ADDRESSING violence and discrimination instead of marriage equality should be the focus to improving the lives of LGBTI people, according to a top LGBT diplomat from the US.
That sentiment was expressed when US Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, Randy Berry, visited six Asian countries last week and met with government officials, civil society representatives, business, academic and faith-based communities.
During a phone conference while he was in Bangkok, Berry discussed efforts to strengthen the global commitment to protecting and promoting LGBTI rights across Asia and globally.
Star Observer asked whether Australia could lead the way in the region if it legislated marriage equality.
Berry said it was not a policy priority for his team.
“(Marriage equality is) a fairly recent innovation in the US and while we believe it goes to the very heart of progress towards equality, we think in most contexts, we’re not working on that issue in an active way simply because the conversation we have to have on violence and discrimination in most parts of the world is a much more fundamentally pressing issue,” he said.
However, the career diplomat said the US State Department would welcome the step towards “greater equality” if Australia did enact marriage equality.
“We obviously have just gone through this significant change in the US. But you know there, I think, if you have any kind of deeper conversation about what it means to be truly equal under the eyes of the law, we have a pretty firm commitment on this issue in our own country and encourage that conversation to take place,” Berry said.
“I think that that’s a very important aspect of any democracy — for people to have the chance to talk the pros and cons and to freely state their beliefs and then take what steps might be possible.”
While he believed achieving marriage equality in the US has had some impact on the rest of the world, he thought the momentum for LGBTI equality was a global movement.
“I think the real story here is that there is a global movement underway and it’s not there because of US leadership. It never has been,” Berry said.
“But I think we in the US are part of a global progress, a global movement in terms of understanding the essential character of equality here.”
Berry emphasised his ambition to end violence against LGBTI people.
“I really want to focus on these issues of stigma, the issues of misunderstanding that I think promotes that sanction or that idea that somehow members of the community deserve this kind of treatment because they are somehow different,” he said.
“That is a global challenge and it’s very close to my heart, especially as it pertains to young people.
“It pains me greatly every time I hear of a young person harming themselves, ruining their life simply because society has not progressed enough to accept and to love unconditionally. I think that’s a great tragedy and I think there’s a lot we need to do to end that.”
Berry also said the media played an important part in ending discrimination against LGBTI people and the best way to overcome hate was with rational conversation.
“Where we have seen the media take on that constructive role, it plays a fundamentally important part of that conversation about making people more educated, more exposed to what it means to be a member of this community,” he said.
“Because I think ultimately at the end of the day, our enemy, our opponent on this is in fact not any sort of principled obstruction. I think it is ignorance. Through shouting loudly we’re not going to convince somebody on the right side of this.
“We have to do it through a patient, calm, rational conversation that helps people understand the basic humanity of this issue.”