LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

For State Department's LGBTI Envoy, Every Country Is A Different Challenge

Randy Berry, the first U.S. special envoy for the rights of LGBTI persons, is shown at a gay pride rally in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last June. He says the U.S. is supporting activists worldwide but recognizes the risks they face in many countries. A gay activist who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh was hacked to death this week.

Randy Berry has seen dramatic changes during his more than 20 years at the State Department.

When he moved from a post in Nepal to New Zealand years ago, he had to pay for his husband's plane ticket because such spousal benefits were not covered for gay and lesbian couples.

"Those days are gone," Berry says in an interview at his State Department office.

Today, the State Department has eight openly gay ambassadors and Berry has become the first U.S. special envoy for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex persons, those whose sex is unclear at birth.

Still, a killing in Bangladesh this week drove home the challenges he faces in the post he's held for just a year.

Xulhaz Mannan, a gay rights activist who also worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh, was hacked to death Monday by a group linked to al-Qaida.

Berry called Mannan's murder "a great tragedy."

"It is felt especially deeply because he was also a member of our family," says Berry. "Any day I learn about violence against members of this community based out of fear or ignorance or hate, I feel it deeply. But almost a day doesn't pass where that doesn't happen."

The Obama's administration's support for activists raises the question of whether the U.S. has an obligation to protect them. Berry says there is always an element of risk for any human rights activist.

"That's the nature of social change," he says, adding that his guiding principle is "do no harm."

Consulting With Local Activists

Berry has traveled to 42 countries over the past year and says he always consults with local activists to get a better sense of what they'd like him to do or to say and how hard to push their agenda with local government officials.

"Berry has done an extremely good job of working in a low-profile way," says Graeme Reid who runs the LGBT rights program for the U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. He says the U.S. envoy has "avoided being a kind of finger-wagging moralist."

Reid says the killing in Bangladesh has to be seen in context. It's a country where many bloggers and secular activists are under threat by Islamist extremists and he argues the U.S. should not be intimidated by groups that are "intolerant of anyone who doesn't agree with their narrow vision of the world."

Meanwhile, Berry says the U.S. is one player among many trying to push social change. He says Malta has the most progressive gender identity laws. Argentina and Chile are among the countries that have been raising these issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Every country, he says, will have to take its own route.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)