March 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Biden: LGBT rights ‘same basic movement’ as civil rights struggle
Joe Biden, Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention, HRC, gay news, Washington Blade

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 6, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Joseph Biden said Friday the struggle for LGBT rights is “in fact the same basic movement” as the broader struggle for civil rights.

Days before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma marches in Alabama, Biden drew a comparison of those events to the 1969 Stonewall riots, which are considered the start of the modern LGBT rights movement. Biden said at the time of those demonstrations Christopher Street in New York City was “alive with the demand for dignity and respect.”

Talking about the civil rights struggles for black Americans 50 years ago, Biden recalled that Bayard Rustin, a gay man, taught civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., about the principles of non-violent resistance and help organize the March on Washington.

Biden said growing up he could never imagine he would be vice president for the first black person to become president, nor would he have been able to envision a world where state sodomy laws are struck down, gays could serve in the military, same-sex couples could marry in 37 states and attacks on someone because of their gender identity were a hate crime.

“It happened because of the courage of so many of you and so many who came before you,” Biden said.

Biden delivered the remarks at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual spring conference event for LGBT activists, an annual event that consists of training, workshops and a lobby day for volunteers seeking the advancement of LGBT rights. An estimated 500 activists in attendance gave the vice president a standing ovation upon his entrance on stage.

Much of Biden’s speech was similar to remarks he made before on LGBT rights, including his experiences as a youth, the newfound intolerance of the American people of bigotry toward LGBT people and his remarks in 2012 on “Meet the Press” considered to be his endorsement of marriage equality.”

“That made me really popular didn’t it?” Biden said.

After being introduced on stage by HRC President Chad Griffin, who said passage a federal comprehensive non-discrimination bill would be priority after the Supreme Court rules on marriage, Biden referenced the need for such a bill.

“We have to pass the federal non-discrimination legislation, and we have to pass it now,” Biden said.

Although President Obama has spoken numerous times in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Biden’s speech marks the first-time ever that a member of the Obama administration has spoken publicly about the need for a comprehensive LGBT bill.

Biden also referred to recent remarks from conservative commentator Ben Carson, who said prisons prove being gay is a choice because when people finish their sentence, they come out gay. Biden spoke broadly about such statements as a “ridiculous assertion.”

“You’re never going to be able to eliminate the bigots, they’re a small percentage of the population…but they are incredibly smaller and smaller minority,” Biden said at the beginning of his remarks.

At no time during his remarks did Biden explicitly mention the upcoming ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage or the friend-of-the-court brief the Justice Department is expected to file on the pending litigation.

For the remaining struggles, Biden said he was proud to “link arms” with the LGBT advocates in the audience to make sure they get done.

“Where there is a willingness to directly confront prejudice, bigotry, homophobia — there is the ability to succeed,” Biden said.

Although former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen as a strong frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 race for the White House, Biden has been making strides similar to potential Democratic presidential candidates. He’s reaching out to key Democratic constituencies, including the LGBT community, and has made trips in recent weeks to the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

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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