Potomac Fever and the Importance of LGBT Pride Month

unPosted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Potomac Fever Performance Opening, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016
Potomac Fever Performance Opening, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016

Across the United States, each June we celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. As representatives of the United States abroad, our diplomats do the same – offering educational and cultural programming that raises awareness about LGBT human rights issues both at home and abroad.

This year, I was proud to support a bold initiative by our Public Affairs team to bring an a capella ensemble from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington called “Potomac Fever.” At the end of May, as part of our America Days festival in Lviv, I was able to stand on the stage of the Philharmonic with Mayor Andriy Sadoviy and Governor Oleh Synyutka and introduce a gay chorus. Let that sink in for a minute. This was a big step for everyone involved. Just three months ago in Lviv, violent protests disrupted a planned LGBT event. And here I was introducing a 14-member gay singing group in one of Lviv’s most prestigious public venues. It was just more proof of how quickly Ukraine is changing for the better. And I could not be more proud.

Potomac Fever Performance, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016
Potomac Fever Performance, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016

For the U.S. Embassy, the program represented a unique and important opportunity to introduce Ukrainians to gay Americans not solely because they are gay Americans, but because they represent to the best of America – with all of its talents and diversity. While the G in LGBT is an important part of Potomac Fever’s identity, they are not singularly defined by it. And we wanted to Ukraine to see that. Their music and stories highlighted the LGBT human rights struggle, making it human and relatable. LGBT people in Ukraine are facing similar challenges every day and we hope that Potomac Fever’s program brought a sense of solidarity and hope.

Equality March, Kyiv, June 12, 2016
Equality March, Kyiv, June 12, 2016

 

The fact that a large and peace Equality March took place in Kyiv on June 12 makes me think that it did. It was such a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, from the local activists to city officials and law enforcement. By embracing European values of inclusiveness and tolerance, you showed the world that Ukraine is Europe. And that love wins.

 

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New U.S. Stamp Honors Harvey Milk, Who Championed LGBT Rights

June 1, 2014

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harvey-milk-stampA stamp honoring human rights activist Harvey Milk was dedicated at the White House May 22. Milk (1930–1978) became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

His achievements inspired the LGBT community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when its members experienced widespread hostility and discrimination.

Milk’s political career was tragically cut short less than a year after he took office when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978. In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

The stamp image shows Milk in front of his San Francisco camera store around 1977.

At the dedication, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said that while President Obama is identified with two words — hope and change — “it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official.”

“Hope and change,” Power said, are about envisioning “a world that is fairer, kinder, more just — not just for some people, but for all people.”

The HARVEY MILK® image is licensed by the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Source: IIP Digital | U.S. Department of State

Promoting Tolerance, Respect and Freedom for All

Posted by: David Young, Legal Officer, United States Agency for International Development

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idahoOn May 17, 2014, the world will observe International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and communities across the globe.  IDAHO promotes a world of tolerance, respect, and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The U.S. Government maintains a vision in which the human rights of LGBT persons are respected and they are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination, persecution and violence.  In this world, the human rights of LGBT persons are upheld; they are able to participate fully in democratic decision-making in their households, communities and countries; they have equal access to sustainable livelihoods, economic assets and resources; and they are not barred from accessing the basic education, health and other services that are enjoyed by their fellow citizens and that are essential for personal well-being and growth.  LGBT persons and their allies can come together to advocate for the equal treatment for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

In Ukraine, the U.S. Government supports programs that counter abuse, discrimination and human rights violations targeting LGBT persons.  For example, the U.S. Embassy provides small grants to LGBT non-governmental organizations and helps enhance the skills of LGBT leaders through training programs and exchanges in the United States.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) civil society activities work with non-governmental organizations, including those focused on LGBT concerns, to help them advocate for human rights. Additionally, a USAID media development project monitors and reports on media activities related to gender, and the ways in which LGBT persons and issues are portrayed in the media. USAID also supports programs that counter the trafficking in human beings, which includes support for LGBT persons who can be victims of trafficking.

Ukraine faces many challenges at the moment.  Supporting the fight against homophobia and passing legislation to prevent discrimination against LGBT persons will not only improve the lives of Ukrainian LGBT citizens but will also strengthen Ukraine’s ability to meet these challenges by improving the business environment for foreign investment and furthering visa liberalization with the European Union.  The U.S. Government looks forward to working with the Government of Ukraine and all Ukrainians to further protect the rights of LGBT persons.

Striking Down DOMA: An Advancement to Human Rights

Posted by:  Doris Hernandez, Political Intern

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http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/identifying_violations_treaties.htmlIn a speech delivered on August 16, 1967, the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that had denied equal protection under the law for legally wedded couples on the basis of sexual orientation.  Commenting on the court’s ruling, Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Dr. King, saying that “despite setbacks along the way, the arc of our history on this issue has bent towards inclusion and equality, perhaps never more so than today.”

The history of DOMA recalls earlier struggles for equality in the United States, and it demonstrates how citizens even today continue to engage their government to promote and protect equal rights for all.  When DOMA was enacted in 1996, it prevented the federal government from extending the protections of over 1,000 federal laws to those same-sex couples who were legally able to marry in their respective states.  In response, activists and civic groups used all the tools available to citizens in a democratic society to press the government to ensure equal rights for all citizens.  For nearly two decades they organized education and awareness campaigns, reached out to their elected representatives through letter-writing campaigns, initiated voting campaigns to work toward changing state and local laws, conducted publicity events through the media, filed lawsuits in the courts and pursued other strategies to promote equal rights.  As a result, they helped to raise awareness about the law’s inequality, shifted public opinion, changed the legal landscape, and prepared the way for the landmark Supreme Court ruling that ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional.

The success of those civic groups also illustrates how civic campaigns to defend human rights can work wherever citizens engage their governments.  In Ukraine, the U.S. Embassy helps civic organizations by providing training and support, education, and tools that empower citizens to take action to defend the rights of all Ukrainians.  The programs include support to foster civic activism, strengthen independent media, promote a more accountable judicial system, and improve the legislative process.  By strengthening democratic institutions, Ukraine’s activists are helping to create the conditions that can bring equal protection under the law and the rights that are due to all citizens.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA was not only a success for advocates and supporters of equal rights in the United States, it was a reassurance that civic activists—both in the United States and throughout the world—really can create meaningful change to protect human rights.  The process can take years, and it sometimes requires the concerted efforts of hundreds or thousands of committed citizens working at every level.  But as the DOMA ruling showed, while the arc of history is long, when citizens commit to remedying an injustice, they can indeed bend that arc toward justice.

The Science of Sexuality

IDAHO-rr_tcm7-115931Posted by: Jack Fisher, Human Rights Officer

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As the United States continues to struggle with how our own society chooses to engage on the issue of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, there seem to be parallels in that same debate in Ukraine.  Forty years ago in the United States, no states had laws protecting LGBT people from employment or housing discrimination, no states allowed civil partnerships or same-sex marriages, the American Psychological Association still considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder, police raided bars frequented by LGBT people, and LGBT people who wished to hold public office, serve in the military or work for the government could not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.  As Ukrainians begin to openly debate their own laws with respect to LGBT people, it is important that those taking part in the debate have access to the best possible science regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, so as to make the most informed choices possible.  Here, as best as we can tell, is a summary of what science has determined about sexual orientation.

People do not choose to be homosexual
Most gay people report feeling different during childhood, and, during puberty, realize that their sexual feelings are primarily or exclusively towards those of their own sex.  Much as heterosexuals do not make a conscious choice to “be” straight, gay people do not make a choice to “be” gay. Most gay people report experiencing an extended period during which they struggle with the fact that they are gay, attempting to hide their sexuality due to the social stigma attached to it.  As a result of this internal conflict, rates of attempted and actual suicide among LGBT youth are significantly higher than in the general population.   Some surveys claim that 30-40% of LGBT youth attempt suicide – a rate four times higher than among heterosexual teenagers.  It would make little sense for anyone to choose a sexuality which dramatically reduced their statistical likelihood of finding a life partner, which put them at increased risk of bullying or violence, which prevented them from the free and full exercise of their civil and human rights, and which was likely to lead to conflict with or rejection by their closest family members and friends.

Homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder, and it is not contagious
In 1974, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the primary manual used by American and many other psychologists and psychiatrists, removed homosexuality from its categories of “mental disorders.”  This was due to the increase in research which showed that homosexuality was innate, unchangeable, and did not prevent healthy individuals from leading fulfilling lives.  Some who argue against giving parental rights to LGBT people contend that they should not be allowed to raise children, because they will be more likely to raise gay children.  But a 2005 study on children raised by gay couples showed that these children were indistinguishable from children raised in households with a mother and a father – and were no more or less likely to grow up to be gay.

Homosexuality cannot be changed or fixed
Decades of studies of “reparative therapies” of homosexuality have shown that attempts to change a person’s sexuality are ineffective, and frequently lead to adverse psychological side effects.  In a 2002 study of reparative therapy, for example, only 3% of participants reported that they had successfully changed their sexual orientation.   Even these three percent were taken only at their word, with no attempt to measure their physiological and sexual response to individuals of the same sex.  Several high profile individuals who reported that reparative therapy “cured” their homosexuality later recanted.

Genetics appear to play an important role in homosexuality, but there doesn’t appear to be any one “gay gene” 

Studies of identical twins have found that approximately half of twins with a gay or lesbian sibling will also be gay or lesbian.  If there were a determinative gay gene, then this figure would be 100%, as identical twins share all of their genes.  However, given that estimates of homosexuality in the general population range from 1-3%, this finding suggests a strong genetic component to homosexuality.   Some studies indicate that the genetic marker Xq28 may play a role in male homosexuality, although this has been disputed by other studies.  Epigenetic factors also seem to partly explain homosexuality.  Epigenetics is the study of the fact that, while any given person has thousands of genes, only some of these are “switched on” or active, while others remain “switched off.”  Hormonal changes while an embryo is in the womb appear to switch on and off certain genes, and may explain why one identical twin will be homosexual while the other is heterosexual.  Birth order also appears to play a role in homosexuality. Blanchard and Klassen reported in 1997 that each older brother increases a man’s chance of being homosexual by 33%, possibly due to the fact that women’s hormonal responses to each successive male embryo varies.  Finally, there appear to be important differences in brain structure between homosexuals and heterosexuals.  A study by Simon LeVay showed that male homosexuals had hypothalamuses similar in size to female heterosexuals, while lesbians had hypothalamuses similar in size to male heterosexuals.  These differences in brain structure may also partially explain homosexuality.

Homosexuality is not an import from the West
Homosexual behavior has been observed in every culture, in every society, at every time in history.  Anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe reported that women in Lesotho, (Africa) form long-term, socially acceptable sexual partnerships called motsoalle.  In 2400 BCE, Egyptian male couple Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were immortalized for all time in a series of bas reliefs showing them kissing, surrounded by their heirs.  Homosexuality has been depicted in the literature and art of ancient China and Japan, and in Thailand, Thai kings frequently had both male and female lovers.

Even in the United States, discussion of homosexuality arouses strong passions, with many people arguing that same-sex relationships are immoral, or dangerous to society and to the traditional family unit.  Yet through debate we have come to recognize the importance of protecting the right of all people to freely express their views, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to live without the fear of violence.

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.