February 6, 2015 at 9:36 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Carey: LGBT activism has ‘obligation’ to work for ‘greater good’

Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said the LGBT movement has a "moral obligation" to expand. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said the LGBT movement has a “moral obligation” to expand. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amid a series of victories rapidly expanding marriage equality throughout the country, the head of the National LGBTQ Task Force said Friday the LGBT rights movement has the “moral obligation” to expand for the greater good of advancing society.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, made the remarks as part of her “State of the Movement” speech at the organization’s annual “Creating Change” conference, which this year took place in Denver.

“Now that we have had some success in some areas, we have a moral obligation to use our progress and any relative privilege we might have to drive broader change for LGBTQ people and their families and to do our part for a changed and just society,” Carey said. “We have momentum now and we can’t squander it, we can’t silence it, and we cannot deny our responsibility to use it for greater good.”

What the “greater good” entails is open to question, which is why Carey announced during her speech her organization will launch next month a grassroots digital and in-person campaign called “Our Tommorow” with the goal of engaging people “in a conversation about their hopes, fears and ideas to inform the future of the LGBTQ movement.”

Carey said the Task Force has “a few hundred” items in mind for the LGBT movement, but enumerated three broad areas in which to move forward: 1) Keeping racial, economic and gender justice at the forefront of LGBT activism; 2) Ending racial profiling, the use of condoms as evidence as a crime, and HIV criminalization; and 3) enshrining into law non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in areas like employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“I believe we need a new agenda for the next decade, for the future — a new agenda for all LGBTQ people and our families — that recognizes the breath and the depth of all we face,” Carey said. “And there is no one organization, there is no one person that can or should create that agenda. Rather it will be held by all of us and will require of all of us to envision it, to create it and to fulfill it.”

As part of her the “State of the Movement” address, Carey recounted the achievements for LGBT people over the past year, which includes greater bisexual and transgender visibility as well as executive action from President Obama for undocumented immigrants and to bar anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

But Carey offered her audience the opportunity to voice their own top achievement for 2014, which attendees shouted in a cacophony of responses. “Fabulous!” Carey replied in turn.

Carey took note of one action in particular from the Task Force in 2014, the withdrawal of support from the Senate-passed version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because of an carve-out that would have enabled religious-affiliated businesses to continue to discriminate against LGBT people. Carey recalled the Task Force changed its position on that version of ENDA after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

“We simply had come way too far to compromise on such a fundamental principal of fairness and federal equality in the workplace,” Carey said. “Instead we redoubled our work for what we really need—strong federal non-discrimination legislation without broad exemptions. I’m happy to report that our opposition, and that of other organizations, worked.”

Carey drew on ENDA’s religious exemption as an example of the kind of carve-out proposed in the myriad Religious Freedom Restoration Acts proposed in state legislatures throughout the country following the victories in favor of marriage equality in the courts, saying they must be stopped for the same reasons.

“This isn’t just about wedding cakes being denied to us,” Carey said. “This is about being fired from your job as a janitor or cafeteria worker at a Catholic hospital; or being denied basic emergency care as trans person because of the EMT’s religious beliefs; or being denied the ability to fill a prescription for birth control. Friends, we have worked too long and too hard to be treated differently than our friends and neighbors when it comes to basic protections like housing, employment, or receiving healthcare.”

But the emphasis of Carey’s speech was the theme for this year’s “Creating Change,” the importance of living in a world where a person can “Be You.”

“We must work hard to heal ourselves if we are to be whole, so we can bring the power of our voices and our bodies and our spirits to this fight for real freedom,” Carey said. “And with every change we make, with every law we pass, with every heart we open, we ease the pain of discrimination just a little bit, making it that much easier for someone else to step forward and join this work.”

Read Carey’s “State of the Movement” speech here.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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