Joe Biden was vice president of the United States from 2009 to January.
My father taught me that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a simple but powerful notion that lies at the heart of our identity as Americans. It is a truth that continues to drive me today, particularly when it comes to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Over the past decade, we made tremendous progress in this journey toward full equality — new federal laws and policies to protect LGBT people, a Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land. But important work remains, particularly regarding the treatment of transgender people. In 28 states, you can still be fired for being a lesbian, gay or bisexual — 30 if you’re transgender.
Progress doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because good people come together and demand change. And any person of conscience, regardless of their religious or partisan beliefs, should be able to agree: Violence against any person, in any form, is intolerable. No one should be killed, tortured, assaulted or harassed because of who they are.
Yet, in Syria and Iraq, LGBT individuals face terror and torture, often at the hands of the Islamic State. Countries such as Russia — where appalling reports recently surfaced that authorities in Chechnya were imprisoning and torturing individuals believed to be gay or bisexual — Uganda and Tanzania continue to be openly hostile to LGBT people, and their political leaders have used anti-American sentiment to fuel anti-LGBT hate. And in many parts of the world, the horrific assault of “corrective rape” is used as an extreme form of conversion therapy to try to turn women straight.
In the face of such atrocities, it is the responsibility of every person to speak out. And Wednesday , the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, is an important moment to raise awareness, stand up and speak up about anti-LGBT hate.
Many times, this kind of discrimination, harassment and violence is justified in the name of “culture.” This offensive argument ignores the fundamental truth that LGBT rights are human rights. Prejudice is prejudice; inhumanity is inhumanity. Using religion or culture to license discrimination and demonizing LGBT individuals to score political points are no more justifiable around the world than they are here at home.
Progress happens when fair-minded individuals — from political leaders to on-the-ground activists — stand up to hate, prejudice and violence in all their forms. For instance, thanks to the efforts of activists in Mozambique, and the leadership of the country’s former president Joaquim Chissano, who proclaimed “we need to unleash the full potential of everyone,” the country recently revised its penal code to decriminalize homosexuality. Nepal continues to make progress, enshrining LGBT protections in its constitution and allowing transgender individuals and other third-gender communities to choose their gender on identity documents. In September, I was on hand at the United Nations as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet expressed her support for the freedom to marry. Bachelet has pledged to support marriage equality legislation; I hope Chile will act swiftly to add momentum in Latin America, where 70 percent of people now live in freedom-to-marry countries.
Progress is possible. But we cannot wait, we cannot stand by.
Governments, including ours, can wield the levers of diplomacy, defense and foreign aid to promote and protect the human rights of all people.
The foreign-policy community can further incorporate and highlight LGBT equality in broader conversations about global health, gender-based violence and human rights.
Business leaders, especially those at the helm of multinational companies with a footprint in countries hostile to LGBT equality, can change the terms of the debate by highlighting the economic costs of discrimination.
For my part, I will continue to speak out for the full equality of all people. The Biden Foundation has prioritized promoting LGBT equality and will use its resources to convene networks and catalyze action on issues ranging from transgender equality to LGBT youths to global human rights.
Together, we will work to defend and advance the human rights of all people, and we will not rest until equality, at home and around the world, is fully realized. Until then, to all those suffering discrimination and violence simply because of who they are or whom they love, know this: The American people are on your side.