To mark this year's Human Rights Day, US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun spoke about LGBT rights in London last evening, expressing both his personal committment, as well as the US Department of State's dedication to champinioning equality.
Reflecting on Pope Francis' first year in office, Ambassador Barzun discussed the use of symbols, words, and actions as being important components in the struggle for progress. While the formulation of policy is important in bringing about change, sometimes the biggest paradigm shifts take place in people's minds and hearts when a pontentially controversial issue is phrased simply but effectively. The example given was when Pope Francis was asked, on a return trip from Brazil, about his thoughts on homosexuality, to which he delivered his now-famous five word answer: "Who am I to judge?". His simple but powerful words made headlines around the world and brought about a monumental shift in paradigm.
Ambassador Barzun acknowledged the tension in timing that sometimes exists between policy/ legislative changes and effecting a change in people's hearts and minds relating to civil rights issues. The challenge is determining whether the law should change first, or whether there should first be wide-spread support for civil rights issues before legislative action is taken. Mr Barzun referenced Dr Martin Luther King's famous quote in which Dr King advocated for legislative change, stating "[i]t may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
Ambassador Barzun reaffirmed the US Department of State's (DOS) support for LGBT rights. The London US Embassy falls under DOS, an agency that has been instrumental in implementing the Supreme Court decision which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Shortly after the Windsor court decision, DOS published updated information sheets making it clear that same sex bi-national couples are eligible to obtain US immigration benefits through their spouse.
In August 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the United States Embassy in London to make a formal announcement about US visa changes related to same-sex couples. Ambassador Barzun fondly remembered that, at the end of John Kerry's speech, the London US Embassy also issued a US immigrant visa to a qualifying applicant whose case was pending before the Embassy at that time.
Matthew Barzun has served as the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom since 2013, having previously served as a US Ambassador to Sweden from 2009 to 2011. Ambassador Barzun also served as the National Finance Chair for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and held a number of other positions, including being an internet pioneer at CNET Networks. His full biography is available on the U.S. Embassy in London's website.
The event last evening was organised by the Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK charity whose mission is to further LGBT rights around the world.