The U.S. President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” 

The announcement was made today by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who cited his outreach to the Muslim world and his attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.    They went on to say “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.  His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics.  Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to receive the distinguished honor.  We congratulate President Obama on this incredible accomplishment! 

For the full text of his remarks, please visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-Winning-the-Nobel-Peace-Prize/

Thank you to everyone who came out last night for the screening of Gus Van Sant’s MILK, which told the story of the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States.  The film shows Milk’s life and his path from citizen to activist and politician in California, at the same time giving insights into the national discussion over gay rights, the American political system, and California’s history.

We were unable to have a discussion immediately after the film’s powerful ending, but I’d like to offer you some additional resources on this topic:

The Incredible True Stories from the Milk Mosaic.”  Focus Films has collected stories from all over the world from people whose lives were touched by Harvey Milk.  You can view the full mosaic here.

Here is one of those stories:

I would like to share a story from the “MILK MOSAIC” on the film’s website, submitted by an American:

I owe Harvey Milk my life. When I was in high school back in the 70’s in a small midwestern town I was contemplating suicide at the age of 16. Then I starting reading stories about some guy named, of all things Milk, out in San Francisco who was openly gay and just elected to a public office. I followed Harvey’s career and was devistated at his death. However I realized if he could succeed so could I. Not only did I not kill myself, but I went on to get my Ph.D and am now a teacher hopefully inspiring others. I wouldn’t be here today without the hope Harvey gave me. Thanks Harvey we sure need you now.

Harvey Milk’s election and assassination have had a significant impact on LGBT rights in the United States.  It led to the first of four “Marches on Washington,” in 1979. In 1983, Gary Studds from Massachusetts became our first openly gay Congressman.  In 1993, the Senate confirmed the first openly gay Presidential appointee, Roberta Achtenburg in the Department of Housing & Urban Development.  President Obama has nominated several openly gay people for his transition team and high-level government positions, including Ambassadorships.  

We cannot discuss the subject of violence against gays without mentioning the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998.  Shepard, a 21-year old student in Wyoming, was lured from a gay bar by two other young men, who robbed and brutally tortured him, and left tied to a fence in a rural area to await his death.  He was found 18 hours later in a coma and died five days later.  This tragedy shook the nation, and the trial of Shepard’s murderers sparked a national discussion on hate crimes, which at that time did not exist in the State of Wyoming.  A basic national law from 1969 existed at the time, which covered crimes motivated by race, color, religion, and national origin, and only while the victim is participating in a federally-protected activity such as voting. 

On July 15, the U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010.  This act would cover crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It states that hate crimes can take place at any time.  It would also provide funding for state and local agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and gives the federal government the power to investigate hate crimes that local authorities have not followed through on.  And it would add a requirement for the federal government to track statistics on hate crimes against transgendered people. 

The discussion on same-sex marriage in the United States is also complicated – some states perform it, others honor it, others have some variant form of domestic partnership, and some have legal bans on gay marriage.  On the federal level, in 2009, President Obama signed a referendum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. 

Although the United States does not have a single, simple position on gay rights as a whole, and Americans hold diverse views on issues such as gay marriage, one thing is certain: LGBT Americans such as Harvey Milk have made a lasting impact on our society, from protecting young people against violence to inspiring and working for the good of others, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

For the President’s remarks during LGBT Pride Month 2009, please click here and here.

10182008obama_stonewall_posterThis month is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month, and communities in the U.S.A. and around the world will undertake efforts to raise awareness, run anti-homophobia campaigns, and celebrate unique aspects of their culture in pride events. 

Why June?  This is the anniversary of the “Stonewall riots,” an uprising that took place 40 years ago at the Stonewall Inn in New York City — a popular hangout then for the city’s sexual and gender minorities.  On June 28, 1969, New York City Police began trying to arrest the Stonewall Inn’s patrons — an event that is widely taken as the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States and other countries who looked to this example.

The laws surrounding gay marriage and gay adoptions differ from state to state, and are often controversial.  President Obama has stated his commitment to achieving equal justice under the law for LGBT Americans.  In his proclamation for 2009, he stated:

The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done.   LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States. 

If  you are interested in learning more about the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world, there are some interesting materials available online — see this video from Newsweek, “From Stonewall to Proposition 8,” or this slideshow about gay rights movements around the world, and check back here for more information throughout the month of June.

For those of you interested in U.S. foreign policy, the President made three recent media appearances in which he discussed his upcoming speech in Cairo, as well as issues related to the Middle East, Europe, and South Asia. Check out:

* Interview on National Public Radio with Michelle Norris and Steve Inskeep, 1 June 2009, in which the President discusses U.S. policy toward Israel, his Cairo speech, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the recent remarks of Vice President Biden.

* Interview on Canal Plus with Laura Haim, 1 June 2009, in which the President touches on the Air France Flight 447 tragedy, his upcoming travels to the Middle East and Europe, and his message to the world’s youth.

* Interview on BBC with Justin Webb, 1 June 2009, which discusses in depth the President’s Cairo speech and general approach to the Middle East, partnership with Europe, and how he relaxes now that he is President.

We hope these transcripts will provide interesting and useful background material for those of you who are planning to tune in to tomorrow’s speech.

Be among the first to get highlights of U.S. President Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo and tell us what you think!  Go to http://www.america.gov/sms.html and be part of the action.

obamaOn June 4, the President will give a speech “A New Beginning:” in Cairo, Egypt, outlining his personal commitment to engagement with the Muslim world, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and will discuss how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them.

The speech will be televised by CNN, BBC, and many local networks.  You can also log on to view the speech and to participate — hundreds of people are already signed up for the live webchat.

Additionally, America.gov has created a special page for those of you who are interested in the speech or in the partnership between the U.S. and countries in the Islamic world.  We hope you’ll have a moment to check it out — and don’t forget to let us know what you think.

We have a number of interesting webchats coming up.  Please note that all times local times in Poland.  You can join in from anywhere around the world, just as long as you have a computer connected to the internet.

1. Discussion of Obama’s first 100 days in office with Michelle Austein Brooks, the State Department’s blogger who has been covering the administration’s first steps. Thursday at 4:00 PM in Poland at https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/first100days

2. In honor of World Press Freedom Day, next week features timely discussions of the current status and future of  journalism.

 diversity forum

Diversity, identity, politics.  These issues rose to the forefront of debate in American society with the historical candidacies of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.  The rest of the world has joined us in this discussion and it continues in the next two months as part of a series organized by the Foundation Diversity Forum.  Join the debate about where to start with integration with experts and practioners at 18:00  on Wednesday, April 22 at Plan B. in Plac Zbawiciela in Warsaw and keep your eyes on this blog, where we’ll post updates on the series.

UPDATE: Follow after the jump to see the agenda. (more…)