Remarks by Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro at the Reception in Honor of the LGBT Community of Israel

Good evening and welcome.  Erev Tov v’Bruchim HaBa’im.  Masa al-Heer w’Ahlan w’sAahlan.  It is a great pleasure for me and Julie to welcome you all to our home tonight to honor the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of Israel.   We believe that is the first event of its kind, so we are proud to make history with all of you.

In particular, I would like to recognize the public officials here tonight including Members of Knesset Nitzan Horowitz, Stav Shafir, Ofer Shelah, and Boaz Toporovsky; Mexican Ambassador Federico Salas;Italian Ambassador Francesco Talo; and a great pioneer in the struggle for equal rights for the LBGT community, former Member of Knesset and Chair of the Tel Aviv-Yafo City Council Yael Dayan.

Israel has been internationally recognized for its active LGBT community and for its progressive policies toward LGBT rights in the Middle East.  I was able to see for myself the vibrancy of the LGBT community when I marched in my first Tel Aviv Pride Parade last June.  What a party that was!  I am looking forward to returning this year.

We know that these achievements did not come easily but were won through the perseverance of committed activists and leaders, straight and gay, many of whom are with us here tonight.  We are so honored to have you with us.

On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we are also reminded there is still work yet to be done.  In almost 80 countries around the world, homosexuality is still considered illegal.  And around the world, including in America, social homophobia and transphobia continues to negatively impact millions.  So we all have work to do.

President Obama has declared that “the United States stands proudly with those nations that are standing up to intolerance, discrimination, and homophobia. Advancing equality for LGBT persons should be the work of all peoples and all nations. LGBT persons are entitled to equal treatment, equal protection, and the dignity that comes with being full members of our diverse societies.”

We’re proud to stand with all of you in Israel – Jews and Arabs, religious, secular and progressive, Muslim and Christian – who have helped to ensure the inclusion of sexual orientation in anti-discrimination laws, the recognition of same-sex couples, and the inclusion of gays in the military.  I do not take for granted that so many of us are able to gather openly here tonight to voice our support for the LGBT community.  Throughout the world, human rights defenders are fighting for these very rights, and it is a credit to Israel and to all of you that here those rights are secure.

I am proud that we continue to make strides in the United States as well.

President Obama has made advancing LGBT rights one of his human rights priorities.  In 2009, he signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, giving explicit protection to LGBT individuals for the first time.  In 2010, the President extended federal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of U.S. government employees.  And in 2011, the President and Congress formally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” joining Israel in allowing our military officers to serve the country they love without needing to hide whom they love.

Our actions and our advocacy are not confined within our borders.

Also in 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton launched the Global Equality Fund, which provides support for civil society groups around the world that are working to protect the human rights of LGBT people.  I am proud to say that part of this fund is at work here in Israel to provide outreach and support to the Israeli Arab LGBT community.

So as you continue the hard work of advocacy, I am here to assure you that wthe United States stands with you.

This is personal for Julie and me.  Two nights ago, we stayed up until the middle of the night watching as Minnesota, Julie’s home state, became the 12th state in the nation to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.  We were thrilled to watch the thousands of people celebrating with such joy.  Now, in the state where we got married, anyone can get married, no matter who they love.

And we are thinking of one of our closest and dearest friends, someone who we studied with at Hebrew University, who told us 13 years ago that she was going to marry the woman she had fallen in love with.  We brought our oldest daughter, then three months old, to the wedding.  It was the first wedding she ever attended. And it occurs to us that maybe for her generation, they will not find anything unusual at all about any two people, of the same sex or opposite sex, who love each other getting married and spending their lives together.  And that is a great sign of progress.

Julie and I thank you for being here tonight and for joining us in recognizing the achievements made to advance the rights of LGBT people in Israel.

I am now pleased to introduce Shai Doitsh, chairperson of The Aguda to say a few words about the LGBT community in Israel.  I met Shai two years ago at The Aguda, which was established in 1975 as the pioneer task force for the LGBT Israeli community.  The Aguda now serves as a human rights organization that works to improve the lives of LGBT people throughout Israel.