Over the years, together, we have experienced many ups and downs. Victory and defeat, success and struggle. Tonight, we are not only here to reflect on our progress, but to recommit ourselves to the fight we face because we all know we are at an inflection point in the history of our country. I think of this as a moment like the time my parents first met in the 1960’s when they were active in the civil rights movement. I believe this is a moment when our country is witnessing an assault on our deepest values and ideals. Where people don’t trust our government, it’s institutions, or leaders.
To restore that trust, HRC, I believe we must speak truth even when it makes people uncomfortable. Even when others are silent. As the poet Audre Lorde reminds us, there are so many silences to be broken. Let’s speak truth, from Charlotte to Charlottesville. We have been reminded racism in this country is real. Sexism, anti-semitism are real in this country. Homophobia and transphobia are real in this country. We must speak that truth so we can deal with it.
Let’s speak truth. Voting rights in this country are under attack. Since the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act in 2013, 10 federal court decisions have found intentional discrimination against voters of color. One even said black voters were targeted, “with almost surgical precision.”
Let’s speak truth. Across this country, Americans worry that our government will take away their health care. At this very moment while we are here this evening, immigrants fear a knock on the door that could tear them away from their families.
Let’s tell the truth. Sexual harassment and assault are real in this country from movie sets to newsrooms to factory floors. We need to confront it.
Let’s tell the truth. From the United States Congress to the United States Census, LGBT rights are under attack. Under attack by a justice department that now stands on the side of discrimination instead of equality. Under attack by a Senate nominee who thinks homosexuality should be illegal and a judicial nominee who says transgender children are proof of Satan’s plan. Under attack by a Commander in Chief who wants to ban transgender troops who are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend our country.
We need to speak another truth. That despite the forces of hate and division that are trying to tear us apart, Americans have so much more in common than what separates us. That is the truth.
You know, I remember, for example, many years ago I was sent to go speak in the Castro to a group of young gay men. I was there campaigning against a ballot measure that would have required young women to notify their parents before getting an abortion. I was going to speak in this home in the Castro with a group of 20 and 30-year-old men. I remember scratching my head thinking, “Okay, what am I going to say to this group who, for the most part, has not had to deal with an unintended pregnancy?”
I said to them, “I guess you guys are wondering what you could possibly have in common with a 16-year-old pregnant girl.” As you could imagine, everyone laughed. Then I asked them, “Well, when you were 16, did you want to speak with your parents about your sexuality?”
And the room went silent because they knew we have so much more in common than what separates us. I think it’s what Bayard Rustin meant when he said, “You have to join every movement for the freedom of people.” In other words, HRC, I think it means fighting for everyone’s civil rights is in our common interest and is in our self-interest. No one should be left to fight alone.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many communities who did feel alone. Including, in the 1990’s, working with transgender people of color, many of whom were ostracized and self-medicating, and even some self-mutilating. And despite some progress, last year was still the deadliest year on record for transgender people in America. And when compared to white men, the HIV/AIDS rate among Latino men is more than three times higher. And for black men, nearly eight times higher. We know that black and Latino men should not be left to fight alone.
We are at an incredible moment because none of us in this room are fighting alone. Across all communities, we are standing together. Women, labor, African Americans, immigrants, native people, the LGBT community, and so many more. From Standing Rock to Charlottesville, we are all fighting together.
Let us rededicate ourselves, HRC. We will leave no one to fight alone. Together, we together will fight for the equality of the LGBT community and all of it’s diversity. Together we’ll fight to promote police reforms and progressive prosecutors to prevent shootings like those that took Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile. Together, we’ll fight when Planned Parenthood clinics are being threatened to shut down. Together, we will fight for the DREAM act. Call our members of Congress and donate to HRC’s DREAMers fund. Because no one should have to hide; not in the closet or in the shadows. Let’s fight together knowing, knowing our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.
One final point: let’s be clear that this fight is about love of country. This fight is patriotic. As I said at HRC, at an HRC dinner 12 years ago, I believe there are two definitions of what it means to be a patriot. One describes those who condone the conduct of their country, whatever it does. The other is the kind I believe us all to be: the kind that fights each and every day for the ideals of our country. The ideals behind the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
It’s patriots like my brilliant friend and advisor Jim Rivaldo who passed away 10 years ago this month, but in life helped elect Harvey Milk, one of the very first openly gay officials in America. Now, we have openly gay leaders everywhere from the C suite to the United States Senate. It was patriotic. It was patriotic when we fought to end the gay panic defense, which was used to justify violence against gay and transgender people. It was an act of patriotism when we worked to pass a law allowing the prosecution of federal hate crimes in the name of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd.
I have to tell you, I most certainly felt patriotic when on Valentines weekend in 2004, I performed marriages of gay couples at San Francisco city hall. Now later that year, of course, the California Supreme Court rendered those marriages void, and in 2008, Proposition 8 was passed. But the important thing to remember about our history is we fought. We fought. We took our case all the way to the highest court in the land. As you have heard, on June 28, 2013, I was honored to again stand at San Francisco city hall with Miss Kris Perry and Miss Sandy Stier and pronounce them spouses for life. One of the sweetest things about that was then the marriage bells rang across our country.
HRC, let’s steal ourselves for the fight ahead. But let’s remember in our fight, we have never been one to throw up our hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves. Let us rededicate ourselves to each other and to our country. Let’s continue getting to work and fighting.