#Sir Elton John speech at the #12th Yalta European Strategy (#YES) Annual Meeting #Ukraine


12 September 2015

It is an honor to be here at the Yalta European Strategy meeting.

I’m indeed humbled to be included in the group of distinguished business and government leaders, diplomats and humanitarians who have addressed this important annual gathering. And especially so in speaking about building a more tolerant country, the subject of this session.

“Our principles are not platitudes. Our mission statements are not simply plaques in the lobby. Statements of principle are our agenda for success: born of experience, tested in laboratory, factory, and office, attuned to competition. Our principles reflect, in the truest sense, our business judgment.”

That business judgement is sound.  Laws which protect human rights are good for business. They promote diversity. They expand the talent pool. They allow employers to hire and retain the best and the brightest. They ensure a workplace where employees feel comfortable and feel valued. People are more productive. Diverse, open workplaces encourage creativity, innovation and new idea.
Recently studies by the USAID and others confirm this.  They show that emerging economies that protect more rights for LGBT people through decriminalization of homosexuality, nondiscrimination laws, and recognition of LGBT families have higher GDP per capita, even after controlling for other influences on a country’s economic output.  Each additional right is associated with a 3% increase in GDP per capita for those countries.

And we know that laws and policies designed to repress LGBT citizens and to keep people in the shadows hinder economic development. Such policies are detrimental to business and economic interests. They jeopardize the safety and well being of employees and workers.
Today some 78 countries make being gay a crime. It’s hard to imagine that something so personal and so key to one’s very essence and identity could be criminalized. I and others like me could be arrested.  Indeed we would be arrested in many of those places just for being who we are at our core. In some places we could be tortured or put to death for it. Such intolerance harkens back to some of the darkest times in history. It is beyond inhumane. Such policies are a disgrace. 
Many of you in the policy and business arenas are already taking steps to ensure and promote LGBT anti-discrimination measures, including Leshenko, Zalishuk and Naem.  To those of you doing so, I offer my thanks. I applaud you. To those of you who could do more, I beg of you, please protect the human rights and basic dignity of the people who show up to work for you. They deserve it.

So, being tolerant and inclusive is not only the morally right thing to do, for the new Ukraine it is the smart thing to do. Basic fairness is an investment in human capital, and human capital is what drives business.

You can choose to make this part of Ukraine’s future and change its legacy for generations to come. This is not a fantasy, recent events have shown it is a very real possibility.

The people in this room are among the most powerful in the Ukraine, and in some cases the most powerful anywhere in the world. You have the power to help bring about this new era. 
I’m asking you to use that power wisely, to seize this opportunity, and to guarantee human rights for all. And one day I hope to come back to this blessed nation and to extend my thanks to all of you for not only for beginning the dialogue, but for changing lives and ultimately changing the course of history.

Thank you.

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