against any community, including the LGBTI community, whenever it happens.
We are ready to work with the LGBTI community, but in the end it must be the people of Kosovo who lead the effort. This is an opportunity for Kosovo to demonstrate to the world that it is an inclusive and diverse society. We welcome the work by the Government of Kosovo’s Advisory and Coordination Group for the Rights of the LGBT Community with NGOs, including CSGD, to implement Kosovo’s first National Action Plan for LGBT persons. We know from our own experience that it is important for leaders to explain to citizens why LGBTI rights matter.
In closing, I applaud and appreciate the important work you will focus on today. I wish you the best of luck and look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions.