Joe Biden at HRC’s National Dinner | Photo: Ward Morrison
As he strode onstage to swelling music, thunderous applause and cheers and whoops from the audience, Vice President Joe Biden was a rockstar — at least for the night.
The keynote speaker for last Saturday’s 19th annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, Biden received a hero’s welcome after an effusive introduction by the organization’s President Chad Griffin. “This man is not afraid to speak his mind, and he has never shied away from speaking up for us,” Griffin told the crowd, praising the vice president’s embrace of the LGBT community, even when it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.
In many people’s minds, Biden’s legacy on LGBT rights will always be tied to his 2012 Meet the Press interview, when he told host David Gregory he was “absolutely comfortable” with the concept of treating same-sex and opposite-sex marriages equally. A favorite among Democratic-leaning activists due to his propensity for unscripted, blunt political assessments, Biden’s appeal has charmed many in the LGBT community who see him as an authentic ally.
Several activists called out as the Vice President reached the podium, urging him to step into the 2016 race for the White House.
“You should run!” someone shouted.
“Don’t say that,” Biden responded, as the room erupted with cheers. Biden’s hypothetical candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination has been hyped by some in the media, amid polling that suggests party frontrunner Hillary Clinton had sustained injuries to her reputation and trustworthiness.
But on Saturday night, Biden downplayed his role in the equality fight. Rather, the vice president said, the credit must be given to those at the grassroots level who risked their jobs, livelihoods and, at times, their physical well-being in demanding their constitutional rights.
“I’ve been thanked for speaking, apparently out of turn, on Meet the Press,” he said. “But the speed which things have changed since 2012 to today…is not because of any national figure that spoken out. Not because of any of the celebrities that you’ll have stand before you tonight…. It’s because of all of you, and thousands of faceless people like you, who have had the courage to stand up and speak, speak their hearts and minds.”
Biden credited the LGBT community with not only liberating themselves by demanding equality, but their straight allies who may have been too afraid to speak up in defense of LGBT rights.
“The very fact that we recognize that love is not a political matter, it’s a basic human right, is because of you,” he said. “I want to pay tribute to the women and men who’ve taken great risk, and had the courage to change things. To change the world in which my grandchildren will grow up, all for the better. We owe them, we owe you.”
Biden dismissed what he called the “shrill voices” that continue to fight any progress on LGBT rights, saying they are in the minority and will ultimately not be successful in their cause. He urged those in attendance to take fate into their own hands and shape their destiny. He also noted the majority of the country is much more progressive on LGBT rights than most might assume.
Biden at HRC’s Dinner | Photo: Ward Morrison
“The American people are so much better than their leaders give them credit for,” he said. “The American people are already with you. Look at the numbers.” He then took a dig at the GOP. “There’s homophobes still left. Most of them are running for president.”
Biden believes the key to harnessing the widespread support for LGBT equality is to first educate people about the discrimination that the community still faces. Most people wrongly believe that the nation’s civil rights laws already protect LGBT people, resulting in the current impasse.
To better educate the public, Biden suggested that wealthy LGBT donors invest money into advertising campaigns designed to inform people of the discrimination that LGBT individuals can face in 31 states — and why the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination, is necessary.
“The first part of change is information,” Biden said. “Calling on the people of each of these states to demand change that they think has already happened is not going to be as hard as you think.”
John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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