Ambassador Teplitz’s Remarks for Equal Ground 15th Anniversary Gala Dinner & Awards Ceremony

June 10, 2019

Good evening.  It’s a pleasure to be here with you, to join you tonight to celebrate Equal Ground’s 2019 Pride gathering and to see so many of you here in support of equality and inclusion for the LGBTIQ community.

I want to extend special congratulations to those receiving the Equality Warrior Awards tonight.  Thank you for your dedication and your activism.  Since 2010 the U.S. Embassy has worked in collaboration with Equal Ground to promote human rights and inclusion in Sri Lanka.  Like you, we believe equal rights are for everyone.  Like you, we believe in transparency.  And like you, we believe that diversity makes all of us better.

With these shared values in mind, the Embassy invests grant dollars to help organizations like Equal Ground raise awareness of LGBTIQ rights, to research and reform laws proscribing homosexuality, to promote diversity in the workplace and across communities, and to change attitudes within a country that has sidelined and differentiated LGBTIQ communities in ways that are both discriminatory and unacceptable in a setting of democracy.

Today we celebrate LGBTIQ rights and a very important milestone — 15 years of diligent and dedicated advocacy on the part of Equal Ground.  The road ahead may still be long and challenging, but it’s important to take this moment to recognize and rejoice in the accomplishments made thus far and the Equality Warrior Awards are a way to do just that — recognize and rejoice in the triumphs of some special people.  Award recipient exemplify determination, compassion, leadership, and perhaps most of all faith that change is possible.  The most impactful developments we’ve made in the United States when it comes to advancing the rights of those in the LGBTIQ community have been inspired and accomplished through the hard work of ordinary yet extraordinary people.  From systemic changes to our legal system, to responses to hate crimes based on special orientation or gender, to shifts in public attitudes and understanding.

Equity means advocates, the tireless warrior type like those being honored tonight.

Many of the communities we come from here in Sri Lanka and in the U.S. are diverse. Our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers reflect many different age groups, ethnicities, cultures, races, religions, and orientations, not to mention economic, geographic, and social backgrounds.  It’s imperative that we appreciate these differences as strengths, not as an opportunity for division.  That we speak of one community even though our communities have many dimensions.

One of America’s most famous poets, Walt Whitman, once described the United States as a great poem.  He said this because he believed that both poetry and democracy draw their strength from the same place, from an ability to create a unified whole out of disparate parts.  I think Mr. Whitman’s wisdom is especially relevant today when many of our communities feel very divided and are struggling to create a unified whole out of disparate parts.  Look only to the most recent display of communal tension in Sri Lanka, with the Muslim community targeted for abuse by politically motivated elements from other communities.  Violence and hate destroy and demean.  It takes love and acceptance to ensure peace.  Love and acceptance to create a unified whole out of disparate parts.

As an American, I celebrate the diversity of my country and I’m proud to join you in celebrating yours as we continue the support of the U.S. Embassy to the important work being done by Equal Ground.

And just as I am proud, I urge you to be proud of your place in the effort to ensure respect and quality for all.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Thank you.