Distinguished Service Award for Barrett L. Brick
Presented by former GLAA President Rick RosendallGLAA 29th Anniversary Reception
Doyle Washington Hotel
Thursday, April 27, 2000
As Executive Director of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations from 1987 to 1993, Barrett was a pioneer of international activism. His efforts ranged from attending conferences of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, to being assaulted by French riot police, bribing a Soviet customs officer with condoms and meeting with Soviet prisoners, being arrested at the INS here in DC, and planting "gay trees" in Israel. He worked with Lambda Salaam-Shalom to build bridges between gay Jews and Muslims, and he has prodded gay organizations to improve their communication and cooperation with the faith community.
In April 1991, Barrett and others met with the Director of the Country Human Rights Report Team for the State Department, to urge increased attention to gay-related violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Department was receptive, and the report has improved.
Barrett doesn't wait for others to take the lead. In 1991, the Argentine government was refusing to register a national Gay organization, which kept it from opening a bank account, renting office space, or legally engaging in advocacy. President Carlos Menem made a state visit to Washington, and Barrett went into action. With the help of the late Marvin Liebman, he got a ticket to the National Press Club luncheon on November 15 of that year at which Menem was scheduled to speak. The Argentine gay group had told Barrett that if Menem were embarrassed publicly on Gay issues while here, they thought he would arrange for the group's registration when he returned home. The questions he submitted were ignored, so Barrett simply walked up to the rope line as Menem was leaving, and handed him an information packet with letters requesting his intervention.
That night happened to be the Walk Without Fear, and Barrett arranged for the march to stop in front of the Argentine Embassy, at which Menem was hosting a state dinner with Vice President Quayle. They saw the marchers from the window. He couldn't get away from us! Sure enough, when Menem returned to Argentina, he ordered the registration of Comunidad Homosexual Argentina.
Barrett has been on both sides of the barricades. These days, the other side is just as likely to be occupied by Fred Phelps or clueless radicals, while we're arm-in-arm with our police chief who gives lectures on the lessons of the Holocaust and the reasons he opposes Zero Tolerance Policing. We still get stark reminders that violence and hate crimes remain with us; our task is not just to protest but to use our place at the table to ensure that the laws are enforced and people are held accountable. As we address the continuing violence against our transgender brothers and sisters, I am mindful of Barrett's gift for challenging his own community: We are not powerless. We are not without responsibility.
Seven years ago this week, Barrett spoke at a gay community ceremony at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened the same weekend as the 1993 March on Washington. As it happens, Yom Hashoah, a day for remembering the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, will begin four sunsets from now. This week, it is worth recalling what Barrett said seven years ago, describing a gay memorial plaque at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria:
"On the plaque, these words: 'To the homosexuals killed by National Socialism Totgeschlagen, Totgeschwiegen.' Beaten to death, silenced to death.
"It was not enough to beat, torture, and burn our bodies. When liberation came, they tried still to keep shackled our memory, our history, our souls.
"And yet, we endured. And yet, we spoke. . . .
"Each time we fulfill our sacred obligation of memory . . . each time we tell the truth of our history and our heritage . . . we demonstrate our commitment that indifference shall not stand, and that silence shall not descend ever again."
The wisdom of those words is put into practice every day by the extraordinary activist who spoke them. It is my privilege to count him as my friend, and my great honor to present this Distinguished Service Award to Barrett L. Brick.