WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hosted his fourth LGBT Pride Month Reception at the White House on Friday, marking the occasion with a speech that received the loudest applause for its mentions of “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and his administration’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act.
An estimated 500 leaders, students, politicians, and a few celebrities packed the East Room in the afternoon to mingle and hear remarks from the president. A military band played, guests enjoyed champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and Obama entered around 5:15 p.m. to sustained cheers and proceeded to outline his administration’s major accomplishments for the LGBT community.
The invitation-only crowd, which included a sizable contingent of service members in uniform for the first time, erupted into applause when the president said that “last year we finally put an end to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ so that nobody would ever have to ever again hide who they love in order to serve the country they love.”
“I'm happy to see you with your partners here,” said Obama to the service members. “We thank you for your service. We thank your families for their service, and we share your joy at being able to come with your spouses or partners here to the White House with your commander in chief.”
The president mentioned the Matthew Shepard Act, hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners, and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. He also cited the lifting of the HIV entry ban that will allow the International AIDS Conference to be held in the United States for the first time next month in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve supported efforts in Congress to end the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” he said to increasing applause. “And as we wait for that law to be cast aside, we’ve stopped defending its constitutionality in the courts.”
The event also marked the first such reception where the president has been on the record as a supporter of marriage equality. He seemed to make a joke about his long “evolution” in the remarks.
“And Americans may be still evolving when it comes to marriage equality,” he said, “but as I've indicated personally, Michelle and I have made up our minds on this issue.”
Obama announced his support for marriage equality in May. Last year, activist Dan Savage attended the reception and garnered headlines with a button that said, “Evolve Already.”
“It’s less awkward than last year, let’s put it that way,” said one person who attended the reception Friday.
The president acknowledged the prodding that has made the progress he listed possible.
“Now, I’ve said before that 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 women to be patient a century ago, or African-Americans to be patient a half century ago,” he said. “After decades of inaction and indifference, you have every reason and right to push, loudly and forcefully, for equality.”
“But three years ago, I also promised you this: I said that even if it took more time than we would like, we would see progress, we would see success, we would see real and lasting change,” he said. “And together, that’s what we’re witnessing.”
Looking forward, Obama said that work remained to “raise awareness about bullying” and to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. A Senate committee held the first hearing in nearly three years on the bill last Tuesday, but no vote is guaranteed.