Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama is scheduled to speak to the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, DC; here is what I wish he would say

Saturday evening, October 10, the largest GLBT advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, holds its annual black tie see and be seen dinner in Washington, DC. President Obama is scheduled to speak to those in attendance while a peaceful demonstration occurs outside. This time, however, the HRC is not the target of the protest. Rather, it is the Obama Administration’s lack of progress on improving gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the US.

As the Huffington Post excellently documents this week, this speech is being widely billed as “Obama’s big gay speech.” Many groups and individuals will be watching it closely to see just what he does say. Several Huffington Post bloggers have posted brief suggestions of what they would like the President to say. All of them contain very excellent suggestions. However, as near as I can tell, none of them are making suggestions from the perspective of one who is a member of the GLBT community.

In this blog, I join this chorus of “armchair speech writers” for the President. Here I write from the perspective of what I likely would write if I were fortunate enough to be one of the President’s speech writers. In light of Friday’s stunning announcement that President Obama is the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, these hypothetical remarks have been revised to reflect that status change (from President to President AND Nobel Laureate).

I wish to be a bit blunt tonight. There is no denying it: economically and socially the United States is in bad shape. The two cannot be separated. Sustainable economic recovery will occur only after significant improvement occurs in this country’s social conditions. As long as one group of American citizens cannot enjoy true freedom because of prejudice, then all Americans are victims of the same prejudicial attitudes and laws.

What improvement am I talking about? For openers, America’s churches and religious groups need to return to their New Testament roots. They need to return to focusing on their congregations spiritual needs to the exclusion of political activism. America’s employers, and corporations in particular, need to recognize the critical importance of the family to community life by abandoning the idea that an employee’s job is more important than her family or her God.

But the traditional definition of family needs to be brought into the 21st century. Two key changes are urgently needed. First, the traditional definition of a family needs to change to make it socially acceptable for couples to remain childless. Second, the definition of a family must expand to include two men or two women who choose to live together as a couple. Regardless of what extremist groups are saying, gay civil unions and marriages do not threaten the institution of marriage in any way.

In accord with these views, next week I will sign three Executive Orders. The first will suspend the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, pending its complete repeal by Congress before I give my 2010 State of The Union Address next year. The second will eliminate the military’s “Don’s Ask, Don’t Tell” policy thereby opening up military service as an option for all American citizens. The third will immediately extend full benefits to the domestic partners of Federal employees.

At the same time, beginning next week I will begin pushing Congress to finally pass two long overdue pieces of legislation. The first is the Matthew Shephard Act, also known as the Federal hate crimes law. The second is ENDA, or the Employment Nondiscrimination Act that outlaws employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This fall health care reform is very much in the news. Clearly, given the number of competing bills introduced in both houses of Congress, compromises will be needed to produce the final bill to emerge from Congress. I will not sign any health care reform bill that lacks a viable public option the states cannot opt out of, nor will I sign any bill that delays full implementation of its provisions beyond June 30, 2010. At the same time, I call on Congress to include provisions barring insurance carriers from denying benefits to any policy holder based on pre-existing conditions, sexual orientation or gender identity.

With these bills I have mentioned, much work remains to be done to secure their passage. As President, I can only do so much. The rest is up to you. Success never occurs in a vacuum. There is a lot of truth in the acronym formed from the word TEAM. It is true: together everyone achieves more. With the combined and coordinated talents at grassroots organizing represented by the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups, we will achieve significant, lasting change that benefits everyone.

In conclusion, prejudice is like a cancer that eats away at the social fabric of any nation. This is why Jimmy Valvano’s immortal plea in his final public appearance echoes through my thoughts tonight. Indeed, it is the plea I have for those who favor freedom and civil dialogue over extremist rants: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

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