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Ambassador Berry’s Remarks National Park Service LGBT Theme Study Event
June 10, 2014

Thank you, Representative Pelosi, for the kind introduction.  And thank you, Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis, for allowing me to join you at this special event.  Colleagues and friends — it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

I’ll be honest: I never dreamed I would be in a position to represent our country as an Ambassador overseas.  And yet, I am one of five openly gay U.S. Ambassadors.

As Director of OPM, one of my first acts was to issue a formal apology on behalf of the U.S. Government to Frank Kameny, whom I consider “the Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement.”  Frank was a WWII veteran — with a doctorate from Harvard — who was fired from the Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay.

As a government and as a nation, we’ve come a long, long way since then.  But I have in my home office in Canberra a D.C. street sign – Frank Kameny Way, near Dupont Circle — as a constant reminder that courage and leadership are necessary to defend the principles we are sworn to uphold as public servants.

As our Ambassador to Australia, I am proud to show America’s support for Australia’s LGBT community.  I was proud to be the first U.S. Ambassador to march in Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.  I have met young leaders of Australia’s LGBT community all over the country, to discuss issues important to them and share my personal and professional experiences.

In April, all five of Australia’s major professional sports organizations (Rugby League, Rugby Union, Australian Rules Football, Soccer, and Cricket) took a collective stand against homophobia and pledged to actively embrace diversity.  I was moved by that, and sent them each a personal letter of thanks.

The State Department leads by example, championing the protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals worldwide.

But our diplomats can’t do this alone.  It is incumbent upon each of us — in countries where we enjoy our rights and freedoms — to be engaged, to be beacons of hope, to speak out against homophobia, and to advance human rights and individual dignity all around the world.

So thank you Jon, for your leadership in launching this LGBT heritage initiative.

My partner Curtis and I were married just before we went to Australia, so I am often asked to weigh in on Australia’s active public debate on marriage equality.  As a diplomat, I say that is a decision Australians have to decide for Australia.  In fact, the United States does not advocate on the issue of marriage equality abroad.

However, with our Supreme Court’s historic decision to overturn Section III of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the U.S. Government now recognizes all legal marriages equally.  The Department of State has instructed U.S. Embassies to press foreign governments to accredit same-sex spouses of U.S. government personnel, so they receive the same diplomatic protections as other spouses.

In Australia, we’re also supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Next month in Melbourne, I will be part of a U.S. delegation at the International AIDS Conference, where policymakers and medical experts will collaborate to prevent the spread of HIV, expand access to treatment, and expand research that we hope, ultimately, will lead to a cure.

Australia and the United States have been active partners in the Global Fund.  Together, partner countries, PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and others are sharing in the responsibility for achieving an AIDS-free generation.

It falls to us to ensure that the next generation can realize this future.   And that means scaling up access to effective HIV services, educating our young people about how to protect themselves, as well as sharing best practices and lessons learned from more than 30 years of combating global HIV/AIDS.

People often ask me whether I feel any special responsibilities as an openly gay ambassador.

Of course I do.

And I will, until the day when each of us is judged not on our race, religion or sexual identity — but on our ability to do the job.  As we mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day this month, I’ve thought about my father, a World War II veteran.  It took a while for him to come to terms with my coming out, but he eventually embraced me, and he told me one day – we all knew there were gays in the military.  And they fought and died as bravely as anyone else.

Or, as Barry Goldwater said, “You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country.  You just need to shoot straight.”  Your ability to do the job is all that matters.  This core American value is part of what makes our country great, and what makes me proud to represent and serve our great nation.

Again, thank you for letting me join you today.