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Wednesday, April 5 @ 2:00PM – 3:00PM (EDT)
Messaging on Human Rights: A Conversation with the Champions
March 30, 2023

Messaging on Human Rights:  A Conversation with the Champions

Wednesday, April 5 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (EDT)


Please note, this virtual town hall is accessible from any device on any computer system including DIN and home internet.  Open Net is not required to join the town hall.

** Some OpenNet users may experience difficulty accessing the chat from their workstations. You may switch to a DIN or home internet computer, or if OpenNet is the only available option, access the player and chat via the following link: https://video.ibm.com/channel/8F2UARtEuB9

About the Event:

Please join GPA’s Assistant Secretary Bill Russo to discuss how Department communicators, both in Washington and the field, can amplify the work of the Department’s human rights champions


Bill Russo, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Global Public Affairs
Bill Russo, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Global Public Affairs

Bill Russo serves as the Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs.

Most recently, Russo served as the Deputy Communications Director for Press on the Biden-Harris campaign. Prior to the campaign, he served as the Spokesperson for President Biden’s personal office.

Mr. Russo previously served at the Department of State as Advisor to then-Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken from 2015 to 2017. Earlier in his career, Mr. Russo was Advisor to Mr. Blinken in his role as Deputy National Security Advisor at the National Security Council. He began his time in government service in the Office of then-Vice President Joe Biden in August 2011, working in multiple roles including Senior Advisor to then-National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Mr. Russo holds an M.A. in Environment, Development, and Policy from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, and an Honors B.A. in Political Science, History, and English from the University of Delaware. He is originally from Exton, PA.



Desirée Cormier Smith, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice
Desirée Cormier Smith, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice

Desirée Cormier Smith is the Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice. Previously, she served as a Senior Advisor in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Special Representative Cormier also worked at the Open Society Foundations as the Senior Policy Advisor for Africa, Europe, and Eurasia. In that role, she led the global foundation’s U.S. advocacy strategy and execution on a wide range of human rights issues in these dynamic and diverse issues. From 2015 until 2020, she was the Senior Director with Albright Stonebridge Group’s Africa Practice, where she advised and assisted private and social sector clients on growth strategies across the African continent.

Ms. Cormier began her State Department career as a Foreign Service Officer with assignments in Mexico, South Africa, and Washington, DC. Ms. Cormier is the recipient of four Department of State Meritorious Honor Awards and the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Undergraduate Fellowship. She is an alumnus of the International Career Advancement Program and is a member of the 2019 class of Next Generation National Security Leaders Fellowship at the Center for a New American Security. She was honored by New America as a 2020 Black American National Security and Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader and is a 2020 alumnus of the New Leadership Council Washington, DC chapter. Ms. Cormier currently serves on the Advisory Council of Global Kids, an educational non-profit aimed to inspire underserved youth to pursue careers in public policy and global affairs, and on the Advisory Board of Shea Yeleen, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women in West Africa and the U.S. Ms. Cormier is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ms. Cormier holds a B.A. in Political Science and Psychology from Stanford University and a M.A. in Public Policy from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is proficient in Spanish and French.

For more on the Special Representative’s work, please follow her on Twitter.


Sara Minkara, Special Advisor on International Disability Rights
Sara Minkara, Special Advisor on International Disability Rights

President Biden appointed Sara Minkara as the Special Advisor on International Disability Rights. In this role, Special Advisor Minkara leads the U.S. Department of State’s comprehensive strategy to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities internationally.

Prior to joining the Department of State, she founded and served as CEO of Sara Minkara, LLC, which promotes authentic leadership and value-based inclusion.  She also established Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), a nonprofit organization committed to developing a more inclusive global society and transforming social and cultural stigmas against disability.

Special Advisor Minkara is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been recognized for her many contributions through appointments and awards, including honors from the Clinton Global Initiative, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Forbes 30 Under 30, Ashoka, Harvard, Halcyon, and the Vital Voices “100 Women Using Their Power to Empower” retrospective.

Internationally, Special Advisor Minkara has promoted disability rights, diversity, access, and inclusion in a range of countries including Lebanon, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. She speaks Arabic.


Jessica Stern, Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons
Jessica Stern, Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons

President Biden appointed Jessica Stern as the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons, and Special Envoy Stern will oversee the implementation of the February 4, 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.

Prior to joining the State Department, Special Envoy Stern led OutRight Action International, a leading global LGBTQI+ human rights organization, as its Executive Director for ten years.

Special Envoy Stern has been a researcher at Human Rights Watch, a Ralph Bunche Fellow at Amnesty International, a program director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs.  Special Envoy Stern has been a member of numerous boards and advisory councils, including the LGBTI Reference Group of UNWomen and the Civil Society Advisory Group of the Generation Equality Forum.  Stern is the recipient of numerous honors including from Attitude Magazine, Crain’s New York Business, Gay City News, and the Metropolitan Community Church.

Special Envoy Stern has lived in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.  Special Envoy Stern accepts all pronouns.



Kelly Fay Rodriguez, Special Representative for International Labor Affairs
Kelly Fay Rodriguez, Special Representative for International Labor Affairs

Kelly M. Fay Rodríguez is the Special Representative for International Labor Affairs. She is a dedicated advocate for workers’ rights and social justice in the United States and abroad. Most recently, she served as Trade and Labor Oversight Counsel for the Democratic majority of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means, with oversight over all U.S. trade agreements, policies, and programs. She also co-led staff for the Committee’s Racial Equity Initiative on health and economic issues. From 2012 to 2020, she worked for the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) and the Solidarity Center on domestic and global trade union programs. She led the Center’s flagship program in Bangladesh, which included legal support, trade union capacity-building, and strategic international supply chain advocacy. Previously, she worked on migrant workers’ rights and also helped manage labor programs in Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru.

She earned her law degree from City University of New York School of Law, where she was a Haywood Burns Human and Civil Rights Fellow and completed the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.