Albanian law protects human rights, and that
includes the right to live in liberty and in freedom, regardless of sexual orientacion

By John
L. Withers, II

U.S. Ambassador - Albania

It is a great privilege for me to be here in
the historic city of Lezhë. It is a great privilege to be on the site where
Albanias national hero Scanderbeg walked, and where he was buried. But it is a
particular pleasure for me today to be next to one of the most courageous
people that I have met in my lifetime: Ms. Çela.

A few days ago in Athens, a group of young
extremists shouted slogans and made threats against the Albanian people. Fortunately,
most of the people of Greece did not accept those viewpoints, and indeed stand
against those viewpoints; they simply did not feel that way. And the government
of Greece condemned those actions. They were discriminatory actions, and people
here in Albania were right to protest. And as a form of discrimination, we too,
the friends of Albania, condemn them. No form of discrimination against any
people, against any individuals, is acceptable in our modern democratic

A few weeks ago, a young and a brave man named
Klodi Çela announced publicly on TV, on the very popular Big Brother program,
that he is homosexual. And shortly after, this remarkable woman who is sitting
here came out in support of her son in one of the most moving speeches that I
have ever heard. And I salute her for her courage in so doing.

Her family is from Lezhe. There were people in
Lezhe who after these events spoke out in a homophobic manner. I respect, I do
not challenge, the right of those individuals to express their opinions freely.
I always will respect free speech. But when these persons move from expression
of opinions to hostile actions and to threatening actions against the family
Çela, this good family, and force them under such pressure to flee from their
home in this town, that ceases to become expression of opinion and becomes

The people of Lezha are good and fine people,
with a noble and historic tradition. And I know that most of the people here,
the great majority of people here, do not accept the actions of those few. They
do not accept violent language, abuse, or physical threats against people who
have lived here their whole lives and have contributed so well to the
well-being of this community. We are here before you, including especially my
distinguished colleague and dear friend the Ambassador from Germany, to show
support for this brave woman and her family, including her son Klodi.

Albanian law protects human rights, and that
includes the right to live in liberty and in freedom, regardless of sexual
orientation. Klodi has that right, Ms. Çela has that right, to live here
without fear in their own homes and to walk this town as freely as any other
Albanian citizen. She not only has the legal right and protection to do so, but
also the moral right, based on the good will of all those people who believe in
freedom and justice, whether they are Albanian or foreigners.

Today is Good Friday. It is the day where
people throughout the world think of higher things and greater values. Let me
read to you what Pope Benedict said on this issue a few years ago. And I quote:
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of
violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation
from the church's pastors wherever it occurs... The intrinsic dignity of each
person must always be respected in work, in action and in law."

Ms. Çela, we are with you today and we will
always be with you. I thank you so much for being here.

(*) Remarks - Round Table in Lezhë