Administrator Power’s Remarks at the White House Event Observing International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia

Speeches Shim

Monday, May 17, 2021

As Prepared

Thank you, Adam, for your kind introduction. And thank you to Reggie, Melissa, Josh, and everyone on the team who organized this event today—and for your leadership to advance the rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ people everywhere, both in the U.S. and abroad.

I want to begin today by talking about a man you may not know: Xulhaz Mannan was a member of the USAID family. A young Bangladeshi, he served for nine years in the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka as a protocol specialist, before joining USAID’s Office of Democracy and Human Rights. In his day job, he helped lead programs that sought to end human trafficking and counter gender-based violence. But his work on behalf of the marginalized did not end with his day job.

In a country where homosexuality remains illegal, a holdover from British colonial rule, Xulhaz also advocated for LGBT rights, and worked to serve and nurture the LGBT community. He promoted HIV awareness and organized testing, organized a diversity parade to show solidarity with marginalized communities—including LGBT people—in Dhaka, and even sheltered activists in his home amidst threats of violence and harassment. He also founded Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first LGBT-themed magazine, and the only platform in the country for LGBT individuals and allies.

In advocating for LGBT rights, Xulhaz dreamed of an inclusive Bangladesh that respected the identities of all its citizens. “He used to give us hope, give us inspiration,” said an activist and friend of Xulhaz, “and, as a community leader, he… empowered us.” Xulhaz was also a practicing Muslim; he believed that religious freedom and LGBT rights could coexist.

Five years ago, Xulhaz’s apartment was raided and he was brutally killed, along with a friend, in front of his own mother, by a group of attackers armed with machetes. Despite repeated calls for justice, to this day, no one has been held fully accountable for his murder.

I share that story with you on a day that holds special resonance. For more than four decades, the World Health Organization officially classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. But it was on this day, in 1990—really, just so recently—that the classification was overturned.

In a practice that continues to this day, gender and sexual diversity has routinely been painted as a disease, a threat, or a moral failure, rather than what it represents: a mark of courage to live authentically and love unconditionally.

In 2004, thousands of individuals and organizations around the world rallied together to mark May 17th as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia—an occasion we now commemorate every year. More than 130 countries now recognize this day, and use it to shine a spotlight on the reprehensible violence and discrimination that LGBTQI+ individuals continue to face globally.

People of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and sex characteristics exist in every religion, culture, and society. But to this day, LGBTQI+ communities still face unjust criminalization in nearly 70 different countries and territories. While the world has made valuable progress on LGBTQI+ rights, the violence targeted at people like Xulhaz demonstrates just how much further we still have to go.

Following President Biden’s early memorandum, the U.S. government is ensuring that our diplomacy and foreign assistance efforts promote and protect LGBTQI+ rights. “It shall be U.S. policy,” the memorandum states, “to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics...and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”

But while the United States will lead, we cannot lead alone. The development community in particular needs the support of our faith-based partners—a linchpin in so many of our efforts around the world—to help uphold and defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

I’m inspired by so many of you on this call—both the faith and community leaders who identify as LGBTQI+ and those who step up as allies. The interfaith clergy neighborhood group in Chicago that helps to provide housing and employment opportunities for homeless LGBTQI+ youth. The Denver, Colorado preacher who spent decades starting churches, and now fights for trans rights. The Evangelical NGO that works to ensure LGBTQI+ people have safety to work with others on community development initiatives in East Africa. The Catholic sister who cares for LGBTQI+ immigrants in El Paso, Texas at the border. And the Muslim community group in Michigan that works to ensure members of the LGBTQI+ community have equal access to healthcare they rightfully deserve.

Your courage, whether in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights; expanding protections for transgender people; or combating homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia at home and abroad, powerfully demonstrates what is possible. Together, we can be part of historic change—change that respects religious freedoms while also protecting the freedom of all people to live and love the way they choose.

I know this kind of meaningful change is possible. I’ve been privileged to see it in my career when, while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, we secured passage of a landmark resolution at the UN Human Rights Council recognizing LGBT rights as human rights; condemned attacks on the basis of sexual orientation for the first time in the history of the Security Council after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando; and created the first-ever UN position to monitor and publicly report on LGBT rights around the world.

So I invite you to partner with us to create that kind of change in the world. To adapt our language to be more welcoming and inclusive. To proactively include LGBTQI+ voices when making decisions. To solidify stronger legal protections to prevent and protect against violence.

But perhaps most importantly of all, to enshrine the belief that LGBT rights are fundamental human rights, and that faith and diverse identities can more than simply coexist; they can live in harmony. In short, to believe in what Xulhaz believed.

Thank you.

Last updated: September 23, 2022

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