The United States and Sweden: Partners and Champions for Human Rights

Posted by Amy Hirsch
February 10, 2014

“Values that give rise to dignity, equal opportunity, and justice for every segment of our people are anything but novel concepts.  They are written into our nations’ founding documents.  They are etched into our pasts.  And they are woven throughout our histories…Over the centuries, they have inspired untold millions -- seemingly ordinary, but all extraordinary -- to stand up, and speak out, and even lay down their lives to improve the countries they love.”

On February 4 in Stockholm, Sweden, Attorney General Eric Holder said these words and energized an audience of parliamentarians, diplomats, students, activists, and one special guest: Gloria Ray Karlmark. Karlmark is one of the Little Rock Nine, who, in 1957, braved bigotry and threats of violence to become the first African-American students to attend Little Rock Central High School, in Arkansas. Gloria is a testament to the idea that, “Progress is not inevitable. It is built by commitment, by hard work, and by sacrifice.”

Now living in Sweden, this American civil rights activist’s extraordinary effort to help make desegregated schools in the United States not only possible, but ordinary, was an early inspiration for Attorney General Holder.  Now, her story encourages a new generation of ordinary people working for a safer and more inclusive world.

Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks at the Parliament of Sweden on February 4, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Focus shifts now to a defining, global civil rights challenge of this era -- the equal rights and full protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons worldwide. Sweden, with its long history as a recognized champion of human rights, was the right place for Attorney General Holder to echo President Barack Obama’s words: “We share a belief in the dignity and equality of every human being; that our daughters deserve the same opportunities as our sons; that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law; that our societies are strengthened by diversity.”

The United States is standing with Sweden and other democratic nations, calling for the protection of LGBT citizens. As the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski is fond of saying, “The U.S. Embassy Stockholm is ‘anti-anti-gay.’” Ambassador Brzezinski is a strong supporter of this shared cause, and earlier this year was the keynote speaker during Stockholm’s Pride festival.

Attorney General Holder’s positive message resonated among Swedes. A prominent activist told Swedish media later that he thought it was a brave speech.  And Attorney General Holder left the audience with this message of hope: “As long as we keep learning from one another, supporting one another, and standing together as a community of nations, I believe that -- if history is any guide -- there is good reason for confidence in where our efforts will lead us from here.”

About the Author: Amy Hirsch serves as Acting Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden.

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