SE Randy Berry: “You can build love and hope out of a tragedy”

US Government’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons, Randy Berry, will participate in an online panel discussion in Bíó Paradís tonight, following a screening of the documentary “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine”; an event hosted by The American Embassy in Iceland in co-operation with GayIceland. We spoke to Berry about hate crimes, discrimination and the need for social change.

SE Randy Berry will address the audience through Skype although he’s quite keen on coming to Iceland on an official visit some time. Having only done a 24 hour stop-over here in mid-winter, he says he’d like to come for a proper visit again. “But in summer,” he says laughing.

Randy W. Berry is the U.S. State Department’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.
Randy W. Berry is the U.S. State Department’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.

“There’s good co-operation between the US and Iceland on the LGBTI issue. Iceland is in fact one of 12 national governments that founded something called the Global Equality Fund. There’s a common perception out there that it’s an American fund but it’s not. It was founded in 2011 through a joint partnership of a number of national governments, a number of businesses and a number of foundations; governments form about half of the entities involved, and businesses and organizations the rest. And what we do is we pool our resources and our contributions, that money then gets turned around and farmed out to local civil society organizations. In these five years since the Global Equality Fund was established, we’ve assigned about $30,000,000 in assistance to small groups in almost 80 countries. And Iceland is a partner in that family.”

Why do you think it is important for the US Government to take part in organizing and promoting an event like the screening of “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine”? “I think that events like this are really important because, over the last year, it‘s become really clear to me that globally our greatest challenge is a lack of knowledge about what it means to be a member of the LGBTI community; a lack of knowledge of the human issues and the human reality that is attached to it.

So, you know, I think that a lot of the time there‘s only talk about policy and politics and law and regulations but I think it‘s really important to talk about the human aspect of this as well. And I think films like this one are very effective in doing that because they tell a story, they personalize very effectively the ramification of hate and misunderstanding. They put a face to an issue which I think is very helpful for people who may not be very familiar with these issues, I think it‘s much easier for people to be able to grasp the issue, to understand those human dynamics and I think we all benefit from that deeper understanding.

“… you can build understanding and love and hope out of a tragedy… We don‘t have to allow that kind of tragedy to defeat us.”

Regarding this film in particular, Matthew‘s mother and father have been extraordinarily active in those years following Matthew‘s death in making sure that his story didn’t end with his death, that in fact the story has been continued, whether that‘s been through the establishment of hate crime legislation or what. I mean, Matthew‘s death was the tragedy that mainly spurred our government into action to get hate crime legislation on the books. And the Shepards continue to travel with the film and talk about what that lack of understanding and hate meant for Matthew‘s lost potential. People who may even have difficulty coming to terms with this kind of issue, I think it‘s really good for them to hear the parents‘perspective. To understand this in any way. So for all of those reasons, we think this is a really important way to spur broader discussion on these issues. “

On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyo. and left to die. On October 12, Matt succumbed to his wounds in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.The horrific events that took place shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998 would become one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history and spawned an activist movement that, more than a decade later, would result in passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.
On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyo. and left to die. Five days later Matt succumbed to his wounds in a hospital. The horrific events that took place became one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history and spawned an activist movement that, more than a decade later, would result in passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans people. Photo/Gina Van Hoof

The Obama administration has been a powerful advocate for LGBTI+ rights, not only domestically but also abroad. Why is supporting and advocating for LGBTI+ rights so important internationally? “We live in a world where still nearly 75 countries have some form of criminalization [of homosexuality] in place so I think that‘s a realization; to understand that while we have seen great progress here, things are different somewhere else. Mainly, to realize two things: one, there are many countries around the world that have been more progressive and came around to the equality and diversity agenda much earlier than we did – Iceland is one of them but there are many others. And two, look at those countries where the conversation is still new and hasn’t taken shape yet. And then consider how we build bridges between those two realities.

You know, I look at innovation that‘s been realized throughout the traditional leadership on this in Northern Europe, I’ve been very pleased to see the leadership that has shaped up around this issue in South-America now and I think there‘s truly a global movement underway. And it‘s not happening because of anything we‘re doing, it exists, it‘s happening anyway. What I‘m happy to do is to see what the US government can do through our contacts, through our ability to convene meetings and enter our program and just to help the universe more in this direction. It‘s going to succeed anyway, I have no doubt about it. I‘m just very focused on that role we can play, constructively, to speed the conversation on.”

As a part of that, you were appointed the State Department’s first ever LGBTI Human Rights Envoy early last year. Can you tell us a little bit about the role you play? “I was sworn in February 2015 but began working in April so it’s been 14 months that I‘ve been worked in this capacity. There are a couple of different, important aspects to this role. To understand this role you have to understand that this represents a new mechanism, a new tool for us, but not a new policy commitment.

"...it‘s quite a broad role. But we‘ve been extraordinarily active," says adsf
“It‘s quite a broad role. But we‘ve been extraordinarily active,” says Berry about his role.

“…I often get the message in more conservative societies that they‘re not quite ready for this conversation … I think they just need to get over this tendency … to pretend that if you don‘t discuss LGBTI issues, then you don‘t have gay people in your country.”

We’ve been working on LGBTI rights as part of foreign policy priority since 2011 at the direction of the President and the Secretary of State at the time, Hilary Clinton. We have been gradually accelerating our engagement and our programming over that period and then the step taken in early 2015 was merely to add this Special Envoy role to convene meetings at a more senior level, to play a co-ordinational role internally within the US government to make sure that those agencies working on LGBTI issues as a foreign policy priority are being more consistent in their engagement. And then importantly, also to be the point person for contact with governments around the world, with leaders in civil societies around the world; to be a spokesperson in terms of media contact, and others.

So it‘s quite a broad role. But we‘ve been extraordinarily active; I just returned two days ago to Washington from the Ukraine. Ukraine was the 43. country I‘ve visited in those 14 months. And these visits always leave me more and more hopeful. Not naive and blind to the fact that there‘s great challenge out there and still a lot of violence and hateful discrimination but that ultimately the examples of leadership I‘m seeing in so many places, especially from leaders in civil society, leaves me beyond hopeful but certain that positive change is coming.”

President Barack Obama The Obama administration has been a powerful advocate for LGBTI+ rights, not only domestically but also abroad.
President Barack Obama The Obama administration has been a powerful advocate for LGBTI+ rights, not only domestically but also abroad.

And how has your message, and in general the US government’s policy on LGBTI+ rights, been received? “In general I‘d say that these have been very effective, constructive engagements on our issues. Obviously when I travel in places like Sweden, Finland or the Netherlands or in South-America or any of these countries that have taken on such leaderships, there‘ll be conversations that are very positive about co-ordination on the international stage and how we can work together.

That‘s not the conversation in many other places where we‘re talking about the need to remove criminalization statues, for example. I‘ve invested my voice and energy here to engage people in those places, even those that we disagree with substantially. If we can encourage small reforms first, that‘s still a reform. I‘ve been very careful not to issue condemnations or wag a finger but to engage because the kind of change that we seek, wherever it occurs, if we want it to be sustainable and we want to make sure that it‘s truly a meaningful change, that really only comes about through a dialog and through changing minds and hearts.

You don‘t get that kind of change through force. You can compel certain types of compliance through force but again, the long-term investment we‘re making here is to see a real social change.”

Hate crimes and discrimination affect the lives of many LGBTI+ people around the world. How can other governments and advocacy organizations help reduce the violence the LGBTI+ community endures in many parts of the world, and at the same time promote understanding and inclusion? What are the first steps they could “easily” take? “I think that there are several but I think it depends on each country; I think each country is a bit different, each society is a bit different in what the most urgent needs are. But there are always steps that we can take, some of them are not so easy but some are.

“I think films like this one are very effective … because they tell a story, they personalize very effectively the ramification of hate and misunderstanding. They put a face to an issue which I think is very helpful for people who may not be very familiar with these issues.”

Across the board, I would say the most prominent one is that a government can take a look at the criminalization that exists on the books. As I mentioned, 75 countries still criminalize [homosexuality] but about ¾ of them are neither laws that are implemented nor are people convicted for them. There are a few countries of greater concern to us where that does happen but for a vast majority of these governments, they are simply laws that they inherited; they‘ve never been implemented so when we‘re out having a conversation about this we ask: “Why do we leave them on the books?” Because even if they don‘t enforce them, it still gives avenues to those who would bully or otherwise discriminate and encourages that kind of social lack of progress. So I think governments need to take a look at that. And they need to take a look at simply engaging in conversations to get it out of the shadows.

"Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" has won numerous awards, for example a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special and Best Documentary at Out on Film.
“Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” has won numerous awards, for example a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special and Best Documentary at Out on Film.

When I‘m travelling I often get the message in more conservative societies that they‘re not quite ready for this conversations or that it‘s taboo to discuss issues like this in their countries. And I understand that, these are conversations that haven‘t been enjoying much success in many equations. But, you only say it‘s impossible until it‘s possible. And as we saw in my country, you know, 30 years ago when I was growing up we also didn‘t talk about these issues! But then we started to. And that is with everything. I think they just need to get over this tendency to not want to discuss this or to pretend that if you don‘t discuss LGBTI issues, then you don‘t have gay people in your country.

So I think it‘s mostly about engaging on this human realities and talking about these issues. And I think we have the ability to destigmatise it substantially with just a bit more honest conversation.”

You will be taking part in an online panel after the screening of Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine in Iceland on Tuesday. What is your message? “That you can build understanding and love and hope out of a tragedy. When Matthew was killed, he was living in the western state of Wyoming. I grew up in a very similar community just south of there, in the state of Colorado. The similarities between the sort of environments he grew up in and my own are not lost on me. But his potential, his life was robbed of him through this problem with hate. But you know, we can build on that. We don‘t have to allow that kind of tragedy to defeat us. That‘s why I really enjoy working with his mom and dad because they have for many years had this idea that his story hasn‘t been completely written yet, that his legacy and that our ability to – in a global sense, not only in the US – to see change occur and that can be very, very powerful.”


*Less than 36 hours after we interviewed SE Randy Berry, the Orlando shooting took place. As a response, Berry tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the news from Orlando, and thoughts and condolences to our brothers and sisters in Florida.”

Later, President Obama gave a public response, condemning this act of hate: “This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and sing — to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it’s a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have long come together to raise awareness, speak their mind and advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

Main photo: Special envoy Randy Berry at Sao Paulo’s PRIDE parade in 2015.

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      Macland
      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
        This is our secret and you are in on it

        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        Núðluskálin
        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        Seatours
        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

        600x400-seatours-tasting

        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

        600x400-seatours

        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -shags
        -kittiwakes
        -fulmars
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us


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