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Global Partnerships to Strengthen Human Rights

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This week I returned to the State Department to mark and yes "celebrate" the Gay and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies' Pride at State Event. Normally I would only say "celebrate" Pride, but this year the discussions turned to abhorrent terror and hate attack in Orlando less than two weeks ago which killed 49 young men and women who were out on a Saturday night enjoying music, friendship and love.

This last year we have seen great progress in our country in extending the promise of equality and human rights for all, from marriage being legalized for gay and lesbian couples, to the appointment of the openly gay and very highly qualified Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army.

Secretary Kerry - a great champion of human rights - laid out in his remarks at the event the challenges we face and the journey we as a nation have all taken. He noted:

"From Stonewall, to New Orleans, to Harvey Milk, to Matthew Shepard, to Orlando - the list of outrages committed against the LGBT community in our nation is long - too long. But those crimes have done nothing to prevent the historic gains that have been made in broadening anti-discrimination laws, legalizing gay marriage, exposing inequalities, and expanding public acceptance."

The Secretary noted why these human rights are intrinsic to our nation. He ended his remarks by saying : "What makes us different is that we are united by an uncommon idea - the idea that we are all created equal and we are all endowed with inalienable rights. That's what defines America. It's what makes us different from any other country on the face of this planet. It's worth fighting for. That is the principle that defines us and it is, in the end, what pride means - to speak out for equality, to show solidarity in the cause, and to stand up and say loudly and clearly: No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you."

But what was especially important to me was the renewed commitment by the Secretary and the State Department in the Global Equality Fund.

Launched less than five-years ago, the Fund is tasked with supporting civil society in protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. The Fund brings together governments, foundations, and corporations. It has already provided help to partners in more than 80 countries who are advocating for legal reforms and social justice.

Full disclosure - I have been involved with the fund from the start - personally and through the John D Evans Foundation. I have seen firsthand the great work it has accomplished by helping small civil society organizations throughout the world. But there is still a great deal of work to do.

Even now, over 70 countries criminalize LGBT people for who they love, and in over 10, this love is a crime punishable by death.

This is unacceptable for any civilized society.

Mechanisms like the Global Equality Fund are a vital tool which our Diplomats can use to strengthen human rights, dignity and even preserve lives.

I am very proud of the fact that the Fund works with local partners on-the-ground giving small grants, providing capacity building and other technical support, and providing emergency protection for organizations and people under physical threat and harassment.

It is through the fund, and other support from our missions around the world we can truly live up to that American exceptionalism that Secretary Kerry noted; that we are all endowed with inalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - fundamentally this is about being allowed to live authentic lives and love whomever we love.