President Obama on Thursday touted his administration’s efforts to expand rights to LGBT Americans during his final White House Pride reception.
“There’s a lot to be proud of today,” he said.
Obama noted in his speech the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act that he signed in 2009 added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law. The repeal of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented gay servicemembers from serving openly in the military took effect in 2011.
“Today we live in an America where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ don’t exist no more,” said Obama.
Obama pointed out that hospital visiting hours “no longer depend on who you are” and insurance companies “can no longer treat somebody differently simply because of who you love.”
He described Edith Windsor — the New York widow who successfully challenged the Defense of Marriage Act — and James Obergefell — the lead plaintiff in the case that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country last June — as “heroes.”
“We now live in America where all of our marriages and our families are recognized as equal under the law,” said Obama.
Obama described the decision to illuminate the White House in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, in celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Obergefell case as “one of the most special moments of” his presidency.
“It was a powerful symbol here at home where more Americans felt more accepted and whole and our country recognized the love that they felt,” said Obama. “It was a beacon for people around the world who are still fighting for those rights.”
Obama acknowledged by name Obergefell and gay Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, who both attended the reception.
“Some folks never imagined we’d come this far, maybe even some in this room,” said Obama. “Change can be slow.”
‘We have more work to do’
Obama acknowledged that two-thirds of new HIV cases in the U.S. are among gay and bisexual men.
He did not specifically discuss North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that bans transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity and prohibits municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures. The president did note, however, that people throughout the country still face the prospect of losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
“We have more work to do,” he said.
Obama highlighted anti-trans violence in his speech. He also spoke about the “incredible isolation and poverty and persecution and violence and even death” that people around the world face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We have to work to make sure that every single child, no matter who they are or where they come from or what they look like, how they live feels welcomed and valued and love,” said Obama.
Obama ‘has been a transformative president’
U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBT Advisor Todd Larson, gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, Deputy D.C. Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney R. Snowden, Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and trans actress Laverne Cox were among the hundreds of people who attended the reception that took place in the White House’s East Room hours after Obama endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president.
“It’s beautiful to celebrate our pride with the president of the United States,” Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado told the Washington Blade after she attended the reception. “It’s amazing to be in a room with so many LGBTQ heroes who everyday are fighting intolerance, doing amazing work and living their authentic lives openly.”
Gay New York City Councilman Corey Johnson echoed Corado before Obama spoke.
“He has been a transformative president for our country and for the entire country and world,” Johnson told the Blade.
Johnson — who described presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as “Don the Con” — noted homelessness among LGBT youth and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity are among the problems that LGBT Americans continue to face. OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn noted to the Blade before Obama spoke that trans people are still unable to serve openly in the military.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Thorn, while praising the Obama administration’s efforts to expand rights to LGBT Americans over the last eight years.
“As the president said tonight to the LGBTQ audience, we must do more,” she told the Blade. “I would love to see us doing more for homeless youth, LGBTQ immigrants in detention, transgender, gender non-conforming people who today are facing the worst intolerance ever.”