LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
Before going out to dinner with the First Lady to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary, President Barack Obama dropped by the Human Rights Campaign’s annual national dinner to vow that he will “keep up the fight” to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and to stop bullying against LGBT youth.
Obama’s 17-minute speech on Saturday evening in Washington was greeted by the standing-room-only crowd of about 3,000 with frequent applause and standing ovations — none bigger than when he reminded the audience that his administration helped repeal the federal law banning openly gay people from the military. Another 1,500 appeared to be viewing HRC’s live webstream of the speech.
He identified six things in all that his administration has accomplished for the LGBT community — repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” passing expanded hate crimes legislation, instituting a policy requiring hospitals receiving federal support allow visitation by same-sex partners, lifting the ban on travel by people with HIV to this country, adopting the “first comprehensive national strategy to fight HIV,” and “no longer defending DOMA in the courts.”
“I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all,” said the president. “It should join ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the history books.”
He promised to do several more things, with the community’s help, including to support a bill in Congress to repeal DOMA, as well as “an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill,” to help young people who are being bullied, and to ensure that Congress does not “turn the clock back” on DADT repeal.
Without being specific, the president gave high praise for the Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, who will leave his position in March.
“What he has accomplished at the helm of this organization has been remarkable,” said President Obama.
Solmonese delivered what will almost certainly be his last speech before a national LGBT audience Saturday night. And both he and President Obama termed the movement’s responsibility now as “standing by” the administration in its fight to repair the economy by helping pass his American Jobs Act, and only a subtle hint at the help with re-election.
President Obama said he would “continue to fight alongside you — and I don’t just mean in your role, by the way, as advocates for equality.”
“You’re also moms and dads who care about the schools your children go to. You’re also students figuring out how to pay for college. You’re also folks who are worried about the economy and whether or not your partner or husband or wife will be able to find a job. And you’re Americans who want this country to succeed and prosper, and who are tired of the gridlock and the vicious partisanship, and are sick of the Washington games. Those are your fights, too, HRC.”
Without naming them as his potential Republican rivals in the 2012 presidential race, Obama chastised “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.”
That was a reference to an incident during the nationally televised debate on Fox News September 22, when several audience members loudly booed after an active duty soldier in Iraq identified himself as gay and — via YouTube — asked whether the candidates would defend the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“We don’t believe in that,” said Obama. “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.”
© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.