President Barack Obama on Saturday evening delivered the keynote address to a gathering of more than 3,000 LGBT rights advocates at the Human Rights Campaign‘s 15th Annual HRC National Dinner, and called for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and issued a sharp rebuke to GOP presidential hopefuls for not supporting gay troops.
“I need your help to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill, so that being gay is never again a fireable offensive in America,” the President stated.
“And I don’t have to tell you, there are those who don’t want to just stand in our way, but want to turn the clock back, who want to return to the days when gay people couldn’t serve their country openly. Who reject the progress we’ve made. Who … want to enshrine discrimination in state laws and constitutions — efforts that we’ve got to work hard to oppose, because that’s not what America should be about. We’re not about restricting rights and restricting opportunity.”
As he spoke before the enthusiastic crowd at the Washington Convention Center, the President received multiple standing ovations as he listed the accomplishments of his administration in the past two years.
“We’ve got more work ahead of us. But we can also be proud of the progress we’ve made these past two and a half years. Think about it,” he said, referring to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples, and enactment of the Matthew Shepard-James Bryd hate crimes legislation protecting LGBT individuals.
Watch the full remarks from HRC President Joe Solmonese and President Obama below:
Obama also mentioned the White House summit combating the pandemic of youth bullying, telling the audience that it was a high priority his administration would continue to press.
“Together, we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re transgender,” the President said.
“They may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different. We’ve got to make sure they know there are adults they can talk to, that they are never alone, that there is a whole world waiting for them, filled with possibility. … And I want all those kids to know the president and the first lady is standing right by them every inch of the way. I want them to know we love them and care about them, and they’re not by themselves.”
The most vocal reaction of the night from attendees came when the President took the GOP presidential candidates to task for staying silent when audience members at last week’s debate booed a gay soldier serving in Iraq who had asked a question about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that,” said Obama to loud cheers and a standing ovation.
“We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be Commander in Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.
We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big America — a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America — that values the service of every patriot.”
The President’s remarks regarding the GOP debate debacle seemed especially poignant as there was an entire table occupied with both active duty and retired service members in uniform. HRC Press Secretary Michael Cole-Schwartz noted that it was a first time for active duty members to attendas it was the first post DADT dinner.
Tonight’s dinner was the last dinner for Solmonese, who has led the organization since 2005 and recently announced he would be stepping down next March when his contract expires. Solmonese had been effusive in his opening remarks introducing the president, saying:
“No president has done more to improve the lives of LGBT people than President Obama. No longer will gay and lesbian couples be kept apart when we are at our most vulnerable, at the hospital, thanks to President Obama. He kept his word, and he ushered in the end of DADT while others promised to reopen the wounds of that discriminatory policy. And unlike those who want to keep same-sex couples as strangers under federal law, our president has called the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and indefensible.”
Other celebrities of note in the audience included openly gay member of Congress, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), candidate for an open Senate seat in Wisconsin, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, singer Cyndi Lauper, and actors Jesse Ferguson and Sarah Jessica Parker.