By Michael K. Lavers for the Washington Blade
The special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights on Monday said he feels Latin America is “very much on the forefront” of advancing these issues.
Randy Berry made these comments during a conference call that took place shortly after he returned to Washington from an 11-day trip to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. He attended a variety of Pride events in the five countries and met with government and religious officials and representatives of business, academic and advocacy groups.
Berry described the meetings he had with government officials as “incredibly productive.” He said the activists with whom he met in the five countries have “really moved the ball.”
“We are seeing I think extraordinary change sweeping through Latin America,” said Berry. “Those four countries, plus Colombia have been very much on the forefront of that change.”
Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are among the countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.
The Mexican Supreme Court earlier this month ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. A Chilean law that will allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions is scheduled to take effect in October.
Argentina and Uruguay have comprehensive transgender rights laws that allow people to legally change their gender without surgery. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes earlier this month issued a decree that will allow trans people in the South American country to do the same on their identification cards and other official documents.
Berry on Monday acknowledged to the Blade that he “had a conversation” about anti-LGBT hate crimes in each of the five countries he visited while in Latin America.
He visited the grave of Daniel Zamudio Vera, a 24-year-old man who a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death in the Chilean capital of Santiago in 2012 because he was gay, upon his arrival in the South American country on June 4. Zamudio’s death sparked widespread outrage in Chile and prompted lawmakers to pass an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill.
“That tragedy sort of formed a pivotal event in how Chile I think made some advancements,” Berry told the Blade. “[It is] not dissimilar to our own journey through the Matthew Shepard case.”
The South American country last fall joined the Global Equality Fund, a global LGBT rights initiative the State Department manages with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Brazil introduced a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted in September 2014.
“Quite often we focus on the fact that there have been great examples of leadership on this emanating from our partner countries in Europe — particularly in northern Europe,” said Berry. “There’s a superb example of Latin leadership that has certainly predated our entry into this space as a foreign policy issue. I see very enlightened government engagement. I see an active partnering with civil society.”
Berry assumed his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on April 13.
The career Foreign Service officer traveled to Jamaica last month with Todd Larson, senior LGBT coordinator for USAID. Berry on Monday will leave D.C. for a 15-day trip to Europe where he is scheduled to visit the U.K., the Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta and Switzerland.
Berry is slated to travel to Uganda next month.