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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg on Advancing LGBTQI+ Inclusion | Summit for Democracy

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Good afternoon—I'm U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and it's my great pleasure to welcome you to this important discussion on Advancing Inclusion and Democracy. This event is a vital part of the President's Summit for Democracy, and I'm sure this will be a thoughtful conversation. 

I want to thank U.S Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, Jessica Stern, and USAID Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam, for their work on today's program. I also want to thank Sweden and Cabo Verde for hosting this event, as well as the government leaders and activists who will be speaking throughout the program. Their tireless advocacy and resilience are an inspiration to us all. 

It’s never been wise to bet against Democracy. But it’s also never been guaranteed that democratic norms will spread across regions or persist through generations. We are here, in part, because we acknowledge that history is not a one-way road. That time and again, the future of democracy has been called into question. And in our time, there is real concern that democratic values and practices are being challenged—which is what makes this gathering so important and so timely. 

Democracy is, by its nature, imperfect and sometimes unpredictable. Yet it also offers the best hope of stability within nations—and peace between them—that the world has known. By their very nature, democracies provide their citizens with the tools to help make their countries better—as we say in America, to make our union more perfect—with each passing year, as advocates, organizers and public servants are empowered to shape the trajectories of their peoples in the service of prosperity, justice and equality. 

The capacity of liberal governments to expand rights and equality is not just something I believe in, it's something I've lived. I was commissioned as a Naval Reserve Officer in 2009 at a time when firing members of the military over their sexuality wasn't just practice—it was policy.  In those years, I felt I might need to choose between my passion for service and my desire to start a family. Yet, over a decade later, I was sworn in as the first out gay, Senate-confirmed member of a president's cabinet—sworn in by the Vice President, with my husband Chasten standing by my side, holding our family Bible. And in August, we experienced the great blessing of becoming parents to two amazing children. 

Families like mine are most likely to thrive in democracies. Of course, that's not to suggest that the mere existence of democratic processes would automatically create equality. It's because democracy empowers people to pursue the equality they deserve. 

Of course, we have a long way to go. Democratic institutions the world over, including in the United States, have often excluded people on the basis of their sexual orientation, or gender identity, or sex characteristics. Members of the LGBTQI+ community have been disqualified for military and civil service. And there will always be those who seek to score political points by attacking our rights, our character, and even our existence. 

Gender-based violence is widespread, and women and transgender people continue to face an epidemic of violence in our country. That's why I'm proud that the President has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the women's movement and the transgender community. And this Administration will always do so. 

Still, as we continue to front confront those challenges, history has shown us time and again, that when it comes to human rights, democracy is always better than the alternative. And in my view, it's no coincidence that some of the same places where democracy seems to be in retreat, are those where LGBTQI+ equality seems to be the most fragile. In every region of the world, we've seen what it looks like when dictators and strongmen who refuse to live up to democratic principles scapegoat LGBQTI+ people, and deny their rights, dignities, and even their basic humanity. 

This means that the work of promoting democracy and inclusivity around the world is an urgent task for us all. That's why I'm so pleased that the U.S. State Department—in coordination with partners around the world—is launching GLIDE: the Global LGBQTI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment fund. GLIDE will be housed within the Global Equality Fund: a public-private partnership that provides critical resources to civil society organizations and human rights advocates around the world. And you'll hear more about it in just a moment. 

The United States—through USAID and other agencies—will continue to advance partnerships and build new bridges with civil society, private entities, bilateral development agencies, and others, to support the human rights and economic livelihoods of LGBQTI+ people around the world. 

Recognizing and protecting the human rights and dignity of LGBQTI+ people builds healthy and secure nations for all. We will continue to advance best practices with our partners to ensure dignity and respect. And we won't lose sight of the fact that the LGBQTI+ community is diverse—intersecting with communities of color, immigrant communities, and many others. 

I know that I speak for the entire Biden-Harris Administration when I say we look forward to working with our partners in government, the private sector, and civil society around the world to realize the promise of our democracies, and to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ people everywhere. 

To all of you joining today, I encourage you to continue working with the U.S. and governments around the world to deepen our commitments, and advance this work in partnership. By the next Summit, I'm sure we'll have even more to celebrate. 

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of this program.