THE US Ambassador to Australia has made an impassioned plea for gay people to come out of the closet, saying it is only by being honest that positive change for LGBTI people will occur.
In an, at times, emotional speech to LGBTI business people in Sydney recently, John Berry discussed his father’s struggle to accept him as gay, his prediction that same-sex marriage would be legalised across the US and that his country had now “overtaken” Australia on marriage equality.
“I can’t tell you how sad I am when I see people in this day and age who are still in the closet,” Berry said.
“Yes it’s hard, but the only reason that things have changed is enough of us have come out to knock down the stereotypes that allowed people to paint us as paedophiles and criminals.”
On coming out, Berry said: “It remains the single most important thing that each and every one of us can do.”
The ambassador used the example of his own father who was initially not supportive when he came out.
“He said ‘I know you mentioned there was someone in your life — don’t bring them out to the house’,” Berry recalled.
“My mum said give him time, so we did and we worked on it, and everyone else in the family got to know Tom.
“One year my dad said, ‘why you don’t bring Tom next Sunday’.”
Every stereotype his father harboured was shattered, said Berry, who commented that his dad was struck by his partner’s integrity and bravery particularly in the face of HIV.
“Ten years later, when [Tom] was dying I called my mum and dad and I said if you want to say goodbye you’d better come now and within a half an hour they were there,” Berry said.
“My dad held Tom in his arms, crying, weeping, saying I love you like my own son.
“That change took 10 years but it would never have happened had I not taken that first step and come out.”
Berry’s father, who was a US Marine, would later become a vocal advocate for allowing gay people to serve openly in the US military.
The ambassador, who has headed several government departments, said he was surprised that Australians were now looking to the US as a leader in gay equality.
“You were always ahead of us on every issue regarding LGBT rights — name anything you were already there and we had a lighthouse that we relied on, a north star by which we steered by, it was Australia,” Berry said.
“I remind the youth that while the United States may have overtaken you on one issue for a short period of time you shouldn’t begrudge us that one moment of leadership.”
When it meets in April, Berry said he thought the US Supreme Court was likely to legalise same-sex marriage across the 13 laggard states by a slim majority: “If I were to predict I would predict that was going to be the case but our supreme court is never to be predicted so we will see.”
SGLBA president Mark Haines concurred with Berry’s message that business should continue to take a leadership position on equality, and said his speech was both powerful and passionate.
“[Berry] has had an extraordinary career and accomplished much in the name of equality,” he said.
Fruits in Suits’ next monthly event will be held at 6pm on Thursday March 19 at the Civic Hotel, Goulburn St Sydney. The next Long Table Canapés will be held at Telstra’s Innovation Centre in late May.