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Secretary of State John Kerry celebrates LGBT Pride. Transcript

Secretary of State John Kerry led the State Department in a celebration of LGBT Pride on June 19 in Washington, D.C. 

The following is a transcript of Kerry’s remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Robyn, thank you very, very much.  Thank you to all of you.  Welcome to this celebration of pride here at State, and I’m very, very honored to have a chance to be able to talk with everybody.  And thank you especially for putting up with my tardiness, which is not my fault.  Blame Iraq and – (laughter) – a few other places.  But I’m really delighted to be here.  Robyn’s leadership is terrific, and Robyn works very, very closely with all of us on the 7th floor.  I could list any number of her accomplishments during her tenure, but let me just share two very quickly.

Her advocacy and partnership with OPM and with Under Secretary Kennedy – where is he?  Somewhere here.  Right in front of me.  (Laughter.)  Well, Pat, thank you very much.  That advocacy made an enormous difference, and through it, she helped to lift the exclusionary ban that prevented insurance companies from providing coverage for medical needs to gender transition.  And she’s also made it her mission to ensure that our employees overseas can be accompanied by their families, and I think very few people have cared more, done more, or fought more to make that happen.  So Robyn, thank you for your leadership.  I really appreciate it.  (Applause.)

I have to add something else.  Robyn is the first transgender Foreign Service officer to come out on the job, and believe me it wasn’t easy.  I think everybody here knows that.  When she was posted in Bucharest, she faced a lot of prejudice, she had to deal with completely inappropriate judgments that people were making, questions about her abilities, but she didn’t just persevere.  In the end, she won the hearts of the ambassador, her career Foreign Service colleagues, Civil Service colleagues, and the local staff, and she actually made Embassy Bucharest a model of acceptance.  She even authored the first State Department report on transgender issues, and she didn’t just get through a difficult period, she was determined to turn it into a precedent-setting event, and as a result she made it a lot easier for those – or at least a little easier for those who follow.  And I can’t begin to tell you and I think everybody here knows what a difference that has made.

I also want to thank our guest of honor, Masha Gessen, for her own special perseverance and advocacy.  When all the repressive anti-LGBT laws in Russia threatened literally to break apart her family, she put up a fight.  Fearlessly, she spoke out on Russia’s only independent television channel, and her Pink Triangle Campaign, which everybody became familiar with, unleashed a wave of grassroots activism.  And the government in Moscow may look at Masha as a troublemaker to contend with, but here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person – a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human rights defender – and we are honored by her presence here.  Thank you for being here.  (Applause.)

Now I know that all of us right now are more than aware of – we can palpably feel the wave of new, growing – the trend if you will, in some places for anti-LGBT laws that are metastasizing in various places.  And for some it’s, obviously, easy to get alarmed by that.  But let me just share this with you:  I don’t think it’s time to get alarmed.  I think it’s time to get active.  Because your activism and your energy and your pushback – it won’t be the first time you’ve pushed back – can make all the difference in the world for a lot of people.  And if anybody doesn’t believe that, just take a look at the recent history that we’ve all lived through here. 

I came to the Senate in 1985.  It was a time when AIDS was pilloried as a “gay disease.”  And somehow that may have been deemed to give some people the permission to ignore it.  I remember just a few years later, I testified before Strom Thurmond’s Armed Services Committee at an open hearing to speak out as a combat veteran about why gays ought to be allowed to serve openly in the military, and I ran into a world of misperceptions.  Three years after that, I was the only United States Senator, as Robyn mentioned, to vote against DOMA.

Now – the only one who was running for re-election – there were 14 of us.  Only 14 who voted against it.  Today, that would never pass.  That is an amazing journey.  That’s a statement about how far we have come.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.  LGBT Americans who are willing to die for their country are today allowed to fight for their country.  And we’ve gone from a Senate that passed DOMA over my objections to one that recently welcomed its first openly lesbian United States Senator. 

We’ve gone from a Senate where AIDS was a forbidden topic, to one where we were able to finally get Jesse Helms to join us in unanimously passing the first anti–AIDS legislation.  And subsequently now, PEPFAR is in its 11th year and we stand on the brink of an AIDS-free generation.  And I am proud to be the first sitting Secretary of State to support same-sex marriage working for the first President of the United States to support same-sex marriage.

So all of us in this room are pretty well aware of the debt that we owe to those who came before us, and whether it is those who stood up after Stonewall or incredible, inspiring visionaries like Harvey Milk.  And I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of an extraordinary advocate for the cause.  When Hillary Clinton gave that speech in front of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and said five simple words, “Gay rights are human rights,” she transformed the debate.  And standing here with Robyn, I want to build on that legacy, because LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights.

The State Department, I’m proud to say, has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government.  And that’s why I was proud to announce during my visit to London last year that we were tearing down an unjust and unfair barrier that for far too long stood in the way of same-sex families traveling together to the United States.  And I was personally honored to hand over the first visa within two months of the Supreme Court’s historic Windsor decision. 

I am proud that we worked with GLIFAA and Pat Kennedy to press OPM to remove its exclusionary language from health insurance plans so that employees who have undergone a gender transition can get the health care that they need.  And that’s what it means to fight and that’s what it means to win in a battle that we all know matters enormously, not as a matter of making these things a privilege, but to make sure that they are, in fact, a right.

So I am very proud of the progress that we are now making even in appointing LGBT ambassadors.  I worked with the committee here at the State Department – with the D Committee, and I worked with the White House.  And as a result, Ted Osius, sitting here, whom I’ve known a long time, and his family I know, will be the first openly LGBT officer nominated to serve as an ambassador in Asia.  And on confirmation, he’s going to join five openly gay ambassadors who are now serving their country.  I’m working hard to ensure that by the end of my tenure, we will have lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ambassadors in our ranks as well.

Now, I see the possibilities for the simple reason that we now have hundreds of LGBT individuals in our bureaus at State, USAID, and at posts all around the world.  Foreign Service Officers like Lucia Piazza – where is Lucia?  Somewhere – is she here?  Not here right now.  But she’s here in Washington.  Kerri Hannan in Buenos Aires.  Michelle Schohn and her wife, Mary Glantz, in Tallinn.  And the wonderful thing about this is nobody looks at these folks when they’re out there and says, “Wow.  That’s a great LGBT diplomat.”  They look at them and say, “Those are great diplomats.”  And that’s exactly how we make progress in this fight.

Now, we also know that none of this progress would have been possible without the courage and the creativity and innovation and effort of organizations like GLIFAA.  And it’s an amazing journey.  I have to tell you, I have very, very good friends in the LGBT/gay community throughout the country, particularly.  One of them, David Mixner, who I knew for a long time – I met him way back when we were – you may know him as a strong advocate, but we met years ago in the anti-war movement – well before he came out.  And I remember him lamenting to me on the telephone once, years ago, how difficult it was and how he was going to funeral after funeral after funeral during a period when nobody was paying attention to AIDS.

So I know this journey and know it through friends, and I think back then there were a lot of meetings of people in secret rooms.  People knew that if they opened up about who they were in GLIFFA, it would be shut down, their careers would be destroyed.  But even then there were people who stood up and fought, and people like AFSA, helpers like AFSA, and especially Sharon Papp – who has stood with our LGBT brothers and sisters since the beginning and who is standing with us today.

So we have come a long way at home, but everybody here knows there’s cloud hanging over this journey right now.  We have a long, long way to go in the world.  I won’t go into the details of a couple of conversations I’ve had with presidents of countries trying to move them on their current laws.  From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights.  And we each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.  Maybe all the success we’ve had here, we sort of felt, oh, gosh, it’s got to be happening everywhere else.  But it hasn’t been.  It’ll come.  It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take courage and patience, stamina in order to continue the fight.  Because we need to make certain that we make it clear to people everywhere that there is a fundamental truth:  Anti-LGBT violence anywhere is a threat to peace and stability and prosperity everywhere.

That’s why across the globe – Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas – our diplomats are supporting local LGBT organizations and human rights advocates.  They’re one and the same.  And through the Global Equality Fund, the State Department has provided critical emergency and long-term assistance to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in more than 25 countries.  I’m proud that we’ve opened up the fund to corporate donations, and I want to urge our friends in the business community to step up their contributions to this cause.  I was especially proud to speak at the first-ever ministerial on LGBT issues at the UN General Assembly last year, and I look forward to continuing to engage on this issue at the UN and other international fora.

So we are leading by example here.  We are recognizing marriages for foreign diplomats who are assigned to the United States.  Our Consular Affairs Bureau is implementing language on diplomatic passports to make sure we treat all spouses equally.  Consular Affairs has also moved swiftly with other federal agencies to update our regulations after DOMA was struck down last year, and we’re now considering all visa applications made by same-sex spouses in the same manner as those made by opposite-sex spouses.

So let me be clear:  We oppose any effort by any country to deny visas for spouses of American staff.  It’s discriminatory, it’s unacceptable, it has no place in the 21st century.  And I understand how challenging this issue is for all of you, which is why I’ve sent instructions to ambassadors at posts worldwide to engage at the highest levels on your behalf.  Together we pay a price when these rights are trampled on, but together we win when these rights are protected.

One thing is clear:  Making our shared vision a reality will require both the persistent protection of governments, as well as the active participation of citizens.  I will never forget standing on the Capitol steps in October of 1998 when thousands gathered on a cool autumn evening, and we were there to remember Matthew Shepard two days after he’d been killed in Laramie, Wyoming.  And as we gathered in the city of monuments, I posed a question:  Is there a lesson that can become a monument to Matthew Shepard and to so many others who suffer because of the intolerance and prejudice of so few?

Matthew’s mother, Judy, later provided us an answer.  As she struggled to make sense of a question that only God can answer, she said loving one another doesn’t mean that we have to compromise our beliefs.  It simply means that we choose to be compassionate and respectful of others.  In her life and in her work, Judy hasn’t just spoken words about compassion and respect.  She has lived them.  And I’m proud that she’s partnering with the State Department to speak out on these issues around the world.  She is an example that reminds us we each have a responsibility to speak out loudly and clearly, and we each have to choose – and it is a choice – to be compassionate and respectful of others.  And as Secretary of State, I am very proud of the choice that our country has been making these past years.

We’re here today to send a message:  No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you.  And that’s what pride means, and that’s what drives us today.  The journey isn’t complete, the march isn’t over, the promise isn’t perfected.  But we will march on together.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Secretary Kerry, thank you for those words.  I think I speak for many people in this room that I wanted to interrupt with applause a number of times.  (Laughter.)  If you can bear with us for just a few more minutes —

SECRETARY KERRY:  So what the Hell’s the matter with you?  (Laughter.)  I’m joking.  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  — I’ve got two questions that were submitted to us by GLIFAA members from around the world, and I’d like to pose them to you.  The first question – I’ll just read it out, and reading it, I’m realizing I think you answered much of it already.  But let me read it to you, in any case:

“Mr. Secretary, we’ve seen so much progress here at home, but I have to tell you that for us in GLIFAA, in many ways we’re feeling even more squeezed.  All of us want to succeed, but the list of countries where we can serve is growing shorter and shorter.  Countries that used to quietly give visas to our family members or our friends are now being asked for visas for our spouses, and that term is causing a kneejerk reaction in many countries.”

This one member writes, “I personally counted all the jobs on my bid list, and I had to cross of 68 percent of them just because I’m gay and that country will not give a visa to my partner.  We need your support, and we need the Department to do something more.  So as much as we all want to succeed, this is a serious obstacle that is hurting us in our careers and hurting our families.  How does the Department plan to address this?”

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, thanks, Robyn.  We are addressing it, I think you know.  I think I spoke to that fairly – I made it pretty clear during the course of my comments.  But look, we are instructing embassies to inform governments locally that this is our policy and that they need to honor our policy.  It’s that simple.  And a lot of governments will respond positively; obviously, some won’t.  And where they don’t, if they don’t extend recognition and immunities, we’re going to instruct them that we’re also going to begin gathering information on the host government policies and practices on accreditation.  And we will make this information that is relevant to assignments – make it easier for employees and all of you to sort of pick and choose and know what the lay of the land is.

But at some point in time, we may have to begin to make it clear to them that that can affect one program or another or the choices that we make.  It’s not going to be a normal relationship.  This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is.  And we’ll see how it goes as we collect this information and what the lay of the land is on that, but that 68 percent is daunting.  And for – in one particular case, it doesn’t mean it’s across the board.  But we’ve got to take a look at it, and we will push back.  That’s the bottom line.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve given great hope to our members with that statement.  Our second question: 

“Mr. Secretary, we hear so much about the difficulties faced by transgender persons around the globe.  In so many countries, transgender persons are denied documents that reflect the gender in which they live their daily lives.  And as a result, they are denied basic services, jobs, access to medicine, and too often they feel forced into sex work because they see no other choice.  What is the Department doing to support the human rights of transgender persons?”

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well again, this part of what I said.  It’s really related to the first question also in many ways.  It’s part and parcel of the same response in places.  We have instructed our posts to report on and perform outreach to transgender communities in countries.  In addition, we have instructed our human rights and health officers to raise transgender issues in their host countries, and we have encouraged our public affairs officers to include the needs of transgender groups in their programming, so that we are showing that this is something that we’re going to engage in.  And we’re supporting civil society organizations that increase the protection of transgender persons who face the potential of acute violence.

So we’re taking steps specifically with respect to communities and with respect to the treatment of our folks.  Again, it’s going to be clear and it is clear they need to make sure that they’re not discriminated against, and that our people expect – we expect, our nation expects that all of our people will be afforded the full measure of human rights that we afford them here in our country.  And as time goes on now, we’ll accrue more and more information.  We’ll have a better sense of who’s doing what, where the real trouble spots are and why.  And we’ll be able to begin to build a policy of response to that over a period of time as we get a better sense, and hopefully isolate those people for those policies – hopefully, first, actually, break through and get them to simply change without – just as a matter of a reasonable conversation and an understanding.

But if it’s more entrenched and more broadly pervasive and damaging to our functioning in the way that we function, then we’re going to have to consider what the options are with respect to actions that we’ll take.  And that’s something that will evolve over the course of the next year or two, and we’ll see where we are.  But we’re not going to sit around and permit what we have fought for so hard to be undone.  And as I said earlier, LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights, so we will protect them, period.  (Applause.)

I was just given my instructions.  I was being told I have to go.  (Laughter.)  I’m sorry.  Thank you all, and happy Pride Day.  Thanks.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Secretary Kerry, thank you.

At a glance: World Pride 2014

Miami already has had its Sizzle. Dallas has done its Razzle Dazzle. And Milwaukee, of course, celebrated for three days at PrideFest. But dozens more LGBT Pride celebrations crowd the calendar from now through the summer and into the fall.

One of the largest Pride parades takes place in Chicago on June 29, a week after the two-day Chicago Pride Festival on North Halsted Street that features Thelma Houston, Jennifer Hudson and Maya, among others.

The 45th annual parade — always the last Sunday in June — begins at noon at Broadway and Montrose in Lakeview. The parade proceeds south on Broadway, then south on Halsted, east on Belmont, south on Broadway and east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.

More than 200 entries are registered for a parade that’s typically cheered on by more than 200,000 people assembled on sidewalks, at storefronts and outdoor cafes and partying on balconies.

Another big regional event, Minneapolis’ 2014 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade, takes place the same day along Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The celebration includes a two-day festival in Loring Park, a Margaret Cho concert, a family picnic, a rainbow run and marriage ceremonies.

A sampling of what’ s on the calendar …

Through June 29: Dublin Pride

June 22-29: Harlem Pride and CHICAGO PRIDE

June 23-29: Istanbul Gay Pride

June 24-29: New York City Gay Pride

June 27-29: Gay Pride Barcelona

June 28:
Bologna Pride, Cleveland Pride, Gay Pride Paris

June 28-29:
San Francisco Pride, Seattle Pride, TWIN CITIES PRIDE

June 28-July 5:
Independence Weekend in Provincetown, Massachusetts

July 2-6: Gay Pride Madrid

July 4-6: Cologne Gay Pride

JULY 12:
KENOSHA PRIDE, GREEN BAY PRIDEALIVE

July 16-20: San Diego Pride

July 19: Glasgow Pride

July 25-Aug. 1: Belfast Gay Pride Festival

July 26-Aug. 3: Hamburg Pride

July 28-Aug. 2: Stockholm Gay Pride

July 28-Aug. 3:
Montreal’s Pride Divers/Cite

Aug. 1-3: Amsterdam Gay Pride

Aug. 2: Brighton Gay Pride

Aug. 3: Vancouver Gay Pride

Aug. 4-10: Antwerp Pride

Aug. 5-10: Reykjavik Gay Pride

Aug. 9-16: Gay Games Cleveland

Aug. 11-17: Prague Gay Pride

Aug. 22-25: Manchester Gay Pride

Aug. 22-Sept. 1: Calgary Gay Pride

Aug. 26-31: Gay Pride Copenhagen

Aug. 31: Oakland Gay Pride

Sept. 2-8:
Gay Days Las Vegas/Las Vegas Pride

Sept. 20: Austin Gay Pride

Sept. 21: Dallas Gay Pride

Oct. 3-5: Gay Days Anaheim

Oct. 11-12: Atlanta Pride

Editor’s note: This is not a comprehensive listing of Pride. If your community has a celebration you want to share, please let us know here or on Facebook.

Big brands celebrate LGBT Pride

As LGBT Americans commemorate June as Pride Month, many of the nation’s most recognizable brands are showcasing their support for equality through high profile LGBT-centered advertisements and social media promotions, according to a survey from the Human Rights Campaign.

In the past, most companies and brands rarely — if ever — used LGBT-specific themes in marketing or advertisements.

Today, businesses recognize that it is incredibly unpopular to be anti-gay, and in fact, now view a pro-equality stance as a way to entice the millions of fair-minded Americans who champion LGBT civil rights as an important issue, according to HRC.

Adding to this have been the phenomenal flops from opponents of equality who have attempted to curb corporate LGBT advocacy.

The so-called National Organization for Marriage, which advocates against equal rights for LGBT people, has undertaken multiple failed boycott campaigns in recent years against companies that support equality.  The group’s calls for boycotts against Starbucks and General Mills — after the companies endorsed marriage equality initiatives in Washington and Minnesota, respectively — had no lasting impact on sales. NOM’s calls to “Dump Starbucks” and “Dump General Mills” actually only emboldened the corporate giants to be more vocal in their support for equality, with the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz telling a disgruntled shareholder, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”

Some of the more visible brands and their LGBT Pride campaigns:

• Marriott International made news with its #LoveTravels campaign featuring images of prominent LGBT spokespeople wrapped around hotels, in print ads and billboards, as well as widespread social media promotion. 

• Macy’s partnered with HRC to celebrate Pride Month, and will feature new HRC merchandise at select locations across the country.

• Apple continues to show its support for the LGBT community with a featured station on iTunes Radio, celebrating LGBT Pride through music. The iTunes Store is also offering a collection of LGBT-themed movies, apps, music, books, and more. Many Apple employees and their families will be marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade later this month.

• Honey Maid changed its profile picture on its social media platforms to a modified version of HRC’s logo featuring two graham crackers as the equal sign.

• Google has continued its tradition of adding a rainbow-colored border to its search bar when users search for LGBT-related terms like “LGBT” and “marriage equality.”

•Designer Kenneth Cole is raising awareness for LGBT equality with limited edition t-shirts featuring the red HRC equal sign logo inlaid with the text, “Unite The States of America … Support Marriage Equality for all of U.S.”

• AT&T has launched its second annual “Live Proud” campaign inviting users to create and upload their own memes in celebration of awareness, empowerment and pride.

• Nike has released a limited edition #BETRUE apparel line to celebrate the LGBT community.

• Levi’s launched a whole Pride Month collection devoted to celebrating over 30 years of support for the LGBT community. 

• General Mills is using Lucky Charms as the face of its Pride promotions, and launched a web video that encourages social media followers to tweet and post their reasons why they’re proud using the hashtag #LuckyToBe.

• Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s shared Pride themed images on social media with the slogan, “Love Comes in All Flavors.”

•Nordstrom asked its LGBT and allied employees to share their thoughts on Pride Month in a photo montage on the store’s website. 

Kenosha Pride set for July 6

United Alliance today announced plans for Kenosha’s first LGBT Pride March, set to take place at noon on July 6.

United Alliance, according to a news release, is a group of people of looking to create a safe and supportive community for members of the LGBT Community.

The march takes place just outside of LGBT Pride Month because, according to the release, United Alliance wants to remind people that community should be fostered all year long.

Pride in Kenosha begins a sign-making party at the starting point, Bain Park at 63rd Street and 11th Avenue, beginning at 11 a.m. Participants may create and bring either own signs or join the festivities early to make a sign. The theme for the event is “Unity In Diversity.”

The march will leave the park, moving east to Sheridan Road, then north on Sheridan to Civic Center Park at 56th Street and Sheridan Road, east on 56th Street to Sixth Avenue, north on Sixth Avenue through Seventh Avenue and ending at Union Park at 45th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Participants are encouraged to walk the entire route, However, two checkpoints will be created for those who would like to walk part of the route. The first checkpoint to allow people to enter or exit the march will be at Civic Center Park. The second checkpoint will be on the lot just north of the Boathouse Pub and Eatery on Seventh Avenue.

Following the march, there will be a block party hosted by United Alliance and Trolley Dogs on the lot just north of Trolley Dogs Restaurant, 5501 Sixth Ave., Kenosha.

Thousands march for LGBT equality in Croatia

Several thousand people held an LGBT Pride march over the weekend in Croatia. Neighboring Slovenia’s president led a similar march in his country’s capital.

There were no incidents as the crowds carrying flags and banners and guarded by police gathered and then marched through the center of Croatia’s capital, Zagreb.

“This Pride parade is not directed against others, not even against those who hate us and view us as second-rate citizens,” an organizer Marko Jurcic said.

Croatia’s foreign minister and prime minister’s wife joined the march in a sign of support.

An anti-gay group in Croatia has gathered more than 700,000 signatures in support of a referendum to have the country’s constitution define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Zeljka Markic, a representative of the group, said “the aim is for the citizens to have a say over how to define the question of marriage and family.”

The dispute over gay rights has divided Croatia just weeks before it becomes 28th member of the European Union. The country has taken steps to improve gay rights, but issues such as same-sex marriage remain highly sensitive in the staunchly Catholic nation.

The Catholic Church in Croatia also has clashed with the liberal government over the introduction of sex education in schools, which was suspended months later by the country’s top court.

In neighboring Slovenia, President Borut Pahor led the gay Pride march in the capital of Ljubljana, the first president of this tiny Alpine nation to do so. Hundreds attended the gathering on a bright, sunny day, walking through the city center. There were no incidents reported.

In Germany, some 1,500 people took part in the Christopher Street Day parade in the northern city of Oldenburg. Participants there celebrated a recent verdict by Germany’s top court ruling that gay couples in civil unions should receive the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples.

Pride and prejudice | Globally, LGBT Pride celebrants face assault – and worse

In cities, provinces and entire countries around the world,  LGBT Pride event organizers risk becoming political prisoners and Pride celebrants risk becoming trauma patients.

“In some places, especially the United States where it all started, Pride is a celebration of how much progress has been made,” said Zurich-based human rights activist Anna Gomes. “I have been to Pride in San Francisco. It is glorious. It is not like that everywhere. In some countries, where to be gay is a crime or taboo, going to Pride is an act of civil disobedience.”

Earlier this spring, on the International Day Against Homophobia, police in China arrested an 18-year-old man who organized a Pride march in Changsha. About 100 people paraded through a riverfront park carrying banners and a rainbow flag. The Pride event was promoted on a website, where it was declared that the march would “write a new chapter in the struggle for equal rights for comrades.”

The organizer, identified as Xiang Xiaohan, was detained for 12 days for holding the march without approval, which rarely is granted by the conservative Communist government.

After his release, Xiaohan circulated a statement on the Internet: “Next time they might detain me for 15 days. If that’s what it takes to hold another event, then that’s fine by me.”

In Tblisi, Georgia, on May 17, another small Pride rally took place to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. About 50 people came together for the rally. They were attacked by a mob that was led by priests of the Orthodox Church. 

The anti-gay protesters, carrying signs that read “Not in our city,” broke through a police barricade and chased the Pride celebrants. Twenty-eight people were injured.

“We won’t allow these sick people to hold gay parades in our country. … It’s against our traditions and our morals,” Zhuzhuna Tavadze told Reuters. She was holding a bunch of nettles and said she was ready to fight.

Anti-gay protesters also attacked a group of LGBT ralliers in St. Petersburg, Russia, shouting “Death to faggots” and throwing smoke bombs.

About a week later, in Moscow, authorities refused a request for permission to hold a Pride parade, which they said violated the law and the need for “developing patriotism among the younger generation.” LGBT activists rallied in defiance, unfurling banners denouncing Kremlin-backed anti-gay legislation in front of Russia’s lower house of parliament before police moved in to make arrests. 

The legislation passed June 10.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine on May 25, about 50 people defied a court order and joined in a first-ever Pride march in the capital, Kiev. The marchers, waving rainbow flags and carrying banners that read “Homosexuality is not a disease” encountered about 100 protesters and special forces police.

“Three hundred yards from where it had started, the march ground to a halt,” reported journalist Andrew Connelly, who covered the event for vice.com. “Ukrainian Gay Pride had lasted almost an hour, yet had traversed a patch of land the length of a large swimming pool.”

Secretary of State John Kerry remarked on the anti-LGBT violence in his statement for LGBT Pride Month. “Recent events underscore that we can’t be content with the progress we’ve made,” he said. “We still have a long way to go. All over the world, people continue to be killed, arrested and harassed simply because of who they are, or who they love. There are LGBT people of all ages, all races and all faiths, citizens of every country on Earth. In too many places, LGBT people and their supporters are still attacked if they just attempt to stand up for their rights and participate in peaceful rallies or marches, or simply for being who they are.”

In condemning the violence, Kerry recalled the civil disobedience at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. “Forty-four years after Stonewall, we see incredible progress in the fight to advance the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBT people,” he said.

Pride originated out of the June 1969 riots at Stonewall in New York’s Greenwich Village. Those riots followed a police raid on the bar and marked a turning point in the modern LGBT civil rights movement.Months later, activists at a meeting in Philadelphia called for what would be remembered as the first gay Pride parade. The resolution adopted at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations stated, “We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day. … We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.”

The first marches took place in June 1970 in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. By the 1980s, dozens of U.S. cities were hosting Pride parades. Today, the celebrations take place around the world, in hundreds of cities. In some locations, especially the larger cities, Pride events are big tourist draws.“I like to think that because we’re so gay, we made Pride into a big holiday, a festive party, a spectacle, a rainbow celebration,” said LGBT civil rights activist Leigh Nicole, who celebrated at the Utah Pride festival in Salt Lake City on June 2. “But that’s not to say Pride has lost its political edge.”

There were two marching groups in the Salt Lake City parade that generated controversy.About 400 people – active members of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – marched behind the Mormons Building Bridges banner. The Mormon church teaches that being gay is not a sin, but engaging in homosexual activity is sinful.

Uniformed Boy Scouts and adult volunteers also marched in the parade, held just a week after the nonprofit adopted a resolution to lift its ban on gay youth but keep a ban on gay adults.“That was brave of those people,” Nicole said. “Pride is all about a good time, but it’s also all about standing up for what’s right, and our rights.”

The future of Pride

Like most queer folk, I shift into partying mode when LGBT Pride season rolls around in June. Our Pride festivals offer tons of music, laughter and mischief-making, alongside reunions with old friends and connections with new ones. They are joyful and rewarding, and the last few years we’ve had many things to celebrate.

This year, I’ve been thinking about how truly far we’ve advanced since I came out in the 1970s. The LGBT movement has logged many accomplishments since the dawn of gay and women’s liberation. It’s worth looking back at how we secured those victories and to renew our pride in the years ahead.

Like many lesbians my age, I came out in the context of the feminist movement of the 1970s. The women’s movement created a multitude of organizations beyond the bar scene around which lesbian culture flourished. Study groups, clinics, music festivals, bookstores, self-defense centers, writers’ and artists’ collectives and political action groups emerged to meet the needs of this newly activated “women’s community.”

Lesbians at that time played a big role in the development of many social services and reforms that benefitted all women: the Women’s Crisis Line, battered women’s shelters, women’s studies programs, the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, the Take Back the Night movement and more. Organizing skills honed in these groups were later applied to Pride festivals, AIDS service organizations and passage of Wisconsin’s gay civil rights law. 

The 1980s and ’90s were a time of maturation and institution-building. In Milwaukee, the Cream City Foundation, the Milwaukee AIDS Project (later the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin), the Lesbian Alliance of Metro Milwaukee, PrideFest and the LGBT Community Center were all established. 

As a reporter, I covered the early, contentious meetings of the Milwaukee Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee (the pre-PrideFest planning entity). I also covered the initial, sparsely attended Pride events. To experience the three-day PrideFest with national headliners and the variety of programming that we enjoy today – I’m tempted to call it a miracle but that discounts the tremendous amount of hard work that hundreds of volunteers have contributed to build its success. 

While creating institutions, our community was active on the political front, electing openly gay candidates to office on the local, state and national levels (recently including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin). Domestic partner registries have been set up and alliances forged with social and political organizations on a range of LGBT and progressive issues. These statewide advances coincided with the incredible progress of marriage equality elsewhere. 

Although we have much to celebrate, we must remain vigilant. If the Supreme Court rules against the Defense of Marriage Act in June, it will be tempting to assume the fight is won and we can let down our guard. On the contrary, we need to protect what we’ve achieved so far and continually expand public understanding of our lives and culture.

In Wisconsin, we have a particularly reactionary Legislature that is not just anti-gay, anti-woman and anti-labor, but also anti-education, anti-environment, anti-public transit and absolutely punitive when it comes to the welfare of poor people. Only renewed political activism, which includes working hard for LGBT-supportive candidates and strengthening alliances with other progressive groups, can crack this sorry status quo and begin to move us forward.

While celebrating Pride season, please make a commitment beyond it to fight for the rights and dignity of all Wisconsinites.

Rainbow follows tornado

The rainbow. Look for it in Joplin, Mo., where two weeks after the deadliest single tornado in recorded national weather history, a community is recovering, rebuilding, re-energizing and reaffirming.

With rainbow flags raised, grills fired and DJs spinning, Pride, as scheduled, will go in Joplin’s Schifferdecker Park on June 11.

“We want to move forward with Pride, we have to move forward,” said Lee McDaniel, president and founder of the Joplin Pride Center. The nonprofit is organizing the LGBT celebration, now in its third year.

“The board was unanimous in its support of moving forward with Pride. The logistics were still in place. The ability to do it was still in place. And then also, but certainly not secondarily, there is the emotional need to have Pride.”

Joplin, in the southwest corner of the state and home to about 50,000 people, developed after the Civil War as a mining town – first lead, then zinc. The legendary Route 66 cuts through the city. Bobby Troup’s song goes, “Now you go through Saint Louie/Joplin, Missouri/And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.”

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow also cut through the city, leaving a constable and detective dead as they fled.

The Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau describes modern-day Joplin as “an ideal meeting and vacation spot. With all of the amenities of a large city and the down-home comfort of a small town, Joplin is the perfect combination of great service and friendly smiles.”

On May 22, an EF-5 tornado with 200 mph winds destroyed much of Joplin’s physical past – about 30 percent of the city – and threatened its future. The tornado, the deadliest since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1950, ripped up entire neighborhoods, injured 900 people and killed at least 139 people. A week after the tornado, 100 people were still missing.

“We’ve had stories from earthquakes and tsunamis and other disasters of people being found two or three weeks later, and we are hopeful we’ll have a story like that to tell,” said Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles.

When the tornado hit on the Sunday evening, worshipers at the gay-affirming Spirit of Christ Metropolitan Community Church were gathered for a prayer service. “We rode out the storm in the basement of the church,” said a statement from Spirit. Two people were injured, but not seriously.

The tornado leveled the church, as well as the home of pastor Steve Urie.

Many others also endured losses.

“Members of our community lost homes, businesses, were injured,” McDaniel said. “To my knowledge, no one close to the board or center died. But it took a couple of days for us to account for some people. It wasn’t until Tuesday. That was a very tough time.”

Last week, Joplin’s LGBT community joined in search-and-rescue missions, as well as salvage efforts. In jeans and work gloves, people climbed mountains of debris to look for friends, family and neighbors. They helped strangers recover belongings.

One of Joplin’s two gay bars opened its doors early May 23 to provide coffee, dispense supplies and serve as a charging station for people whose homes lacked electricity. Several days later, the Pla-Mor lounge raised disaster relief dollars with a drag benefit that served as a prelude to the bar’s Mr. and Miss Joplin Drag Show on June 10, the eve of Pride in the Park.

Pride in the Park is a small festival that’s vital to the LGBT community, McDaniel said. Last year, about 250 people attended the event, which features music and food.

“It is a great time for the community to come together and have a respite, a welcome break if only for a few hours,” McDaniel said. “Pride is typically a celebration, and we need to celebrate the fact that life does go on. … That we need to pull together, see each other, reconnect. We need to hug each other.”

On May 26, volunteers from Joplin’s LGBT community and from MCCs throughout the region, gathered to clean up the church lot. Volunteers were asked to arrive in boots and bring tools. They also were advised to get tetanus shots.

Meanwhile, representatives from LGBT centers across the country responded with offers of aid. The center in Tulsa, Olka., established a disaster-relief fund and began collecting online donations. In Wisconsin, Jolie McKenna of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin pledged to help collect supplies.

Other centers were sending work crews to help the people of Joplin, McDaniel added. “We’re very grateful,” he said. “When the tornado struck, we were simply people with neighbors in need, families in need or were people who had needs ourselves. The reaction was not one of what color are you, how old are you, are you gay or straight.”

The Joplin Pride Center is sharing updates from the city with its local members and its growing base of national supporters on the Web and especially on Facebook, where the administrator of the center page shared a photo taken after the tornado showing a double rainbow across the sky between Joplin and Springfield, Mo.

That double rainbow was widely reported last week from a community that is recovering, rebuilding, re-energizing and reaffirming – and proud.

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To help

Oklahomans for Equality, the LGBT center in Tulsa, Okla., established a disaster relief fund for the community in Joplin, Mo., where a major tornado hit May 22, killing at least 139 people. Funds will be used to help the Joplin LGBT community with disaster outreach. Go to www.okeq.org/store/.

Disaster supplies needed in Joplin include over-the-counter medicines, bandages, garbage bags, storage bags, picnic supplies, bottled water, pens and paper, reading materials and non-perishable food, said Lee McDaniel, president of the Joplin Pride Center.

As WiG went to press, the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin in Racine was organizing to assist with disaster relief needs. Go to www.lgbtsewisc.org or call 262-664-4100.

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Events enliven LGBT Pride in Wisconsin

For Liz Roepke and her partner, PrideFest and the Milwaukee Pride Parade are opportunities to show their 7-year-old son that there are other families like his.

“He’s always the only one in his class with two mommies,” Roepke says. “So PrideFest is really such a nice thing for him. He tells all his friends at school about it. It’s such a nice, normal weekend for him where he’s not the odd guy out.”

Last year, more than 30,000 people attended Milwaukee PrideFest, the largest such celebration in the nation held on permanent festival grounds. More than 6,000 people lined Second Street in Walker’s Point for the Pride Parade. The two annual June events bring together all the stripes in Wisconsin’s LGBT rainbow with community allies to celebrate Pride Month in a spirit of unity and celebration.

But Pride Month means different things to different people.

For drag entertainer Jarica Jordan, Pride is the time to remember those who pioneered the path to today’s freedoms.

“It’s kind of like celebrating the queen that came before me,” Jordan says.

“We wouldn’t have Pride if it wasn’t for Stonewall, and we wouldn’t have had Stonewall without drag queens,” she explains, referring to the June 1969 riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn that ignited the gay liberation movement.

“As they walk around with their cute sunglasses and trendy clothes and act gay, a lot of younger gays don’t understand … that life wasn’t always like this,” Jordan says.

Jordan, who does stand-up routines and hosts events such as Pride Alive in Green Bay, says she spends “a lot of time at the mic” telling audiences the history behind “why they can walk down the street now holding hands.”

For LGBT ally Sandy Ploy, Pride is a time to “encourage everyone to be open-minded and let people live their own lives,” she says.

“I want my friends to have the same rights and benefits that I have,” she says. “They work just as hard as I do and pay their taxes. Pride Month is kind of an opportunity for the light to shine on this issue a little brighter and maybe for people to be a little more open about it.”

Like Jordan, Ploy believes the concept of LGBT Pride should be embraced always, not just during the month of June.

“I’m not a scream-from-the-rooftops kind of supporter, but if someone said something (derogatory toward gays) within earshot, I’d step in and say something for the people I care about,” Ploy says.

Of course, for many LGBT people, Pride is simply party time. As the largest such event in the Midwest, Milwaukee PrideFest draws revelers from throughout the region to enjoy the music and the crowds. Many LGBT people who attend the event say it’s a validating experience to be in among such a large crowd where people like them are in the majority.

Out Chicago musician Scott Free says he attends Milwaukee PrideFest every year for not just for the party but specifically for the music – sometimes as a performer and always as a member of the audience.

“I think it’s THE – all in capital letters – Pride festival in the country,” Free says. “Milwaukee PrideFest has queer bands from around the country that I’ve heard of but never seen. Inevitably there’s a line-up of people I’ve been wanting to see for some time, and there they are at Milwaukee PrideFest. The fact that it’s on the Summerfest grounds and it’s three days of heaven for queer music lovers makes it THE one.”

In addition to the June Pride festivities in Milwaukee, many Wisconsinites attend the Chicago Pride Parade, which begins this year at noon on June 26 at Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street in the city’s Boystown area. Twin Cities Pride, which is scheduled for June 25-26 at Minneapolis’ Loring Park (www.tcpride.org), also is a popular Wisconsin destination during Pride Month.

Other cities in Wisconsin celebrate Pride later in the summer, including:

Green Bay. Pride Alive takes place July 9 in Green Bay’s Joannes Park. This year’s master of ceremonies is Anita Buffet. For information, go to www.newpride.org.

Madison. Wisconsin Capitol Gay Pride in Madison is Aug. 20-21 at Willow Island at the 29-acre Alliant Energy Center. The festival includes a health and fitness area, GLBTQ history tent, various artists and performers, dancing to top DJs, and other entertainment. At 1 p.m. on Aug. 21, Wisconsin Capitol Pride Parade loops around Capitol Square and along State Street, followed by a rally from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. For information, go to www.capitalpride.org.

La Crosse. La Crosse hosts a Pride celebration on Aug. 27, along the Mississippi River. The event is sponsored by the LGBT Resource Center for the 7 Rivers Region. For information, go to www.lacrossepride.us/pridecalendar.html.

Duluth-Superior. This event is held over the long Labor Day, Sept. 1-4, throughout the Twin Ports. Events include a bonfire on the shores of Lake Superior and musical acts on the Bayshore Stage. For information, go to www.dspride.com.

Scott Free, right, performs at PrideFest last year. – Photo: Courtesy

Teresa Jackson and Liz Roepke attend PrideFest last year with their son. – Photo: Courtesy

The right kind of hero

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is not a famous performer, elected official, scientist or business mogul. In fact, before this Good Samaritan helped to save U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life, he was not a celebrity of any sort. He was a college student doing an internship with Giffords’ office.

Hernandez denies he’s a hero, whatever that means. But he does not deny he’s gay, which makes him a hero to us.

While media depictions of LGBT people continue to improve and gay characters and performers flourish in the entertainment industry (as evidenced by out actors Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch winning Golden Globe awards earlier this month), our visibility is often muted in everyday life. Too many of us remain in the closet.

From devout Christian country singer Chely Wright to George W. Bush’s former campaign manger Ken Mehlman, from Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin to actor-turned-talk show host Sarah Gilbert, there has been a virtual Pride parade emerging from closets throughout the world over the past year. But these people exist in a rarified world with which few people connect. They are not the lesbian woman or gay man next door.

Hernandez, on the other hand, is a typical American – a welcome reminder that gay men are not all buff, wealthy, wisecracking elites of the sort who dominate in the media. A 20-year-old trying to get an education and leg-up in a career during harsh economic times, Hernandez is living the American reality, not some rainbow-colored American dream.

Hernandez is also a Hispanic man in a nation that will cease having a white majority population in 2042, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He defies the ludicrous stereotype that most gay people are white.  

But the most significant way in which Hernandez connects with everyday America is by demonstrating the qualities we all admire – courage, compassion, resourcefulness, humility. At a time when LGBT people are being continually demonized, harassed and ridiculed from the pulpits to the schoolyards to the political mailings of America, the heroic actions of this young gay man are a story that needed to be told.

Americans, gay and straight, need more heroes like Hernandez.