The gay rights movement got a shout-out today in President Obama’s speech in Selma, Ala., commemorating the civil rights protest march on the city’s Edmund Pettus Bridge that saw demonstrators brutalized by police but ultimately contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On the 50th anniversary of the march, Obama honored the protesters by saying, “Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.”
He further noted, “We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the ’50s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was 30 years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.”
Linking all “warriors of justice,” he invoked immigrants, slaves, and more who worked to change the U.S., he commented, “We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.”
Obama also discussed the killings of unarmed black males by police in New York City, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Mo. He noted that this week’s Justice Department report on the existence of racial bias in Ferguson is a reminder that racism has not been banished, “but I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it's no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the civil rights movement, it most surely was.”
He called for further work to eradicate racism and to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, some provisions of which were struck down in a 2013 Supreme Court decision. After his speech, Obama made a symbolic crossing of the bridge with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former President George W. Bush, and other political officials.
Read a full transcript of the president’s speech here and watch the video of the today’s ceremony below; it includes remarks by Lewis, who was one of the original marchers, and several others. Obama’s speech begins at about the two-hour, 13-minute mark.