Saturday, October 01, 2011

At Human Rights Campaign Dinner, Obama Celebrates The End Of DADT, Vows To Do More

The fiercest advocate: President blasts GOP for homophobia; speaks out against bullying; says it's time to end Defense of Marriage Act "once and for all"...
President Obama painted a picture of an inspiring and expansive, all-inclusive America as he addressed the 15th annual Human Rights Campaign national dinner in Washington, DC, on Saturday evening, receiving a standing ovation for his speech to a crowd of more than 3,000 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. HRC is the largest LGBT rights organization in the US, and the President told the crowd that "the story of the gay rights movement is the story of America." (Above, the President during his remarks)

"Every single American -- gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society," President Obama said. "We believe in an equal America that values the service of every patriot."

The President signed the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law earlier this year, and it officially ended on Sept. 20. At a Republican candidates' debate on Sept. 22, the line of presidential hopefuls stood mute when audience members jeered an openly gay soldier who asked a question via video conference. Without naming names, the President sharply rebuked the GOP.

"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," President Obama said.

"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."

He opened with a joke about his meeting last week with pop star Lady Gaga, who paid to be a guest at a campaign fundraiser in Silicon Valley.

"I held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga," President Obama said, to laughter. "She was wearing 16-inch heels. She was eight feet tall. It was a little intimidating."

But Gaga had said publicly that she wanted to meet with the President to discuss bullying, after 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, New York, committed suicide after being bullied about his sexuality. The President pointed out that his Administration has held an anti-bullying summit, and vowed to continue the focus.

"We also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re gay or transgender -- who may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different," President Obama said.

As he has done before, the President pledged to continue working to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act; a bill for this is currently sitting before Congress.

"My administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts," President Obama said. "I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all. It should join “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the history books."

The President, of course, had to mention his American Jobs Act, which he now discusses at every outing. It will offer LGBT citizens opportunities for jobs, he said, as well as provide legal protection for them. The President closed by urging HRC to work with him--but did not mention bedroom slippers. Change will happen, he said. The "fabric" of America is changing slowly and inexorably.

"It happens when a soldier tells his unit that he’s gay, and they tell him they knew it all along and they didn’t care, because he was the toughest guy in the unit," President Obama said.

"I am hopeful -- I am still hopeful, because of a deeper shift that we’re seeing; a transformation not only written into our laws, but woven into the fabric of our society."



The transcript of the President's remarks is here. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand to receive a special award, and Cyndi Lauper performed. Sarah Jessica Parker was among the celebrities in attendance.

The President did not stay to dine at the event, however; instead he returned to the White House to pick up First Lady Obama. They traveled by motorcade to Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia for a late dinner to mark their 19th wedding anniversary on Monday, Oct. 3. (Above: With HRC president Joe Solmonese, who introduced the President)

The President also keynoted the HRC gala in 2009, where Lady Gaga happened to be the featured performer. (Above: Shaking hands in the crowd after his remarks)

*Top photo by Samantha Appleton/White House; others by AP