Executive Director, The Rock of Hope,
Representatives from LGBTI organizations,
Civil society organizations,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honored to be part of this year’s Pride Month celebration. What a dramatic year it has been. Who could have predicted the chaotic effects of a global pandemic would be the backdrop of this year’s Pride celebration? Yet despite COVID-related challenges, I am delighted to see this event going forward. I commend the organizers and everyone participating for your determined efforts to mark Pride Month 2020, and I am pleased to see so many allies and friends coming together in this moment, raising our voices in solidarity to uphold the human rights of all people.
It’s tempting to think that the struggle for human rights in a society should be simple and finite, but for most of us it involves addressing multiple layers of a problem, and it requires constant engagement. The struggle continues, including in the United States, where groups are still fighting for change and raising their voices to be heard. This is a sobering time for my country. The brutal killing of George Floyd showed my country’s abject failure to live up to our ideals of liberty and justice for all. But the large scale demonstrations – the majority of which have been peaceful – following the most recent series of injustices to African Americans may mark a new energy to carry forward the legacy of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglas. I draw hope from the African rallying cry: the struggle continues; victory is certain.
One recent development that bolstered my hope came from the United States Supreme Court. Our Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation and prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Last week, in a profound victory for LGBT rights in the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that these protections also apply to gay, lesbian and transgender persons. This means that LGBT people can no longer lose their jobs simply for being their true selves.
The struggle for human rights cuts across many lines, and there is still more work to be done in the fight for equality. While many young LGBTI people feel more empowered than ever to be themselves, this group still faces higher rates of suicide, drug and alcohol use, depression, and bullying than other young people. In Eswatini, these struggles are becoming more visible, and it is crucial that they be addressed.
My hope for Eswatini is that you achieve the theme of this year’s Pride – Unity in Diversity. In the U.S. last weekend, tens of thousands of people dressed in white held rallies to call attention to violence against transgender people of color, a group that is a minority within a minority and is at particular risk of suffering violence. The white clothing was a historical inspiration from a 1917 rally in New York City to protest violence against African Americans. In the 2020 rally, people who were not transgender provided organizational support so that the trans activists and their organizations could fully fill the central public role. These rallies drew on a heritage of strength as they grew through the power of alliances. No one should have to experience the attacks and discrimination known by these communities. Everyone would be lucky to have such a diverse collection of people rising to support them.
Pride parades are affirming gatherings for LGBT people and their allies. Now celebrated in cities around the world each year, they are also a somber
reminder of those who have lost their lives for daring to live authentically. But people need more than an annual parade to affirm their right to exist and enjoy universal rights. They also need the ability to organize themselves in legally recognized associations.
If we fail to treat LGBTI people with the same respect, fairness, and dignity we expect ourselves, we are tearing the fabric of society. Consider the proverb that speaks to the concept of mutual respect – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or the more profound expression that underscores our fundamental bonds – “I am because we are.” The greatest philosophies of the world do not exclude whole groups of people. Neither should we.
Countries flourish when they embrace and harness the entirety of their citizens’ differences and talents. Categorizing people and labeling them with limiting stereotypes stifles creativity, innovation, and development. And if people have to hide their true identities at work, at church, or elsewhere in the community, we all miss out on the full range of talents and contributions they could be making. There are many things we may grapple with as humankind: deciding whether to be inclusive of others should not be one of them.