Secretary of State John Kerry announced Feb. 23 that Randy Berry, current U.S. consul general in the Netherlands, would begin serving as the United States’ first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.
In his new role, Berry, an openly gay senior diplomat, is expected to advocate for LGBT rights worldwide, focusing on the more than 75 countries in which same-sex relationships remain illegal, according to a Feb. 23 statement from the U.S. Department of State. Berry will be responsible for making efforts to decrease instances of discrimination and violence against LGBT people across the world in addition to promoting international equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally—the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” Kerry said in the statement.
Berry’s new appointment comes at a time when the nation’s LGBT community has seen progress in its ongoing fight for equality. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but much of the United States population and its lawmakers have become more accepting of LGBT people and their rights since President Barack Obama publicly advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2012.
Previously, Obama was open about his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act—which allowed states to ignore same-sex marriages legally granted by other states—as well as his determination to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The president’s statements in support of marriage equality as well as general equality for LGBT people inspired a sweeping change in attitude from the long-standing mindset of politicians in considering LGBT rights separate from human rights.
“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,” Obama said in the 2012 interview.
Despite the government’s apparent interest in pushing progress for the LGBT community, a massive oversight on the part of news organizations including Time, came with several media outlets reported Berry’s new title as “envoy for LGBT rights,” though the statement from the U.S. Department of State clearly labeled the position as “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT persons.”
Referring to Berry’s title in its entirety may be a mouthful, and as a reporter and editor, I find it understandable why some news outlets might think it is acceptable to shorten the official name of Berry’s position. However, what those news outlets seem to have overlooked is that the U.S. Department of State made a calculated choice to use that specific phrasing in Berry’s title in an effort to make clear the distinction that his position is intended to promote human rights for LGBT people and to spread what appears to be the United States government’s newfound recognition of LGBT rights as human rights.
As a nation that loves to tout itself as one that leads—or attempts to lead—its fellow nations, this new position is symbolic of more than just a change in Berry’s employment, but of a deeper societal transition in the United States and other nations. The position is symbolic of the United States’ continuing progress toward recognizing human rights for all its citizens. Advocating for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT people is an admirable goal for
A large part of the nation is still populated with individuals who strongly disagree with marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives, but the U.S. government and its politicians should take pride in the decision to implement this international initiative if they want to consider the United States a leading nation.
All people are entitled to their own religious and spiritual beliefs, and many Americans still oppose same-sex relationships, but they should not interfere with the safety and rights of LGBT people. The United States government is well overdue in recognizing this in a serious and productive way.
The United States continues to take pride in being a leading, progressive nation, but often those terms have been used in ways that are simply inaccurate. However, acknowledging the rights of the country’s and the world’s LGBT people as human rights is a step in the right direction and is definitely an initiative a leading nation should pursue.