By Allida Black
Originally published on Advocate.com August 14 2014 5:00 AM ET
I was holding hands with Judy, about to walk into the White House, where we had been invited to an event as a couple — a lesbian couple — by the first lady of the United States. It was 1993.
You see, back then, even the general notion of homosexuality was still completely foreign to a lot of people — including my sweet parents, who like a lot of people hadn’t accepted us yet for who we were. For my mother in particular, having the first lady accept Judy and me made it easier to eventually do so herself.
As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and there was no bolder action at the time than for the first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, to recognize me and my partner as a couple and welcome us into the White House. And Hillary’s actions over the next three decades would further establish her as one of the country’s most visible and heartfelt supporters of the LGBT community.
In the Senate, Hillary fought to expand gay rights and protect us from abuse and discrimination. She advocated for lifting the restrictions that block gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, a position that remains controversial today among many right-wing politicians, who for reasons I’ll probably never understand still don’t think we are capable of providing children a loving home. She repeatedly cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and she cosponsored the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include LGBT individuals in federal hate crimes statutes.
When Hillary became Secretary of State, she took her fight for gay rights across the globe. She made history as the first secretary of state to make promoting LGBT rights part of official U.S. government policy. She took groundbreaking steps to work with foreign leaders to change policies criminalizing homosexuality and to protect international LGBT groups combatting such laws.
Within her first few months as Secretary of State, Hillary profoundly expanded the rights of the State Department’s LGBT employees by changing policies that denied same-sex diplomatic spouses the same rights and benefits as all other spouses. This had huge repercussions for employees working overseas. Before Hillary’s action, for example, diplomats working in a country that had become too dangerous would be evacuated, while their partner or spouse — if of the same sex — could be left behind to fend for themselves.
Hillary announced the State Department’s new policy offering equal benefits and protections to LGBT diplomatic spouses in a memo in which she wrote, “Like all families, our Foreign Service families come in different configurations; all are part of the common fabric of our post communities abroad ... the department will provide these benefits for both opposite-sex and same-sex partners because it is the right thing to do.”
Doing something because it’s the right thing to do? We could use more of that in America.
While Hillary’s actions have always demonstrated her commitment to gay rights, her words have been powerful as well.
Hillary’s historic 1995 speech in Beijing, where she declared that “women’s rights are human rights,” marked a significant turn in the women’s rights movement. In 2011, at a speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s headquarters in Geneva, Hillary made history once again with the following words:
“Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
Gay rights are human rights.
This simple statement is the principle underlying Hillary Clinton’s actions on behalf of the LGBT community — past, present, and future. It was the impetus behind another powerful action, announcing her full support for gay marriage, using more of her powerful words:
“LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones…And they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage.”
Twenty years after Hillary welcomed us as a couple into the White House, Judy and I got married just a few minutes away at the National Mall. When we got home from our reception, we had a letter from Hillary congratulating us on our marriage. I’ll never forget the first few words written on her letter: “at long last.”
Hillary has always stood with me, Judy, and the entire LGBT community. And she always will.
ALLIDA BLACK, Ph.D., is the chair of Ready for Hillary and an Eleanor Roosevelt historian. She is a research professor of history and international affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.