At a US State Department Pride Month event yesterday afternoon, NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling spoke with State Department employees alongside Secretary of State John Kerry and Congress member John Lewis.
Foreign Service Officer Kenneth Kero-Mentz opened the event with a story of how he received anti-gay hate messages on his desk during his first few days at State years back. When he let others know they replied with “What did you expect?” Attitudes have changed since that time, however, with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, LGBT inclusion in the Affordable Care Act, expanded benefits to foreign service same-sex partners, and the recent State Department policy change that allows transgender people to be issued passports that reflect their gender identity.
Congressman Lewis’s remarks focused on his past social justice work from meeting Rosa Parks to marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to being abused and arrested 40 times. Lewis called on the United States to continue to fight for equality for all people. He acknowledged how far equality has come, but reminded everyone that there is still work to be done. He ask that we “do our best to redeem the soul of America and the soul of the world” by fighting every day for equality and never giving up in the struggle to bring justice to the US and the world.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on how it is fear that fuels much of the hatred and injustice that minorities face in our world. He asked everyone to educate and raise awareness around the issues that LGBT activists are working so hard for. Kerry spoke about the State Department’s example-setting for other agencies with their transgender-inclusive passport policy and explained that things are “changing because we stand up in solidarity” with each other. When we stand up and raise awareness, Kerry suggested, people will no longer feel threatened, fear of difference will dissipate, and equality will come. Kerry remarked, “Today we come here with Pride to celebrate the winds of freedom blowing in the right direction.”
Mara Keisling closed the event, thanking the Obama Administration for being “a phenomenal partner in making common sense policies,” and joking that “President Obama has been the best President on LGBT rights, with nobody in second place.” Mara focused her remarks around trans rights as an aspect of human rights:
“All trans people are different. We are different by country and region and individual, but there are of course certain things we all have in common. I’d like to tell you a very very very short story about me. It illustrates something that is true of me but also of all trans people, everywhere in the world, every one of us. Here is the story:
I was born.
That’s the whole story. Trans people are people.”