Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, and others drove home the importance of the 2020 election in remarks at HRC’s Unite for Equality Live event Thursday night — and David shared advice he got from Ruth Bader Ginsburg on how crucial voting is.
The online, livestreamed event took the place of HRC’s annual national dinner due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But speakers made the point that despite the pandemic, it’s no time to let up on activism, especially with the need to vote Donald Trump out of office and to flip the U.S. Senate to Democratic control.
“America’s at an inflection point,” Biden said. “This election is going to determine our future for a very long time. We’re facing multiple crises — pandemic, recession, racial injustice, climate change, wildfires, an assault on LGBTQ rights, declining faith in a bright American future.”
The common thread in all of this, he continued, is “a president who makes things worse, not better, who brings chaos, not order, who sees violence and only fans the flames.”
“The White House should never be a source of opposition or fear or oppression,” Biden added. “It should be a source of hope and moral courage and unification.” He promised that when he is elected, “Together, we’ll pass the Equality Act, protect LGBTQ youth, expand access to health care, support LGBTQ workers, win full rights for the transgender community.”
David opened his comments by saying he recently asked a person he admired, “Assume you are me. Running the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the world. What would be your number one priority?” The answer he received was “Alphonso, do everything you can to protect and ensure the right to vote. It is the most important thing.” The speaker, he said, was Ginsburg, the venerated liberal Supreme Court justice who died last Friday.
“As this nation is mourning her passing, I have found myself reflecting on her advice to me — again and again,” David said. “She understood that the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. It is the right that unlocks all others — that allows all voices to be heard, regardless of the color of our skin, our sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political affiliation.”
There were many who shared Ginsburg’s view, he said, including the late Congressman John Lewis, a champion of voting rights and civil rights in general. Speaking at an HRC event in 2016, David recalled, Lewis said, “The vote is precious, almost sacred. ... We need to run, not walk to the polls. Our lives depend on it.”
David acknowledged that it’s easy to feel tired and discouraged right now. There is not only the pandemic but the ongoing racial injustice, as demonstrated again this week when neither of the Louisville, Ky., police officers who shot Black woman Breonna Taylor during a raid on her apartment was charged in her death.
But it is still time to act, especially given that “anti-equality forces are trying to stack the Supreme Court,” with Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate seeking to hastily replace Justice Ginsburg with just six weeks to go until the election, while taking no major action to address the pandemic or systemic racism, David said. “There is no legitimacy to government when the will or needs of the people are ignored,” he added. He closed by pushing everyone in the audience to vote.
Other speakers included Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and endorsed Biden when he ended his own bid, along with his husband, Chasten. Pete Buttigieg noted that the year has been a difficult one for many people, but added, “The story of 2020 is not yet complete, and now we get to decide how it ends. I truly believe that if we do everything we can over these next few weeks to deliver new leadership in November, this year will actually be remembered as a turning point, as the beginning of a new and much better chapter in American life.”
Another speaker was award-winning actress Annette Bening, the mother of a transgender son. She said she had learned a great deal by listening to him, and she advised her audience, “We as a society need to listen to the trans community and let them teach us about what discrimination feels like, what it’s like to be harassed in school, not have health care. ... And we especially need to listen to trans women of color.”
The rest of the lineup included Reggie Greer, LGBTQ+ engagement director for the Biden-Kamala Harris campaign; Virginia Del. Danica Roem, the first out transgender person to serve in a state legislature; Sarah McBride, who is running for state Senate in Delaware and would be the nation’s first trans state senator; Olympic figure skater and activist Adam Rippon; writer-producer Greg Berlanti and his husband, former soccer star Robbie Rogers; and many other figures from the entertainment industry — Dominique Jackson, Yeardley Smith, Melissa Etheridge, Nicole Maines, Tituss Burgess, Naomi Campbell, Lee Daniels, Justice Smith, and Cherry Jones.
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