Former ambassador Susan Rice talks global LGBTQ rights at SIS event
Rice said there is work still to be done around the world
Susan Rice, the national security advisor to President Barack Obama and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke about advancing global LGBTQ rights on Wednesday at the School of International Service in an event co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights First.
During her speech, Rice described the Obama administration’s efforts to promote LGBTQ human rights in the United States and around the world. She also discussed the vital role that work plays in America’s national security and the importance of continuing to push for global equality for LGBTQ individuals.
“When the United States can encourage another nation to do the right thing, together we are bending that arc of the moral universe ever so slightly towards justice,” Rice said.
During Rice’s time as U.S. ambassador to the UN from 2009 to 2013, the U.S. joined the UN Core Group, a group focused on improving LGBTQ rights worldwide. She also worked with the UN Human Rights Council to pass the first UN resolution exclusively about the human rights in LGBTQ communities.
According to Rice, 92 nations criminalized same-sex relationships a decade ago. That number has decreased to 75 countries as of last year, which is still far too high, she said. The U.S. is one of about two dozen countries with marriage equality, she said.
Rice reminded the audience that there is more work to be done, and that the U.S. must keep working with multilateral organizations to build international support for LGBTQ rights in the years ahead, Rice said.
“There’s no question that we still have a distance to go,” Rice said. “But we can be proud of the steps we’ve taken towards a more perfect union and a more just and equal world.”
Advancing equality is not only morally right but also strategically smart and can make a huge difference in the lives of many, Rice said. She brought up the work the U.S. government has done under Obama to stand up against anti-LGBTQ policies in countries like Uganda, Gambia and Russia.
“If we reduce the disparities that can lead to instability and violence, we increase our shared security,” Rice said. “Countries do better, across every metric, when they tap the talents of all their people.”
Rice emphasized that equality for all is a deeply personal issue for her because of her own family history.
“As the daughter of proud citizens who suffered the indignities of Jim Crow, I never forget that I stand here today because those who came before me pried open doors that had long been shut to people who looked like me,” Rice said. “As a public servant and as a mother, I don’t want my children, or anyone else’s, to be limited by how they look, who they worship, or whom they love.”
She also spoke about the negative reactions she initially faced for being part of an inter-racial marriage with her husband, and drew a comparison between that and LGBTQ rights because people did not agree with her decision to get married to someone of a different race 24 years ago and felt that doing so was not normal.
“We remember, when we started dating almost 35 years ago, that many people said that someone who looked like me shouldn’t marry someone who looked like him—that inter-racial marriage was unnatural and immoral,” Rice said. “Stop me if that sounds familiar.”
Striving to create a more inclusive society has been the story of the U.S. from its founding, Rice said.
“Whether we are talking about race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, this fight for equal rights is what our history and values demand,” Rice said.
Near the closing of her speech, Rice added that the U.S. must always keep fighting to battle discrimination and embrace diversity.
“So, to every person who might still be struggling with who they are, trying to reconcile who they love with the faith or traditions they love, know this: we see you,” Rice said. “We hear you, we are here for you.”