Obama's Remarks at 15th Annual HRC National Dinner
BY Advocate.com Editors
October 01 2011 8:50 PM ET
The Human Rights Campaign welcomed President Obama to the 15th Annual National Dinner, the largest HRC National Dinner to date, drawing more than 3,000 people to the Washington Convention Center.
His official remarks as transcribed by the White House are included below:
President Obama: Thank you so much. It is great to be back. (Applause.) I see a lot of friends in the house. I appreciate the chance to join you tonight. I also took a trip out to California last week, where I held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga. (Laughter.) She was wearing 16-inch heels. (Laughter.) She was eight feet tall. (Laughter.) It was a little intimidating.
Now, I don’t want to give a long speech. Cyndi Lauper is in the house. I can’t compete with that. (Applause.) But I wanted to come here tonight, first of all, to personally thank Joe for his outstanding years of leadership at HRC. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
Now, I don’t have to tell you that we have a ways to go in that struggle. 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.
But we can also be proud of the progress we’ve made these past two and a half years. Think about it. (Applause.) Two years ago, I stood at this podium, in this room, before many of you, and I made a pledge. 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. (Applause.) 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.
And so, let’s see what happened. 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. Because it should never be dangerous -- (applause) -- you should never have to look over your shoulder -- to be gay in the United States of America. That’s why we got it done. (Applause.)
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. I issued an order so that any hospital in America that accepts Medicare or Medicaid -– and that means just about every hospital -– has to treat gay partners just as they do straight partners. Because nobody should have to produce a legal contract to hold the hand of the person that they love. We got that done. (Applause.)
I said that we would lift that HIV travel ban -- we got that done. (Applause.) We put in place the first comprehensive national strategy to fight HIV/AIDS. (Applause.)
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. (Applause.) We had to hold a coalition together. We had to keep up the pressure. We took some flak along the way. (Applause.) But with the help of HRC, we got it done. And “don’t ask, don’t tell” is history. (Applause.) 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. We got it done. (Applause.) We got that done. All around the world, you’ve got gays and lesbians who are serving, and the only difference is now they can put up a family photo. (Laughter.) No one has to live a lie to serve the country they love.
I vowed to keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts. I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all. It should join “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the history books. (Applause.)
So, yes, we have more work to do. And after so many years -- even decades -- of inaction you’ve got every right to push against the slow pace of change. But make no mistake -- I want people to feel encouraged here -- we are making change. We’re making real and lasting change. We can be proud of the progress we’ve already made.
And I’m going to continue to fight alongside you. And I don’t just mean in your role, by the way, as advocates for equality. You’re also moms and dads who care about the schools your children go to. (Applause.) You’re also students figuring out how to pay for college. You’re also folks who are worried about the economy and whether or not your partner or husband or wife will be able to find a job. And you’re Americans who want this country to succeed and prosper, and who are tired of the gridlock and the vicious partisanship, and are sick of the Washington games. Those are your fights, too, HRC. (Applause.)