President Barack Obama
In a historic first, US President Barack Obama recently spoke out on LGBT issues at an event for a gay equality group; the annual dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organisation in the US. The speech was followed by a performance by Lady Gaga. This is an edited version of that speech.
Thank you so much, all of you. It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady GaGa. (Applause.) I’ve made it. (Laughter.)
I want to thank the Human Rights Campaign for inviting me to speak and for the work you do every day in pursuit of equality on behalf of the millions of people in this country who work hard in their jobs and care deeply about their families – and who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
For nearly 30 years, you’ve advocated on behalf of those without a voice. That’s not easy. For despite the real gains that we’ve made, there’s still laws to change and there’s still hearts to open. There are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbours, even loved ones – good and decent people – who hold fast to outworn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; who would deny you the rights most Americans take for granted. And that’s painful and it’s heartbreaking.
And yet you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make, and by the power of the example that you set in your own lives – as parents and friends, as PTA members and church members, as advocates and leaders in your communities. And you’re making a difference.
That’s the story of the movement for fairness and equality, and not just for those who are gay, but for all those in our history who’ve been denied the rights and responsibilities of citizenship – for all who’ve been told that the full blessings and opportunities of this country were closed to them. It’s the story of progress sought by those with little influence or power; by men and women who brought about change through quiet, personal acts of compassion – and defiance – wherever and whenever they could.
It’s the story of the Stonewall protests, when a group of citizens with few options, and fewer supporters stood up against discrimination and helped to inspire a movement. It’s the story of an epidemic that decimated a community – and the gay men and women who came to support one another and save one another; who continue to fight this scourge; and who have demonstrated before the world that different kinds of families can show the same compassion in a time of need.
This story, this fight continues now. And I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight. For even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot – and we will not – put aside issues of basic equality. I appreciate that many of you don’t believe progress has come fast enough. I want to be honest about that, because it’s important to be honest among friends.
Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll repeat it again – it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago. But I will say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I think it’s important to remember that there is not a single issue that my administration deals with on a daily basis that does not touch on the lives of the LGBT community.
So I know you want me working on jobs and the economy and all the other issues that we’re dealing with. But my commitment to you is unwavering even as we wrestle with these enormous problems. And while progress may be taking longer than you’d like as a result of all that we face – and that’s the truth – do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach.
My expectation is that when you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians – whether in the office or on the battlefield. You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognise relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman. You will see a nation that’s valuing and cherishing these families as we build a more perfect union – a union in which gay Americans are an important part. I am committed to these goals. And my administration will continue fighting to achieve them.
And there’s no more poignant or painful reminder of how important it is that we do so than the loss experienced by Dennis and Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was stolen in a terrible act of violence 11 years ago. In May, I met with Judy in the Oval Office, and I promised her that we were going to pass an inclusive hate crimes bill – a bill named for her son.
This struggle has been long. Time and again we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. But the Shepards never gave up. They turned tragedy into an unshakeable commitment. Countless activists and organisers never gave up. You held vigils, you spoke out, year after year, Congress after Congress. The House passed the bill again this week. And I can announce that after more than a decade, this bill is set to pass and I will sign it into law.
Together, we will have moved closer to that day when no one has to be afraid to be gay in America. When no one has to fear walking down the street holding the hand of the person they love.
But we know there’s far more work to do. We’re pushing hard to pass an inclusive employee non-discrimination bill. For the first time ever, an administration official testified in Congress in favour of this law. Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay, despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It’s not fair. It’s not right. We’re going to put a stop to it. And it’s for this reason that if any of my nominees are attacked not for what they believe but for who they are, I will not waver in my support, because I will not waver in my commitment to ending discrimination in all its forms.
We are reinvigorating our response to HIV/AIDS here at home and around the world. We are rescinding the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status. The regulatory process to enact this important change is already underway. And we also know that HIV/AIDS continues to be a public health threat in many communities. Jeffrey Crowley, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, recently held a forum in Washington, D.C., and is holding forums across the country, to seek input as we craft a national strategy to address this crisis.
“It is no secret that issues of great concern to gays and lesbians are ones that raise a great deal of emotion in this country. And it’s no secret that progress has been incredibly difficult…”
We are moving ahead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars.
We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford – for our military’s integrity – to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie. So I’m working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of th