Civility & Standing Strong Against Defamation and Discrimination


michael guest.jpgRecently, Ambassador Michael Guest represented the U.S. at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Review Conference — and used his time there to focus on the human rights, civil society, and rule of law dimensions of security.
During the George W. Bush administration, Guest resigned his 26-year foreign service position as US Ambassador to Romania because the Department of State did not extend benefits to same sex partners — a situation that Hillary Clinton’s State Department has since corrected.
I found Ambassador Guest’s formal statements very compelling — and want to post three items here. First, his opening statement at the OSCE Review Conference Plenary; second, a special statement on hate crimes and discrimination; and lastly, a civil but direct jab back at a Kazakh representative who equated homosexuality with pedophilia.

Here is a clip of his powerful personal statement about hate crimes, discrimination, and the importance of protecting the rights of minorities:

I don’t know whether any of my colleagues at this table have personally been victim to a violent hate crime. I have – for the simple reason that I am gay. That experience has shaped the way I see the issues we discuss this afternoon.
As diplomats we tend to talk about issues like intolerance and discrimination from some faraway place, referring to “policy,” or perhaps to some lofty “principle.” But the experiences we have heard from NGO representatives here bring us back to sometimes uncomfortable realities. Hate crimes, discrimination and gender inequality affect real people, real lives. And so the starting point of our conversation must be that we are all people – human beings, you and I. And if government exists to protect citizens, and to promote our common well-being, how would you expect it to respond if you were attacked, or discriminated against in some tangible way – all for something that’s such a basic part of who you are?
Last weekend, the U.S. delegation visited Auschwitz, a stark and extreme reminder that bigotry and bias are not new. Governments cannot change the past, of course. But we cannot allow it to repeat. And the steps we take now can positively shape the future.
Leaders must speak out when anti-Muslim sentiment, or anti-Semitic acts, occur. Where the majority is white, people of different color or race or ethnicity deserve our respect and equal treatment, both under the law and on the street. Where women are treated unequally, there must be remedy. And regardless of public sentiment, or maybe even your own personal views, gays and Roma are entitled to the same protections in law as anyone else – whether in street parades, or access to services, or in exercising any of the rights we’re discussing here in Warsaw.

I’m glad that Michael Guest stood his ground when a Kazakh representative decided to try and get away with an anti-gay slur in a formal multinational forum. Ambassador Guest demanded a “Right of Reply” to the comment and offered:

Session 8: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination II — Right of Reply on tolerance
As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Guest — October 6, 2010

One of the more recent interventions suggested a corollary between homosexuality, on the one hand, and pedophilia and necrophilia on the other. I would note that there clearly is no such rational connection and that the suggestion is to me – and I hope you as well – offensive. Surely all of us around this table, including me, condemn pedophilia. But I would note that these kinds of unfounded and inflammatory allegations are precisely the kind of language that not only is hurtful but tends toward the promotion of hate crimes. Certainly such allegations do nothing to bridge understanding and cooperation among us, which is why, I hope, we are all here.
Thank you.

I probably would have been fuming at the comment made by the Kazakh representative — and I imagine that Ambassador Guest was too — but demonstrating constraint of anger and lodging a civil, sensible. level-headed response is often the best way to clobber one’s opponent.
Kudos to Michael Guest.
— Steve Clemons


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