Tuesday's first-ever White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights brought together a mix of individuals and groups representing the fields of business, human rights activism, international diplomacy and, of course, politics, to strategize ways to build on recent victories in the fight for equality in order to improve the lives of LGBT people around the world.
Speaking at a reception near the swimming pool at the second family’s official residence following the event, Vice President Joe Biden said countries that oppress their LGBT populations invariably trample on the rights of others.
Countries where LGBT citizens have few-to-no rights are also countries "where every other right is at risk" because the issues "are not separable," White House press pool reporter Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade quoted Biden saying.
Hitting closer to home in unfiltered Biden style, the vice president tendered a choice description of Americans who still oppose equal rights for LGBT people.
Noting that the majority of Americans support equality, he told the reception "They are the majority; and those other folks, they are the troglodytes."
Delivering the forum's keynote address was President Obama’s national security advisor and former ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. She highlighted recent successes, remaining challenges and diverse alliances in the fight to secure more rights and equality for LGBT people in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Somewhat striking among her remarks was an announcement of a new program aimed at emphasizing on the economics surrounding the issues of LGBT equality and human rights.
“Thanks to a new partnership between the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and USAID, we will provide business development training and build new networks to help economically empower the LGBT community,” Rice said.
The national security advisor touted U.S. efforts to improve the quality of life for LGBT people around the world, by way of the United Nations.
“During my four and a half years at the United Nations, the U.S. joined the LGBT core group” she said. “We worked to pass the first Human Rights Council resolution focused solely on the human rights of LGBT people. And, we fought to broaden other U.N. resolutions to expressly cover LGBT persons.”
But the road to equality has been and will continue to be one that requires standing up to those who would resist change and, in some cases, try to stop it, warned Rice.
“When some countries worked hard, and succeeded, in stripping language on sexual orientation and gender identity from a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings, we battled back, we restored the language, and when that resolution went to the full General Assembly, we won,” Rice said.
She encouraged others to “beat back barriers and speak out on behalf of the rights of all people.”
“We do this both because it’s our moral obligation, and because it’s in our national interests,” Rice said, noting that there is an incentive for countries to respect the rights of their LGBT citizens. “Nations that protect human rights are more stable, more peaceful, and more prosperous partners for the United States.”
The list of attendees and participants at the forum included some of the leading names of LGBT and human rights activism in the U.S. and beyond, as well as luminaries from government and the private sector.
Among those in attendance were LGBT activist and Milk Foundation president Stuart Milk, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, White House Office of Public Engagement's Gautam Raghavan, GLAAD president Sarah Kaye Ellis, British Ambasador Peter Westmacutt, Out Rhode Island congressman Rep. David Cicilline, Swedish Ambassador Bjoern Lynsall, Icelandic Ambassador Gudmender Stefnasson, Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Judy Shepard, Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Chief Operating Officer Torey Carter, and numerous other dignitaries.