Opening of the Queer Film Festival and Premier of the play Orlando

Boa noite a todos.  I would like to thank Queer Film Festival director João Ferreira, and playwright André Murraças for the invitation to speak after this beautiful and emotional tribute to the 49 individuals killed in the June 12 massacre in Orlando.

I was in my hometown of Boston when I heard about the horrific attack in Florida which left 100 people dead or wounded.  Having landed just hours earlier on the inaugural TAP flight linking Lisbon to Boston, I was looking forward to a pleasant two days catching up with family and friends.

But as I watched the CNN footage of the devastation in Orlando, my soul shuddered and my heart broke.  It immediately brought back memories of the tragic events from three years earlier, when hate-filled individuals struck the 2013 Boston Marathon, setting off explosives just blocks from my home.  Both attacks sought to target places people felt safe and to instill fear.

Pulse was a place where people could be themselves.  That night men and women, young and old, went out to listen to Latin music, to dance and celebrate Pride month. They were exercising the freedoms that all Americans, that people worldwide, ought to have.  They simply wanted to gather peacefully and pursue happiness.

But one man’s anger and fear cost the lives of 49 innocent victims with more than 50 others wounded. Families were destroyed and so much potential was lost.

Yet, through the haze of horror and death in Orlando, powerful images and stories began to emerge, stories of the victims’ lives, stories of love and compassion, of unity and caring.  We learned of people who risked their lives to help friends and strangers alike.   We saw images of people caring for each other and holding strangers in their arms providing much needed comfort.

We are also comforted by the outpouring of love and support that arrived to Orlando from communities around the globe.

Despite progress in both the United States and Portugal to ensure equal rights for LGBTI individuals, tragedies like what happened in Orlando are sobering and cruel reminders that while we have made enormous steps forward, there is still much work to be done to eliminate bigotry and intolerance from our two societies — indeed from all societies.

I’d like to note that this play can be staged easily in Portugal, whereas in some other countries it would be almost impossible – a tribute to the tolerance and understanding in this country.

The fundamental values of equality and dignity that define both of our countries are not entirely safe.  When fear and anger find a foothold in our society we are all at risk, I saw that up close in Boston, we all saw that in Orlando.  We’ve seen it over and over again in human history and we must be vigilant.

We are each called to defend our common humanity and our common rights not only with our rhetoric but also with our actions.   President Obama has made the advancement of LGBTI rights a priority for his administration and we, at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, are committed to continuing to work with partners here in Portugal to advance that effort.

Whether that is working with ILGA in support of the Pride Parade here in Lisbon or appearing in a video for Tudo Vai Melhorar, I hope to make it clear that both as the United States’ Ambassador and personal representative of President of Obama here in Portugal, and as plain old Bob Sherman, a lawyer from Boston, I stand firmly with the LGBTI community here in Portugal.

I want to reaffirm that LGBTI rights are human rights and that human rights are LGBTI rights, and I maintain that all people benefit when those rights are ensured and protected.

André thank you for your work, for having used art to turn a tragedy into an experience of shared humanity. This was a lovely tribute to those who died and a reminder of the work that remains, for those of us seeking to overcome fear and advance human rights.

Thank you.  Boa noite Obrigado.