When my activism started many years ago, I never imagined that I’d work on a program with the U.S. Department of State. Now, it is one of the most rewarding projects on my schedule each year.
The program, which has gone through many titles, is really very simple. The U.S. Department of State and the World Affairs Council bring together a delegation of representatives from a variety of countries to tour and witness American democracy in action. The groups vary in their make up. One might be a group of current political activists and journalists. Another may already be part of the political process in their country. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years and the delegates have come from almost every continent on Earth. And at times, the delegations are made up of LGBTQ+ activists fighting for equality in their country and looking to see how we here in the U.S. have changed the world for our own LGBTQ+ community. And our Department of State is sponsoring this dialogue between us and other countries.
My part in this experience for these visitors is to explain how the LGBTQ+ community historically fought for equality. We talk of our gains as well as the current challenges. The exchange is very open and many from countries where LGBTQ+ people are oppressed talk of those hardships. Some of the delegates come from countries where it’s illegal to be LGBTQ+. Through these conversations, they share their personal plights with me and at times, this leads to tears.
This week’s group was made up of current political leaders engaged in the political process of their respective country. This included a member of parliament, a member of a country’s cabinet, assistants to mayors, head of a country’s health services, head of a political party, minister of European affairs — you get the idea.
There were representatives from countries where their leaders are homophobic and Pride is outlawed — like Turkey — but something very surprising happened at the end of the session. In the past, when we took group photos with other representatives, there were delegates that literally could not be seen in that photo for fear of backlash in their home countries. So, they’d step aside. This time was different. When we took this year’s photo, every single delegate wanted to be in it. This even included those from countries that lean homophobic. That might seem like an incremental change, but our movement toward equality has been made up of many of those incremental changes throughout the years. Enjoy the photo.