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The President Gave A Very Good Speech

Jim Burroway

June 29th, 2009

The speech, the transcript of which is included below, was very good but also of little note. There’s not much there that President Barack Obama hasn’t said before when he met with some 250 to 300 LGBT guests in the East Room of the White House today. That gathering was billed as a commemoration for the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

The President acknowledged Frank Kameny, who was fired in 1957 from the Army map service because he was gay. Later in the speech, he acknowledged the estimated 272 servicemembers who have been fired by the Pentagon since the start of his administration when he renewed his promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

Someday, I’m confident, we’ll look back at this transition and ask why it generated such angst, but as Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term.  That’s why I’ve asked the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal.

I know that every day that passes without a resolution is a deep disappointment to those men and women who continue to be discharged under this policy — patriots who often possess critical language skills and years of training and who’ve served this country well.  But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security.

The President also acknowledged the impatience of the LGBT community:

And I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that.  It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.

But I say this:  We have made progress and we will make more.  And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.  …  We’ve been in office six months now.  I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.

He also addressed the Defense of Marriage Act, saying:

I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination — (applause) — to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country.  Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides.  And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law.  I’ve made that clear.

He says he wants to “uphold existing law” in a way “that does not exacerbate old divides.” He apparently failed to understand that it was that very DOMA brief that exacerbated old divides. Maybe there’s only one side of the divide he wants to avoid exacerbating, but not the other.

That said, I thought it was an excellent speech overall. But speeches are relatively unimportant. It’s actions that matter.

But there were, I hope, some speeches in that room that will be more important than the President’s. Those guests were given the opportunity to meet with and exchange a few words with the President afterward. If any speech will matter in the long run, it will be their stories, pleas and promises, not the President’s. Let’s hope they took advantage of that opportunity.

Remarks By the President At LGBT Pride Month Reception

East Room
4:35 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Hello, hello, hello. (Applause.) Hey! Good to see you. (Applause.) I’m waiting for FLOTUS here. FLOTUS always politics more than POTUS.

MRS. OBAMA: No, you move too slow. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It is great to see everybody here today and they’re just — I’ve got a lot of friends in the room, but there are some people I want to especially acknowledge. First of all, somebody who helped ensure that we are in the White House, Steve Hildebrand. Please give Steve a big round of applause. (Applause.) Where’s Steve? He’s around here somewhere. (Applause.)

The new chair of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg. (Applause.) Where’s Fred? There’s Fred. Good to see you, Fred. Our Director of the Institute of Education Sciences at DOE, John Easton. Where’s John? (Applause.) A couple of special friends — Bishop Gene Robinson. Where’s Gene? (Applause.) Hey, Gene. Ambassador Michael Guest is here. (Applause.) Ambassador Jim Hormel is here. (Applause.) Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is here. (Applause.)

All of you are here. (Laughter and applause.) Welcome to your White House. (Applause.) So –

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Somebody asked from the Lincoln Bedroom here. (Laughter.) You knew I was from Chicago too. (Laughter.)

It’s good to see so many friends and familiar faces, and I deeply appreciate the support I’ve received from so many of you. Michelle appreciates it and I want you to know that you have our support, as well. (Applause.) And you have my thanks for the work you do every day in pursuit of equality on behalf of the millions of people in this country who work hard and care about their communities — and who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. (Applause.)

Now this struggle, I don’t need to tell you, is incredibly difficult, although I think it’s important to consider the extraordinary progress that we have made. There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop. And though we’ve made progress, there are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors or even family members and loved ones, who still hold fast to worn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; and who would deny you the rights that most Americans take for granted. And I know this is painful and I know it can be heartbreaking.

And yet all of you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make but also by the power of the example that you set in your own lives — as parents and friends, as PTA members and leaders in the community. And that’s important, and I’m glad that so many LGBT families could join us today. (Applause.) For we know that progress depends not only on changing laws but also changing hearts. And that real, transformative change never begins in Washington.

(Cell phone “quacks.”)

Whose duck is back there? (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: It’s a duck.

THE PRESIDENT: There’s a duck quacking in there somewhere. (Laughter.) Where do you guys get these ring tones, by the way? (Laughter.) I’m just curious. (Laughter.)

Indeed, that’s the story of the movement for fairness and equality — not just for those who are gay, but for all those in our history who’ve been denied the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; who’ve been told that the full blessings and opportunities of this country were closed to them. It’s the story of progress sought by those who started off with little influence or power; by men and women who brought about change through quiet, personal acts of compassion and courage and sometimes defiance wherever and whenever they could.

That’s the story of a civil rights pioneer who’s here today, Frank Kameny, who was fired — (applause.) Frank was fired from his job as an astronomer for the federal government simply because he was gay. And in 1965, he led a protest outside the White House, which was at the time both an act of conscience but also an act of extraordinary courage. And so we are proud of you, Frank, and we are grateful to you for your leadership. (Applause.)

It’s the story of the Stonewall protests, which took place 40 years ago this week, when a group of citizens — with few options, and fewer supporters — decided they’d had enough and refused to accept a policy of wanton discrimination. And two men who were at those protests are here today. Imagine the journey that they’ve travelled.

It’s the story of an epidemic that decimated a community — and the gay men and women who came to support one another and save one another; and who continue to fight this scourge; and who demonstrated before the world that different kinds of families can show the same compassion and support in a time of need — that we all share the capacity to love.

So this story, this struggle, continues today — for even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot — and will not — put aside issues of basic equality. (Applause.) We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love.

And I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.

But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. And by the time you receive — (applause.) We’ve been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration. (Applause.)

Now, while there is much more work to do, we can point to important changes we’ve already put in place since coming into office. I’ve signed a memorandum requiring all agencies to extend as many federal benefits as possible to LGBT families as current law allows. And these are benefits that will make a real difference for federal employees and Foreign Service Officers, who are so often treated as if their families don’t exist. And I’d like to note that one of the key voices in helping us develop this policy is John Berry, our director of the Office of Personnel Management, who is here today. And I want to thank John Berry. (Applause.)

I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination — (applause) — to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country. Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides. And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law. I’ve made that clear.

I’m also urging Congress to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which will guarantee the full range of benefits, including health care, to LGBT couples and their children. (Applause.) My administration is also working hard to pass an employee non-discrimination bill and hate crimes bill, and we’re making progress on both fronts. (Applause.) Judy and Dennis Shepard, as well as their son Logan, are here today. I met with Judy in the Oval Office in May — (applause) — and I assured her and I assured all of you that we are going to pass an inclusive hate crimes bill into law, a bill named for their son Matthew. (Applause.)

In addition, my administration is committed to rescinding the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status. (Applause.) The Office of Management and Budget just concluded a review of a proposal to repeal this entry ban, which is a first and very big step towards ending this policy. And we all know that HIV/AIDS continues to be a public health threat in many communities, including right here in the District of Columbia. And that’s why this past Saturday, on National HIV Testing Day, I was proud once again to encourage all Americans to know their status and get tested the way Michelle and I know our status and got tested. (Applause.)

And finally, I want to say a word about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As I said before — I’ll say it again — I believe “don’t ask, don’t tell” doesn’t contribute to our national security. (Applause.) In fact, I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security. (Applause.)

Now, my administration is already working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on how we’ll go about ending this policy, which will require an act of Congress.

Someday, I’m confident, we’ll look back at this transition and ask why it generated such angst, but as Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term. That’s why I’ve asked the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal.

I know that every day that passes without a resolution is a deep disappointment to those men and women who continue to be discharged under this policy — patriots who often possess critical language skills and years of training and who’ve served this country well. But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security.

Now, even as we take these steps, we must recognize that real progress depends not only on the laws we change but, as I said before, on the hearts we open. For if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that there are good and decent people in this country who don’t yet fully embrace their gay brothers and sisters — not yet.

That’s why I’ve spoken about these issues not just in front of you, but in front of unlikely audiences — in front of African American church members, in front of other audiences that have traditionally resisted these changes. And that’s what I’ll continue to do so. That’s how we’ll shift attitudes. That’s how we’ll honor the legacy of leaders like Frank and many others who have refused to accept anything less than full and equal citizenship.

Now, 40 years ago, in the heart of New York City at a place called the Stonewall Inn, a group of citizens, including a few who are here today, as I said, defied an unjust policy and awakened a nascent movement.

It was the middle of the night. The police stormed the bar, which was known for being one of the few spots where it was safe to be gay in New York. Now, raids like this were entirely ordinary. Because it was considered obscene and illegal to be gay, no establishments for gays and lesbians could get licenses to operate. The nature of these businesses, combined with the vulnerability of the gay community itself, meant places like Stonewall, and the patrons inside, were often the victims of corruption and blackmail.

Now, ordinarily, the raid would come and the customers would disperse. But on this night, something was different. There are many accounts of what happened, and much has been lost to history, but what we do know is this: People didn’t leave. They stood their ground. And over the course of several nights they declared that they had seen enough injustice in their time. This was an outpouring against not just what they experienced that night, but what they had experienced their whole lives. And as with so many movements, it was also something more: It was at this defining moment that these folks who had been marginalized rose up to challenge not just how the world saw them, but also how they saw themselves.

As we’ve seen so many times in history, once that spirit takes hold there is little that can stand in its way. (Applause.) And the riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day. It continues when a partner fights for her right to sit at the hospital bedside of a woman she loves. It continues when a teenager is called a name for being different and says, “So what if I am?” It continues in your work and in your activism, in your fight to freely live your lives to the fullest.

In one year after the protests, a few hundred gays and lesbians and their supporters gathered at the Stonewall Inn to lead a historic march for equality. But when they reached Central Park, the few hundred that began the march had swelled to 5,000. Something had changed, and it would never change back.

The truth is when these folks protested at Stonewall 40 years ago no one could have imagined that you — or, for that matter, I — (laughter) — would be standing here today. (Applause.) So we are all witnesses to monumental changes in this country. That should give us hope, but we cannot rest. We must continue to do our part to make progress — step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind. And I want you to know that in this task I will not only be your friend, I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a President who fights with you and for you.

Thanks very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.) Thank you. It’s a little stuffed in here. We’re going to open — we opened up that door. We’re going to walk this way, and then we’re going to come around and we’ll see some of you over there, all right? (Laughter.) But out there. (Laughter.)

But thank you very much, all, for being here. Enjoy the White House. Thank you. (Applause.)

Comments

POST COMMENT | COMMENT RSS 2.0 | TRACKBACK URL

Jake
June 29th, 2009 | LINK

God, I am so sick of the argument that the president has to uphold existing laws. It’s a lie. He doesn’t.

I just wish more people would call him out on it.

Scott VanTussenbrook
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

Words. Words, words, words, words, words. Talk. Talk, talk, talky talk talk talk. Wordy talky chat. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, and talk.

Talk, talk, talk, etc. and etc. and so on, words and talk and words words words and talk and talk. Talk talky words words words and etc. and suchlike and all that like that there.

Words, etc., this, that, the other thing, words, talk, thank you everyone for coming to our little photo op today, now have a drink and remember, you love us!

“AAAACK!!! WHOOOOO!!! OMG YOU’RE RIGHT!!! WE LOVE YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA!!! THANK YOU FOR HAVING US OVER!!!!!”

On a personal note, I’d just like to point out how excited I am about all the “change.” It is indeed, a brave new world. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I was filled with a hopeful optimism I haven’t experienced since I was five and that bitch Katie Mae, in Kindergarten, told me that Santa Claus really is just your parents — next Christmas, I was a literal *picture* of youthful hope and optimism. I was like that again this morning. Why, the very thought of the Obama administration polishing up the (medium-good) stemware and recycling a bunch of stump speeches at a reception for our very own “leaders” just fills me with a warmth that — oh, wait, that’s just constipation.

Be right back.

Stefano A
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

I thought it was a good speech, in so far as repetitions of his usual rhetoric go.

I do take exception to his “I have” (done this or that) comments, where he implies or infers he has made direct requests as POTUS. I take exception to those “I have” comments because as POTUS he has not personally done any of those things according to Gibbs in his press conferences. It is true Obama has expressed his personal opinions in his public rhetoric. But in response to direct questions to Gibbs in press conferences as to what Obama has himself done, he’s done squat.

Stefano A
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

Addendum:

Two exceptions:

1. Obama did make a statement as POTUS regarding Pride Month

2. Obama did make a statement as POTUS for passage of HR 1913, the hate crimes bill

A half exception — He did issue a memorandum with regard to ENDA (i.e., the foreign service worker benefits).

But in terms of directely as POTUS speaking to DoD or Conress regarding DADT/DOMA, as mentioned in previous post, Gibbs says Obama has made no direct contact/efforts as POTUS.

Stefano A
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

I’ll retract my comments.

Perhaps the POTUS is doing more than we’re aware of?

At least re: DADT

According to an article today by the American Forces Press, Gates has spoken directly to the President and is having the General Council look into it.

Gates told reporters traveling with him from US European Command that he talked with the president last week about “how to achieve his objective, which is changing the policy.” The issue also came up at last week’s Defense Leadership Council, he said.

“And the issue that we face is: How do we begin to do preparations and, simultaneously, the administration move forward in asking the Congress to change the law?

“What we have is a law, not a policy or regulation. And as I discovered when I got into it, it is a very prescriptive law. It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination or a lot of flexibility. So one of the things we are looking at is: Is there flexibility in how we apply this law?”

Regan DuCasse
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

I with Scott on this one. Talk isn’t and hasn’t been cheap for the gay community. Not only because of the money ponied by the gay folks and their supporters with deeper pockets, but the highest price paid in lost careers in the military too.

Talk is and has been cheap for Obama to deliver with no substance behind it.
I don’t want to hear ANOTHER word from him about how we’re all bro’s here and I with you gay people.

I want to see him sign something and END the worst policies EVER against gay people.
Period. Done.

Since his inauguration his words have proven to be empty. What makes him think it’s not more of the same another six months or four years down the line?
Walk the WALK Mr. Prez…

JJQR
June 30th, 2009 | LINK

That room was full of silly wishful suckers and egomaniacs.

ravenbiker
July 6th, 2009 | LINK

President Obama gives a new definition of “Chatty Kathy.” Change. I’ll believe when I feel it. Coward.

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