The Council was invited to join the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the U.S. Consulate in Osaka last week to commemorate LGBT Pride month, and I had the great pleasure of traveling to Japan to participate in those programs. I met with Japanese politicians, students, business leaders and LGBT advocates in a series of meetings and open discussions. The meetings included a breakfast with political leaders, including some of the first out politicians in Japan, a small but impressive group that is gaining respect due to the quality of their service and their leadership in an otherwise treacherous political landscape.
In Osaka, openly gay U.S. Consul General Patrick Linehan welcomed me and moderated an open discussion about LGBT equality in the United States and beyond. He and his husband, Emerson Kaneguske, have been role models in support of LGBT equality in Japan and have spoken publicly to the Japanese press about their relationship on a number of occasions. Indeed, they may be one of the most famous gay couples in Japan. They are also proud representatives of the diversity of our country.
In Osaka, some students were appropriately skeptical of U.S. leadership in support of LGBT equality globally, especially when so much remains to be done in the United States to further the cause of human rights in our own country. And then there were those who are still upset with our country’s decision to invade Iraq—a grudge that I assured them I shared. But I was happy to point to Secretary Clinton’s landmark speech at the United Nations in Geneva last December, where she spoke with resolute humility and absolute clarity to declare that gay rights are human rights.
In her UN speech, Secretary Clinton recognized that our own country’s record is far from perfect and that not everyone will agree with everything we do. And she recognized that too many LGBT Americans have suffered—and continue to suffer—grave violence and discrimination in their lives. But this month in particular, as we celebrate the progress we have made and the journey that lies ahead in the march toward full equality, it is altogether fitting that our embassies are opening their doors to promote honest conversations about the rights and dignity of LGBT communities around the world. In the words of Secretary Clinton, that “constellation of conversations in places big and small,” is the first step in recognizing and protecting the human rights of LGBT people everywhere.
My week in Japan was capped by the first Pride reception at the Tokyo residence of U.S. Ambassador John Roos. The reception brought together hundreds of political, economic and civil society leaders. The Ambassador and Counsel General Linehan presented an award to the first transgender politician in Japan, Aya Kamikawa. The Consul General also offered a very personal reflection on his service in the U.S. Foreign Service, noting that when he joined the State Department he was told in his first security briefing that there was no room for “homos.” His journey from that day to today, serving now as a senior U.S. diplomat with his husband at his side, provided a personal narrative that touched both the Americans and the Japanese in the room. Stars and Stripes also covered the poignant story of Master Sgt. Marc Maschhoff, who noted that after living in secret in the Air Force for 23 years, “now I’m invited to a reception by the emissary of the president of the United States,” where he proudly introduced his boyfriend to politicians and diplomats in the audience. That, too, made quite an impression.
Embassies around the world are hosting similar Pride receptions this month, and to me they demonstrate the remarkable potential that exists for the United States to promote dialogue in countries that may have even more difficulty than we do in speaking respectfully about LGBT equality. When the ambassador, as emissary of the president, opens the discussion, it sends a powerful message to the world about the importance our country places on the conversation. By including LGBT leaders, it personalizes the conversation in an important way. And that, I think, creates the space for that constellation of conversations that must ultimately sustain our movement for global equality.