Much like Hillary Clinton and President Obama, Tim Kaine underwent an evolution on LGBT rights, a journey he recalled Saturday night during the 20th annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee made his evolution on LGBT rights a cornerstone of his speech before the estimated 3,600 attendees at the event less than two months before Election Day.
For Kaine, the moment when he began his evolution was in the 1970s when he was student at the University of Missouri, Mizzou, and watched the reaction when a gay student group won a legal battle for recognition on campus.
“I wish I could say that the Mizzou students welcomed them and cheered for them in support of them, but I can’t,” Kaine said. “No. Rowdy students, many of them drunk, lie in the street and threw rocks and bottles at these peaceful marchers who had obtained the right to do what student groups do. That was a moment of consciousness-raising for me.”
Kaine said he was “changed by” the event and became “even more convinced” to take public stances, which led him to become a civil rights lawyer and an elected official.
Despite the insight he said he received at the time, Kaine said as a result of his Catholic faith, he had a “difficult time” with the idea of same-sex marriage, but that started to change when an anti-gay marriage initiative was on the ballot in Virginia.
“When I heard the proponents describe their motivation, it became a lot clearer to me where I should stand on this question,” Kaine said. “So I was proud then as governor in 2006 to fight alongside many of the people in this room against the ballot initiative.”
Kaine recalled standing with his wife and her parents on the steps of the governor’s mansion and telling a crowd, “We have about 70 years of combined marriage here, and we’re here to tell you that our marriages are not threatened by gay marriage.” As Kaine recalled, the amendment ultimately passed by 57 percent, which he said was on a “narrow” basis.
“It was a dark day for our state, but the people that I met in that fight, all the great people standing up for our families and my own family, my three children, my three children helped me see the issue of marriage equality for it was really about: Treating every family equally under the law,” Kaine said.
Upon his designation as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kaine’s evolution on LGBT rights emerged in media reports. When running to become Virginia governor in 2006, Kaine said he didn’t support adoption by gay couples, but reversed his position by 2011. Like Clinton, Kaine wasn’t undeniably in support of marriage equality until 2013.
Despite his evolution, Kaine recalled during his speech, his first act after becoming governor of Virginia in 2007 was signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against gay people employed by the state government. After signing a friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality, Kaine recalled “how happy” he was when the ruling came down in favor of nationwide marriage equality.
Kaine, who said he now has “full, complete, unconditional support” for marriage equality, said he knows his views are not in line with the Catholic Church’s views on marriage, but said the time will come when the institution will change its view.
“I think that’s going to change, too,” Kaine said. “And I think that’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis, who surveyed the entire world, including mankind, and said, ‘It is very good. It is very good.'”
Recalling the words of Pope Francis, who said “Who am I judge?” in response to a question about a gay priest, Kaine said he wants to add, “Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we’re supposed to celebrate it.”
Kaine delivered the remarks on the same day Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence spoke before a crowd of anti-LGBT advocates at the Values Voter Summit, which took place just a few miles from the Human Rights Campaign dinner in D.C.
After discussing his personal evolution, Kaine warned attendees at the dinner Donald Trump and his running mate, if elected, would roll back progress on LGBT rights.
“I’m going to encourage you to visit our opponent’s website, too,” Kaine said. “Go to Donald Trump’s position page. Search for an LGBTQ agenda, or maybe I can save you time, there isn’t one. There isn’t one. No mention.”
Kaine acknowledged “LGBTQ for Trump” T-shirts can be purchased on the website, but pointed out any commitment to LGBT rights is gone. Instead, Kaine said Trump would appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn same-sex marriage.
In comparison, Kaine said Clinton would continue to advance LGBT rights both at home and abroad, fight HIV criminalization laws and sign the Equality Act to “ensure that all the non-discrimination provisions in law, not one or the other, applies to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and protect LGBTQ.”
Pointing out LGBT people face oppression in Turkey in the aftermath of a failed coup there, Kaine said U.S. leadership on LGBT rights “matters worldwide.”
“LGBTQ activists in Turkey are under the thumb of some very, very oppressive policies, but, again, the work that you do, and the leadership shown in the United States keeps that candle of hope alive,” Kaine said.
In the wake of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., leaving 49 people dead and 53 wounded, Kaine recalled the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 when he was governor, which at the time was worst shooting in U.S. history. Although Kaine said he had “hoped it always would be” the worst shooting in history, that changed with Orlando.
“We got to acknowledge who was targeted in the attack: LGBTQ Americans with a special devastation of our Latino community,” Kaine said. “For all the progress we made, it’s still too dangerous living as LGBTQ in this country.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, made criticism of Trump a main point of his remarks at the dinner, getting big applause when he called the candidate “no friend to the LGBTQ community.”
“Donald Trump is a demagogue, a narcissist, and a con artist,” Griffin said. “And the Trump-Pence ticket, it represents the gravest threat our community has ever faced in a presidential election. There’s only one champion of equality in this race, and her initials just happen to be HRC.”
Others who spoke at the dinner included Christine Leinonen, the mother of one of the victims at the Pulse nightclub; Nyle DiMarco, the sexually fluid winner of America’s “Next Top Model”; Samira Wiley, star of “Orange is the New Black”; and North Carolina transgender activist Tina Madison White.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who organized the sit-in on the U.S. House floor to push for a vote on gun safety legislation, also spoke during the dinner and invoked the Orlando shootings.
“It was more than a man who pulled the trigger,” Lewis said. “Not who pulled the trigger, but what. It was a climate and environment of hate and addiction. It was hate that pulled the trigger, and 49 beautiful young men and women died. It must never happen again in America, or any part of our planet.”
As someone who took part in the civil rights movement and the Selma to Montgomery marches, Lewis said the right to vote is “sacred” and in this election individuals must “vote like we’ve never voted before.” Lewis said he’s followed every presidential election since the election of President Kennedy in 1960 and met every president since him, but Trump is the worst candidate in that entire time period.
Among the high-profile LGBT individuals in attendance at the dinner were Michael Boticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.); Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Chair of the Export-Import Bank Fred Hochberg, Air Force general counsel Gordon Tanner, Amanda Simpson, deputy assistant defense secretary for Operational Energy; Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias and lead plaintiff in the marriage-equality lawsuit Jim Obergefell.