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Stockholm in my American Heart

Natalia is a journalist blogging on behalf of the US embassy, wife of the US Ambassador to Sweden, women's activist and proud Mom seeking "lagom".

Sharing our Pride: Celebrating Love & the LGBT Community!

It’s mid- July in Stockholm, and with much of the city on vacation, things can seem a little quiet – the streets, the bus, and the grocery store. One thing that has not paused for a summer break, though, is preparation for Stockholm’s Pride Festival, which will take place from July 28 to August 2. LGBT rights are fundamental human rights –they are the right to live and to love freely.

There is nothing more human than to love. Restricting that right is shameful and unacceptable. Throughout my life, I’ve had dear gay friends who have had the most beautiful and warm relationships. Their love and commitment is no different than the love and commitment I have with my husband. Equal rights should not be selective, nor should matters of the heart be regulated by others.

Here at the US Embassy, we have made advancing LGBT issues a priority, and we will be participating actively in Pride Festival activities and proudly displaying the rainbow flag again this year as signs of our support for this most-important fight for equality.

For many, Pride celebrations bring to mind crowds drenched in sparkles, outfits that are maximally colorful, rowdy dancers on parade floats, and seas of kissing couples. These are fun and fabulous associations to have – the connection between celebration and all kinds of love is one that both reflects and fosters a society that is tolerant and accepting. It is great that Pride has become an event famed for its festive atmosphere, as a time when fun intersects advocacy for human rights.

Amidst these festivities, though, it’s essential to remember that not everyone around the world is able to celebrate so openly and live so freely. Prejudice, discrimination, and violence are realities for too many LGBT individuals around the world. Even in our countries, including my own, there is still tremendous work that needs to be done to secure equal rights for all people. Pride Festival is a time to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made, but also to push for more. Like a standing ovation at the close of a spectacular performance, we applaud the work done, and ask that it continue.

Last week, President Obama signed an executive order to protect LGBT employees from federal workplace discrimination. This means that federal employees and contractors can no longer be fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation will apply to about 28 million people, or one-fifth of the American workforce. This is a perfect example of an opportunity to celebrate an accomplishment while recognizing that there is more to be done. With this historic legislation, we are taking steps towards achieving a more inclusive society, but the remaining four-fifths of American workers deserve protection too. This Pride Festival, we celebrate the safeguards put in place by President Obama’s executive order, and we also turn our thoughts to achieving protection for the entire American workforce.

A fundamental mission of Pride Festival is to give a voice to those who have been silenced. One group whose struggle often goes unheard is LGBT asylees and refugees. The US Embassy is excited to be sponsoring a Pride House lecture that will highlight the unique issues, experiences, and vulnerabilities of LGBT refugees and asylees. Our speaker is Mr. Scott Portman who is Director of Special Programs at Heartland Alliance International, a Chicago-based human rights organization. Mr. Portman oversees the Rainbow Welcome Initiative, a program to support LGBT refugees and asylees during resettlement in the United States. Given their status as both LGBT and asylees/refugees, this is a doubly vulnerable group. The typical challenges of resettling in a new country as a refugee or asylee are compounded by the uncertainties of finding a community that will be accepting of their LGBT status. LGBT refugees and asylees are in need of significant support but they are often a hard-to-reach population. In their home countries, individuals often faced trauma related to being LGBT; this motivates many to conceal their LGBT status in their new country, out of fear of further discrimination or harassment. In spreading their stories, we hope to reveal a largely silent struggle so that institutions and communities can make themselves safe and welcoming for LGBT refugees and asylees.

In addition to hosting the seminar, the Embassy will be participating in other events throughout the week. We will host a discussion between stakeholders from the Swedish and American LGBT communities to look at what is happening in our respective countries. Participants will discuss what can be learned from each other and what strategies can be share. During the week of Pride Festival, the Embassy will be flying the rainbow flag from our flag pole.

I will be out of town with my family during Pride Festival, so I won’t be able to participate in any Pride activities from Stockholm. But that won’t stop me from participating in spirit.

Just as I would be doing in Stockholm, I will toast to the progress that has been made on the frontier of LGBT rights and think about what we can do to take those next steps towards greater and fuller equality. I urge you, wherever you may be this Stockholm Pride, to consider doing the same. Let’s come together to protect the rights we all hold sacred, and want to pass on to the next generation. I know that there’s nothing more I want for my daughter than the ability and openness to be who she truly is and to follow her heart where ever it leads her.

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