The U.S. State Department on Monday named veteran diplomat Randy Berry its first international envoy for LGBT rights, part of a pinpointed focus from the Obama administration on boosting LGBT rights across the globe.
Berry’s appointment comes on the heels of the first mention of LGBT rights from the White House in its 2015 National Security Strategy.
“We looked far and wide to find the right American official for this important assignment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
“Randy’s a leader. He’s a motivator. But most importantly for this effort, he’s got vision.”
Here are five things you should know about Berry and his mission.
He has had posts in seven different countries, including two that have recently intensified their anti-LGBT efforts.
Berry was most recently the U.S. consul general in the Netherlands. Before that, he served as the consul general in New Zealand, and held other postings in Nepal, Bangladesh, Egypt, South Africa, and Uganda.
Uganda and Egypt have both launched crackdowns on gay rights in recent years. Uganda’s government last year approved a law — after years of trying — that criminalizes sexual relations between people of the same sex. In early efforts to pass the bill, it was deemed the “kill the gays” bill because of a proposed death-penalty clauses.
Anti-LGBT sentiment has also been rising in Egypt under its new government. Human rights advocates say at least 20 gay and transgender people were hit with criminal charges of some kind last year, and many are afraid to reveal their sexuality in public.
Berry is openly gay.
The organization GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign-Affairs Agencies) now boasts hundreds of members, a little more than 20 years after its inception.
Berry speaks Spanish and Arabic in addition to English.
That may come in handy in any dealings with Middle East countries and even nations in Central America, where some anti-gay laws are still on the books.
LGBT rights groups are cheering his appointment
Groups including the Human Rights Campaign and the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission have been pushing the Obama administration to appoint an LGBT envoy for years, along with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who last year introduced a bill that would have created Berry’s post. The State Department’s action now, after months of searching, mirrors the purpose of that legislation.
“Envoy Berry will ensure that the United States defends the rights of LGBT people. His experience in countries where LGBT people are persecuted, including Uganda, equip him to succeed in this new and important role,” said Ruth Messinger, the president of the American Jewish World Service.
‘‘Nations that place LGBT people in the cross hairs of danger must know that the United States will not turn a blind eye,’’ added Chad Griffin,
president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Added Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission: “The U.S. envoy can contribute to a new era in which the conscience of governments everywhere can be focused on the destabilizing impact of prejudice and abuse that inflicts suffering on millions worldwide.”
Berry grew up on a cattle ranch.
Berry spend his earliest years on his family’s cattle ranch in Custer County, Colorado. According to his official biography on the State Department’s website, he graduated from Bethany College Lindsborg, Kansas, and he was a Rotary Scholar at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Before becoming a career diplomat, Berry was an international training manager for America West Airlines in Phoenix, Arizona.