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.


Crimea: Forced Disappearances

Posted by ShareAmerica

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This is the second of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

Since the start of Russia’s illegal occupation, Human Rights Watch has documented at least 15 cases in which Crimean Tatars or pro- Ukraine activists were, abducted or went missing in Crimea. They believe the true number is much higher.
The costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are real.
Stop Russian Aggression. Stand United for Ukraine.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine

The life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted by: ShareAmerica

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Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality in the United States. The third Monday in January marks Martin Luther King Day, a U.S. holiday that honors King’s legacy and challenges citizens to engage in volunteer service in their communities.

Beginning the journey

A two-story yellow house with brown shutters and wraparound porch (National Park Service)
A two-story yellow house with brown shutters and wraparound porch (National Park Service)

Born on January 15, 1929, to a long line of Baptist ministers, King grew up in Atlanta at a time when Jim Crow laws made segregation and discrimination a daily reality for blacks in the South.

King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he came to view religion as a powerful catalyst for social change. He received his doctorate from Boston University’s School of Theology before returning to the South, where he served as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Today, King’s Atlanta birthplace is registered as a National Historical Site with the National Park Service.

Civil rights struggle in the 1950s

Martin Luther King with hand on boy's shoulder at head of line of demonstrators at street (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King with hand on boy’s shoulder at head of line of demonstrators at street (© AP Images)

King helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott, a yearlong campaign touched off when seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. After the Supreme Court overturned Alabama’s bus segregation laws in 1956, King co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and promoted nonviolent action for civil rights throughout the South. He was influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and traveled to India in 1959.

An iconic figure of the 1960s

King seated, looking upward through jail cell bars (National Archives)
King seated, looking upward through jail cell bars (National Archives)

Joining his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King continued to use his oratorical gifts to urge an end to segregation and legal inequality. Throughout the 1960s, he was arrested during nonviolent protests in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. While incarcerated after one such arrest, in 1963, King penned the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, outlining the moral basis for the civil rights movement. That August, he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington.

King leading throng of marchers across bridge (© AP Images)
King leading throng of marchers across bridge (© AP Images)

March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday because voting-rights marchers were beaten by state troopers and civilians as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The violence turned them back, but the ordeal led King to call for another, longer march (pictured) — an 87-kilometer-long, Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.

Civil rights victories

King accepting signing pen from Lyndon Johnson, seated, as others look on (© AP Images)
King accepting signing pen from Lyndon Johnson, seated, as others look on (© AP Images)

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination in employment, public accommodations and other aspects of life. King attended the signing of the act into law (pictured). He continued to press for a law to ensure that blacks could not be denied the right to vote by discriminatory practices such as literacy tests, and, in 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

In the wake of assassination

Martin Luther King's coffin in wagon amid throng of mourners in street (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King’s coffin in wagon amid throng of mourners in street (© AP Images)

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony outside his Memphis, Tennessee, hotel room. At his funeral, thousands of mourners marched through Atlanta behind a mule-drawn wagon bearing his coffin.

In a posthumously published essay titled “A Testament of Hope,” King urged black Americans to continue their commitment to nonviolence, but also cautioned that “justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”

King’s legacy: Nonviolent protest

Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King with group of people (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King with group of people (© AP Images)

In a 1959 radio address during his visit to India, King said: “Today we no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” His philosophy was inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent action to end British rule in India. In his turn, King inspired others to change their societies through nonviolent means, from the Solidarity movement’s cracking of Soviet occupation in Poland to Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

King’s legacy: Fighting prejudice

Martin Luther King speaking at 1963 March on Washington (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King speaking at 1963 March on Washington (© AP Images)

During the 1963 March on Washington, King declared that all people should be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The King Center in Atlanta is a living memorial to King’s vision of a free and equal world dedicated to expanding opportunity, fighting racism and ending all forms of discrimination.

King’s legacy: Pursuing social justice

Martin Luther King in shirt sleeves, gesturing dramatically while speaking from the pulpit (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King in shirt sleeves, gesturing dramatically while speaking from the pulpit (© AP Images)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University is home to the King Papers Project, a comprehensive collection of all of King’s speeches, correspondence and other writings. The institute is also involved with the Liberation Curriculum Initiative and the Gandhi-King Community, both of which use King’s life and ideas to connect social activists around the world working to promote human rights.

King’s legacy: Service to others

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint Martin Luther King Jr. quotes as part of a volunteer community service project. (© AP Images)
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint Martin Luther King Jr. quotes as part of a volunteer community service project. (© AP Images)

In the U.S., Martin Luther King Day is designated a national day of service. Americans are urged to celebrate “a day on, not a day off” in honor of King’s commitment to improving the lives of others. President Obama promotes volunteerism as a way to help meet the challenges facing our world.

Keeping the dream alive

© AP Images
A black man putting his hand on the MLK Memorial, with bowed head (© AP Images)

A national memorial to King was built near the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The memorial invites visitors to reflect on King’s life and legacy.

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

The Ukrainian Evolution

Posted by Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Follow @Stengel 
May 21, 2014
Ukrainian Polling Station
Ukrainian Polling Station

On Sunday, Ukrainians will go to the polls to vote for a new president. But that simple statement does not reckon with the significance of this election. The May 25 vote is not just a validator of their struggle for change and a harbinger of Ukraine’s future – plenty important enough — it is also a demarcation point between the global struggle for freedom and the forces of repression, of nations being able to choose their own future rather than have it imposed upon them.

So this is not just any election. It comes at a perilous moment in Ukraine’s long history. It follows the purported annexation of Crimea and Russia’s own efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the voting. For weeks now the Russian media machine has broadcast fictional stories of a “Neo-Nazi rampage” and a country on the verge of civil war, while the Kremlin has encouraged separatists in the east to seize power at the barrel of a gun.

Last week I traveled to Ukraine to see for myself. I found Kyiv to be calm but nervous; people were going about their business, having coffee at sidewalk cafes, taking their children to school. But they were a little anxious about the election. And why wouldn’t they be? There’s a lot riding on it.

While in Kyiv, I walked through the Maidan and paid my respects at monuments to the Heavenly Hundred, the protesters who gave their lives fighting for a truly representative government. I met young Ukrainians who protested in the Maidan and lost friends in the struggle. I spoke with one university student who told me she had always passed out at the sight of blood, yet during the protests, she volunteered to care for the wounded in one of the Maidan’s makeshift hospitals and never fainted or faltered. She said she has seen enough bloodshed for a lifetime, and now she is focused on finding a democratic future for her country. Everywhere I found a quiet patriotism, a faith that if only the people can exercise their will, Ukraine will prosper.

Graffiti on the side of a building near the Maidan in Kyiv symbolizes Ukrainians' desire to turn their struggle for change into the evolution of their country, May 2014.
Graffiti on the side of a building near the Maidan in Kyiv symbolizes Ukrainians’ desire to turn their struggle for change into the evolution of their country, May 2014.

Sunday’s elections are the best route to political healing in Ukraine. Polls show that more than 70 percent of Ukrainians want to stay intact as a nation. The elections should be an antidote to the mayhem created by Russia and the separatists who seem more intent on tearing the country down than raising it up. Everyone I spoke to in Kyiv wants a nation that includes minority voices, a nation that looks both westward and eastward. They reject the notion that they must choose one or the other.

Elections are never perfect — and this one will not be either. There will be disruptions, and some people will stay home in the east, where election officials have been intimidated and in some cases even kidnapped. Russia has also ensured that no voting will take place in Crimea. But instead of preventing people from voting, the separatists should register their dissent in the voting booth. The story of the 21st century shows that in the end, the ballot box is more powerful than the bullet. Around 400 million people in Europe are eligible to vote this weekend in European Parliamentary elections — Ukrainians deserve the same right to express their will.

More than 200 years ago, Thomas Paine wrote that “the right of voting…is the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Let this election be the beginning and not the end of the Ukrainian people being able to choose and construct their future. It should not only reflect the will of the Ukrainian people but be an engine for protecting the rights of minorities as well. That is the future of Ukraine.

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.

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.