Thank you and good evening.
You may know the building I work in – the gray one – at 71 Ha’yarkon Street in Tel Aviv. If you pass by this week, on the sea side, you will see a little less gray and whole lot of rainbow.
Does anyone at this gathering plan to pass by this week?
Before I continue, I would first like to thank the organizers of this conference. I want to acknowledge Oded Frid, the Executive Director of Agudah—the Embassy is proud to work with Agudah. I also want to acknowledge Arthur Sleppian, the Founder and Executive Director of A Wider Bridge, which is co-sponsoring the conference.
I am also pleased to see so many American civil society representatives and community leaders here in Israel this week, including Ed Murray, the Mayor of Seattle, Washington, who leads by example and who has generated real and positive change in his community.
Last, but not least, I would also like to acknowledge all of the Members of Knesset who are attending the conference.
I just came from the Herzliya Conference, where we honored Robert F. Kennedy, a great American hero and an icon in the on-going struggle to promote and defend universal human rights. And I think RFK would agree, that while the struggle goes on, we should always take time to celebrate our accomplishments and look to the future with optimism.
There is no doubt that there is much more work to do, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world. But there is also so much to celebrate.
I am here tonight to celebrate the progress Israelis have made to promote equality without consideration of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- During the previous Knesset, a groundbreaking law was passed that changed the antidiscrimination law to include protection for transgendered individuals.
- In recent elections, we observed that candidates from numerous parties made significant efforts to address issues and attend events organized by the LGBT community.
- Tel Aviv is widely acknowledged as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world—and oh, so much fun!
Yes, there is more work to be done, but you are also entitled to celebrate what you have achieved.
Your friends and allies in the US are also celebrating the hard-fought progress we have achieved in our country, and I am proud of the new prominence America has given to LGBT rights in our foreign policy.
“We have a moral obligation,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, “to speak out against the persecution and the marginalization of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, open, and tolerant.”
We are here to celebrate that earlier this year Secretary Kerry appointed Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons.
We are here to celebrate America’s staunch defense of LGBT rights across the entire international system, and speaking out wherever discrimination occurs. President Obama has had two of his closest advisors serve at the United Nations in New York—Susan Rice and Samantha Power—they are, hands down, two of the most effective and eloquent advocates for LGBT rights anywhere.
Earlier this year, President Obama signed an Executive Order that will protect contractors working for the U.S. federal government against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are more opportunities for national service, at home and abroad. There are more federal, state and local protections than ever before. That’s progress, plain and simple.
And let me tell you about progress: Two years ago, when Julie and I hosted the first-ever reception for Israel’s LGBT community at the Ambassador’s residence, I told you that earlier that week, we stayed up to watch Minnesota become the 12th state to make marriage equality the law, so that in the state where we got married, anyone can get married. Today, only two years later, 36 states have marriage equality laws. And we wait impatiently for the Supreme Court to rule on a case that could make marriage equality the law of the entire land.
Whether it is ending workplace discrimination or achieving full marriage equality in all 50 states, we know there is unfinished business in America. President Obama recognized that “we are not truly equal until every person is afforded the same rights and opportunities—that when one of us experiences discrimination, it affects all of us—and that our journey is not complete until our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
So there is so much more work to do, and yet, there is so much to celebrate.
“We celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation,” President Obama said in his proclamation for LGBT Pride Month, “we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”
In fact, more and more Americans are standing up and speaking out about who they are, thereby opening the door for others. Courageous Americans like NBA star Jason Collins, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, country music singer Ty Herndon, and people in every walk of life. These are our role models.
I know the celebrations are just beginning and I look forward to seeing many of you throughout this week of Pride activities.
See you at the March!