Obama Celebrates Milestones at White House Pride Reception

The president acknowledged that advocates pushed “loudly and forcefully” to bring the watershed moments celebrated during a Pride reception at the White House.

BY Julie Bolcer

June 15 2012 9:23 PM ET

“Americans may feel more comfortable bringing their partners to the office barbecue,” said the president, “but we're still waiting for a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Congress needs to pass that legislation, so that no American is ever fired simply for being gay or transgender.”

James Clementi of New Jersey said that it was "incredible" to be at the White House and hear the president's statement of support for antibullying efforts. His younger brother, Tyler Clementi, took his own life in 2010 after his college roommate spied on him with another man. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted of invasion of privacy and other charges and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

"We have come a long way and at the same time it is bittersweet," said Clementi. "A lot of the changes that have happened have been great for adults who have made it through the process of coming out, but I also think there are so many children who have not gotten to that space yet. Our society is not comfortable in accepting them, and we have a responsibility to them."

Obama decided in April not to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but a group of three North Carolina college students sought to keep that issue on his agenda Friday. Earlier in the day, the president announced he would issue an executive order to halt the deportations of young people brought to the United States illegally as children, an cause on which immigrant and gay activists have collaborated.

“As a young student who will soon be entering the job market, it’s terrifying to me that I could be fired because of who I am,” said Duke University junior Jacob Tobia. “This is something that could be changed right now with the stroke of a pen.”

The group handed a letter to one of the president’s aides, and when Obama came to greet them and others in the front row afterward, the students told the president that they hoped he would read it. According to Tobia, he responded, “OK.”

Obama acknowledged in his speech the openly gay members of his administration “who are doing outstanding work every day,” including John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management; Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank; and Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He reserved a special shout-out in his speech for Marjorie Hill, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which is based in New York City.

“GMHC has saved so many lives, and this year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary,” said the president. “So I want to give them and all these organizations who work to prevent and treat HIV a big round of applause.  Give it up for Marjorie and everybody else.”

Others spotted in the crowd included Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC; New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn and her spouse, Kim Catullo; Pennsylvania House of Representatives candidate Brian Sims; journalist Jonathan Capehart; and Freedom to Marry founder and executive director Evan Wolson.

The president concluded his remarks, which lasted about 10 minutes, with a pledge to continue working for more milestones.

“So we still have a long way to go, but we will get there,” he said. “We'll get there because of all of you. We’ll get there because of all of the ordinary Americans who every day show extraordinary courage. We’ll get there because of every man and woman and activist and ally who is moving us forward by the force of their moral arguments, but more importantly, by the force of their example.

“And as long as I have the privilege of being your president, I promise you, you won't just have a friend in the White House, you will have a fellow advocate for an America where no matter what you look like or where you come from or who you love, you can dream big dreams and dream as openly as you want.”

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