President Barack Obama said the nation has reached a turning point on LGBT equality during a reception for Pride month at the White House Thursday, though he also insisted that the work is not yet done.
“We’ve become not just more accepting; we’ve become more loving, as a country, and as a people,” Obama said during 12 minutes of remarks to about 100 people in the East Room of the White House. “Hearts and minds change with time. Laws do, too. Change like that isn’t something that starts here in Washington, but it’s something that has the power that Washington has a great deal of difficulty resisting over time.”
Listing a long list of accomplishments for his administration, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passage of expanded hate-crime protections and lifting the country’s HIV entry ban, Obama reiterated his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
“In 34 states, you can be fired just because of who you are or who you love. That’s wrong. We’ve got to change it,” Obama said of ENDA, adding, “I want to sign that bill. We need to get it done now. And I think we can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”
Although ENDA is expected to finally receive a vote in the Senate for the first time in 17 years, Obama laid out no specifics on how ENDA might pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. He also avoided mentioning his position on an executive order long called for by advocates that would prohibit federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
For more than a year activists have pushed Obama to sign such an executive order, which he promised to do as a candidate for president in 2008, arguing the president could end at least some discrimination today. However, the White House has maintained that they consider the issues mutually exclusive and that they believe passage of ENDA is the correct strategy. Earlier this month, first lady Michelle Obama was interrupted at a private fundraiser by a woman associated with GetEqual protesting the president’s position on the executive order.
White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the White House’s position to reporters a few hours before the reception, stating, “[W]e have said that we are supporting a legislative effort, the so-called ENDA legislation. And that’s the approach that we’ve taken. So I would not expect any executive order to be signed at the reception.”
At Thursday’s reception, Obama said there will continue to be setbacks, but, “Eventually, America gets it right.”
“The genius of America is that America can change. And people who love this country can change it. That’s what we’re called to do,” he said. “And I hope that when we gather here next year, and the year after that, we’ll be able to say, with pride and confidence, that together we’ve made our fellow citizens a little more free. We’ve made this country a little more equal. We’ve made our world a little more full of love.”
THE PRESIDENT: All right, I will not beat that act. (Laughter.) We could not be prouder of Zea and Luna for the introduction. And welcome, all of you, to the White House for Pride Month. (Applause.)
Zea and Luna are here with their moms, and also I think with Grandma and Grandpa — correct? And so feel free to congratulate them afterwards for their outstanding introduction.
There are a few other folks who don’t have the same star wattage that I want to acknowledge — first of all, my Vice President, Joe Biden. (Applause.) We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress here, including a record number from the Congressional Equality Caucus. (Applause.) Eric Fanning, the Under Secretary of the Air Force, is here. (Applause.) Major General Patricia Rose and her wife, Retired Lieutenant Julie Roth, are here. (Applause.) We’ve got Fred Hochberg and Elaine Kaplan, two outstanding members of my team, who are here. (Applause.) And John Berry is here — John is a former member of my team. You may not recognize him because he looks so well rested now that he’s left the administration. (Laughter.)
And even though she couldn’t be here today, because she’s getting ready to finally take her seat on the bench and get to work, I want to congratulate Nitza Quinones Alejandro, who, just a few hours ago, was confirmed by the Senate, making her the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge in our country’s history. (Applause.)
And what I’m especially excited about, in addition to Zea and Luna, we’ve got citizens from all across the country who wrote me letters over the last several years. And in a letter from Kathleen, a young woman from Massachusetts, I saw someone who had experienced too much discrimination and hatred at such a young age, at the age of 24. But I also read about someone who dreams of becoming a doctor so that she can help others, and who is determined to make a difference because, as she put it, she is “hopeful of a world filled with love.”
Love is what I saw in Valerie and Diane’s letter from North Dakota, who’ve been together for 37 years. Their son, Madison, is here, 14. They told me that when Madison was little — he’s not little now, by the way. (Laughter.) He used to say that someday, he was going to become president and make it legal for his moms to get married. And now, they added, “I don’t think we’re going to have to wait that long.” (Applause.)
Madison, I agree with you that it’s time. I agree that you should run for president. (Laughter.) And I agree that we’re not going to have to wait that long — because from Minnesota to Maryland, from the United States Senate to the NBA, it’s clear we’re reaching a turning point. (Applause.) We’ve become not just more accepting; we’ve become more loving, as a country, and as a people. Hearts and minds change with time. Laws do, too. Change like that isn’t something that starts here in Washington, but it’s something that has the power that Washington has a great deal of difficulty resisting over time.
It’s something that comes from the courage of those who stood up, and sat in, and came out. It’s something that comes from the compassion of family and friends and coworkers and teammates who show their love and support. (Baby cries.) Yes, it’s true. (Laughter.)
And it’s something that can be traced back to our Declaration of Independence — the fundamental principle that all of us are created equal. And as I said in my Inaugural Address, if we truly are created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. (Applause.)
That’s the principle that’s guided my administration over the past four and a half years. We passed a hate crimes bill in Matthew Shepard’s name. (Applause.) We lifted the HIV entry ban, released the first national HIV/AIDS strategy. We strengthened the Violence Against Women Act to protect LGBT victims. (Applause.) We told hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid that they have to treat LGBT patients just like everybody else. (Applause.) Starting next year, the Affordable Care Act will ban insurance companies from denying someone from coverage just for being LGBT. We put in place new policies that treat transgender Americans with dignity and respect. (Applause.) And because no one should have to hide who they love to serve the country that they love, we ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” once and for all. (Applause.)
But part of the reason we’re here is because we know we’re not done yet. When Zea and Luna wrote me last December, they told me they would have voted for me if they could have — thanks, guys. (Laughter.) They also laid out quite an agenda. I hope Congress is listening to them.
But I want them and all of you to know that I’m not giving up the fight to keep our kids safe from gun violence. (Applause.) I’m not giving up the fight for smarter and better schools. I’ll continue to support marriage equality and states’ attempts to legalize it, including in my home state of Illinois. We’re not giving up on that. (Applause.)
And as we saw earlier this year with the gun safety debate, sometimes this stuff takes time, and it’s frustrating. You take two steps forward and sometimes there’s a step back. But I deeply believe in something that Martin Luther King, Jr. said often, and that is that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Eventually, America gets it right.
That doesn’t mean we can be patient. We know from our own history that change happens because people push to make it happen. We’ve got to do the hard work of educating others, showing empathy to others, changing hearts and minds. And when we do that, then change occurs. It doesn’t come always as quickly as we like, but progress comes.
We’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got to make access to health care more available and affordable for folks living with HIV. We’ve got to implement the protections in the Affordable Care Act. We’ve got to keep making our classrooms and our neighborhoods safe for all of our young people.
And I agree with Susan, a PFLAG mom from Ohio — we’ve got to end LGBT discrimination in the places where we work. Susan wrote me and said, “If I have a concern it is that there are so many LGBT men and women who contribute to the wealth and growth of our nation … but they still are not protected from harassment in the workplace.”
And I share that concern. In 34 states, you can be fired just because of who you are or who you love. That’s wrong. We’ve got to change it. There’s a bipartisan bill moving forward in the Senate that would ban discrimination against all LGBT Americans in the workplace, now and forever. We need to get that passed. (Applause.) I want to sign that bill. We need to get it done now. (Applause.)
And I think we can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen. Look around. We’ve got gay and lesbian soldiers, and sailors, and airmen, and Marines who are here today. We’ve got married couples from places like New York and Washington State. (Applause.) You’ve got a couple of guys here on stage who I don’t think anybody in their high schools thought would be the President and the Vice President of the United States. (Laughter.) So don’t tell me that things can’t happen when we put our minds to them. (Laughter.)
The genius of America is that America can change. And people who love this country can change it. That’s what we’re called to do. And I hope that when we gather here next year, and the year after that, we’ll be able to say, with pride and confidence, that together we’ve made our fellow citizens a little more free. We’ve made this country a little more equal. We’ve made our world a little more full of love.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.) Enjoy the party. (Applause.)