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October 7, 2011

Obama promises more progress at HRC dinner

Washington, D.C.--President Barack Obama addressed the Human Rights Campaign’s 15th annual national dinner, promising equal rights for LGBT Americans and taking to task the field of Republicans vying for his job.

In a night filled with political bigwigs, including the mayor of Washington, D.C. and former second lady Tipper Gore, the president was the biggest of them all.

Obama started off his 20-minute speech on a light note, saying, “I . . . took a trip out to California last week, where I held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga. She was wearing 16-inch heels. She was eight feet tall. It was a little intimidating.”

He then complimented exiting HRC president Joe Solmonese, saying that he wanted “to personally thank Joe for his outstanding years of leadership at HRC. What he has accomplished at the helm of this organization has been remarkable, and I want to thank all of you for the support that you’ve shown this organization and for your commitment to a simple idea: Every single American--gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender--every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.”

“It’s a pretty simple proposition,” he posited.

“Now, I don’t have to tell you that we have a ways to go in that struggle,” he continued. “I don’t have to tell you how many are still denied their basic rights -- Americans who are still made to feel like second-class citizens, who have to live a lie to keep their jobs, or who are afraid to walk the street, or down the hall at school. Many of you have devoted your lives to the cause of equality. So you know what we have to do; we’ve got more work ahead of us.”

He pointed to the victories his administration has chalked up on behalf of the LGBT community so far.

“Two years ago, I stood at this podium, in this room, before many of you, and I made a pledge,” Obama said. “I said I would never counsel patience; that it wasn’t right to tell you to be patient any more than it was right for others to tell African Americans to be patient in the fight for equal rights a half century ago.”

“But what I also said, that while it might take time--more time than anyone would like--we are going to make progress, we are going to succeed, we are going to build a more perfect union,” Obama noted, before enumerating his successes.

“I met with Judy Shepard. I promised her we would pass a hate crimes bill named for her son, Matthew. And with the help of my dear friend Ted Kennedy we got it done,” he recounted. “I met with Janice Langbehn, who was barred from the bedside of the woman she loved as she lay dying. And I told her that we were going to put a stop to this discrimination. And you know what? We got it done.”

He continued, “I said that we would lift that HIV travel ban--we got that done. We put in place the first comprehensive national strategy to fight HIV/AIDS.”

“Many questioned whether we’d succeed in repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ And yes, it took two years to get the repeal through Congress. We had to hold a coalition together. We had to keep up the pressure. We took some flak along the way,” the president admitted. “But with the help of HRC, we got it done. And ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is history. And all over the world, there are men and women serving this country just as they always have--with honor and courage and discipline and valor.”

He pointed to the decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, and said that it should be relegated to the history books, as DADT was. He also mentioned the summit on bullying he held at the White House earlier this year.

He also criticized the Republican hopefuls who stood silent while the audience at a debate booed a gay soldier who submitted a question via YouTube.

“We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders--one of whom could end up being the president of the United States--being silent when an American soldier is booed,” he said. “You want to be Commander in Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”

He expressed hope that the shift in society towards acceptance and respect would continue, a change he said was “led not by Washington but by ordinary citizens, who are propelled not just by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard . . . It’s also happening around water coolers and at the Thanksgiving table, and on Facebook and Twitter, and at PTA meetings and potluck dinners, and church socials and VFW halls.”

“It happens when a father realizes he doesn’t just love his daughter, but also her wife. It happens when a soldier tells his unit that he’s gay, and they tell him they knew it all along and they didn’t care, because he was the toughest guy in the unit,” Obama continued. “It happens when a video sparks a movement to let every single young person know they’re not alone, and things will get better. It happens when people look past their ultimately minor differences to see themselves in the hopes and struggles of their fellow human beings.”

“That’s where change is happening,” he said, concluding, “And that’s not just the story of the gay rights movement. That’s the story of America, the slow, inexorable march towards a more perfect union. You are contributing to that story, and I’m confident we can continue to write another chapter together.”

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