On Tuesday, LGBT rights advocates gather at the White House for the LGBT Pride Month reception which saw President Obama reiterate his promise to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the military’s ban on openly gay service personnel, and restate his commitment to ending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. At the event President Obama was also approached by Nadine Smith, executive director of the group Equality California, who handed him a letter with 131,000 signatures from Equality California supporters and allies calling upon the President to help lift Florida’s antiquated and outrageous gay adoption ban. Read the letter and find out more about Equality Florida here.
Perhaps the stand out moment of the day came when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a robust opening speech to the State Department as part of the Pride Month celebrations. The event was organized by Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) and following the speech advocates participated in a panel discussion. You can read more about that here.
In her remarks Clinton touched on global LGBT rights issues, from the proposed draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda to the strong anti-gay rhetoric currently sweeping Zimbabwe, and thanked four African activists that were present at the event, praising them for their work.
Echoing a famous speech she made 15 years ago to the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Clinton also said that the inequalities and discrimination that LGBTs face should not be classed as just “gay” issues alone, but should be seen as broader human rights issues that are of concern to us all:
“Just as I was very proud to say the obvious more than 15 years ago in Beijing that human rights are women’s rights — and women’s rights are human rights — let me say today that human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights.”
The Secretary of State went on to reiterate her promise that the United States would be a leading global force in combating the criminalization and marginalization of LGBTs and restated the State Department’s commitment to advancing “a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
On a domestic front Clinton cited the progress that the Obama administration has made on LGBT rights by highlighting such accomplishments as the signing into law of the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the administration’s extension of domestic partner benefits to federal LGBT workers. She also made certain references to the small but significant gains made in the fight for transgender rights such as the recent announcement of new passport regulations for transgender travelers. While reflecting on those accomplishments, the Secretary of State recognized that there was still a great deal more to do, again vowing that the administration would work hard to pass other vital LGBT rights legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, both of which are currently awaiting votes in Congress.
She closed her speech by saying:
“The struggle for equality is never, ever finished. And it is rarely easy, despite how self-evident it should be. But the hardest-fought battles often have the biggest impact. So I hope that each and every one of us will recommit ourselves to building a future in which every person – every, single person can live in dignity, free from violence, free to be themselves, free to live up to their God-given potential wherever they live and whoever they are.”
During her speech, Clinton also announced that, for the first time, gender identity will be included along with sexual orientation in the State Department’s equal opportunities statement, the latest in a list of changes the department has rolled out for LGBT workers.
While yesterday I wrote with some skepticism on the big speeches but small actions the Obama administration has so far demonstrated on LGBT rights issues, I am pleased to see Hillary Clinton continue her strong line of advocacy. If she and the rest of the administration can just translate these words into actions, meaningful and lasting change could be close at hand. But it still remains to be seen if that can be accomplished.
That can’t detract, however, from the fact that this was a great and inspiring speech that was heavy on detail and moderate on praise for the accomplishments made thus far. You can watch a video of Hillary Clinton’s speech and view the transcript of her remarks below.