I've been out of town for a few days.
I went to Latvia to participate, officially, in Baltic Pride.
Just saying that somehow still amazes me.
That someone like me, someone who was so bullied in high school, could become a diplomat fighting for LGBT rights, that is the stuff "It Gets Better" videos are made of.
I went down on Friday to speak at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They hosted a seminar in conjunction with Pride that included speakers from the International Gay and Lesbian Alliance, as well as from various governmental agencies and NGOs. Plus, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Rights and Labor Thomas Melia spoke. And then there was me.
I hadn't thought about my speech as being all that moving. I just talked about how my wife joined the Department and there had been no place at the table for me. How I subsequently joined the Department and then became President of GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies). How being out, open and pushing on doors, timed fortunately with the arrival of long-time LGBT ally Secretary Clinton, resulted in a lot of improvements for LGBT Foreign Service families.
But people said I made a difference. Several people were moved to tears. And several people said I had convinced them that being quietly gay, a sort of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" if you will, was the wrong approach. That we have to let people know who we are so that they know someone they love is gay.
Then Saturday, we had the march...hundreds of brave activists from the Balts (including some of the folks from Eesti Gei Noored, or Estonian Gay Youth), Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and throughout Europe braved the rain and hail (yes, hail) and the counter demonstrators to fight for their rights.
You see, the last time Latvia had a march, there was violence. Eggs and feces were thrown at the marchers.
But this time, we had high-ranking U.S. officials IN the march, including my boss, Ambassador Polt, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Judy Garber and DAS Melia. And I think that the violence of the last march, and the negative international attention it attracted, was something the officials in Latvia were determined not to see repeated. So we had significant police presence, including riot police walking along with the U.S. delegation.
And so when eggs were thrown (they were, but no feces, thankfully...one person was hit, and another egg landed near my feet), they responded in seconds and arrested the perpetrators. I was impressed with their swift response. And the rest of the counter demonstrators, though offensive, were non-violent.
We ended the march with a rally at a local park (you can check out photos of the march and rally here, here and here, where we listened to a number of moving speeches and saw moving videos. I was particularly impressed with the video from the EU and European Commission...all these leaders, most of them straight, talking about how they were working to make things better. Ambassador Polt's speech was excellent as well...in fact, I made a nice video of it that I would love to show you...if I could find the right cord to download it! Ah, moving overseas...the surest way to lose something you need.
After the speeches, the crowd braved the pouring rain for a great concert by BETTY. I have videos of that too...but you get the idea.
I left the event feeling I had made a difference. That I had played a part in helping others stand up for their rights. Because while things are not perfect in the U.S., there are places where it is much worse.
And there are places like Latvia where activists feel their time has come.
I am proud to stand with them. As a lesbian. And as a diplomat, representing my country's belief that "Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights".
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