Thank you, everyone for that warm welcome. Thank you so much John, for that kind introduction, for those words; but thank you so much for your dedication. Not just to the Office of the Associate Attorney General, but to the principles of this department. The pride I feel in you every day grows and grows, when I see the work that you are doing on behalf of the American people. Let me also thank Richard Toscano, and his colleagues from the Equal Employment Opportunity Staff, as well as DOJ Pride’s entire leadership. I was so happy to see the board here, but also there are board members of the organization, has roots deep, and it goes throughout the department. I would like to thank you all for putting together this outstanding program today. Of course, we have two outstanding award recipients today, and I have to tell you my pride in them is just bounding, for the work that they do on behalf of the American people, every day. In different venues, but touching lives, saving lives, and in fact, saving families – Ashley Evans and Shannon Price Minter – are with us today, and you honor us with your presence. Let me thank all of you as well who have come together. The attorneys, the advocates, also the friends and family members of our award recipients and our board members, for being here, today. I am truly truly honored to be with you today, to celebrate pride month.
We’re here in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice. A beautiful room as you can see, and it’s where we come to basically commemorate the special moments in the department of justice. It’s where we come to commemorate and honor the contributions of the varied and the diverse voices that make us all strong. It’s where we come for our most important events. And that’s why we’re all here today. Every year during pride month we take a moment to commemorate the accomplishments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, who have spurred this country on to make strides towards the stronger, the more equal, and the more perfect union that all Americans deserve.
We talk about the road we’ve taken, the challenges we’ve faced and the obstacles we’ve overcome. And we look ahead to the journey that we know still stretches out before us. This year, this is a particularly special moment. We celebrate the final Pride Month of the Obama Administration. An administration that looked at these issues, and taken them squarely on. Over the course of these last eight years, a short time in this history of a nation, a blink of an eye in the generations of pain that have defined this issue, but in the course of just 8 short years, we have made once-unimaginable progress on issues that have challenged our nation for decades and that have been felt for centuries by individual Americans, by real people, who often suffered in silence. In ways large and small – through the policies of this Administration, and more importantly today, through the undertakings of this department. But also, most importantly, through the actions of all of you here in this room today and across this country – we have bent the arc of the moral universe a little further towards justice.
With the adoption of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law in 2009 by President Obama, we strengthened our ability to achieve justice on behalf of those who are victimized because of their race, religion, color, or national origin – and, for the first time ever, their disability status, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, we made clear that an individual’s ability to fight for the country they love should never be dependent on the person that they love. With the signing of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, we established new protections to ensure that LGBT survivors of domestic violence can access the same services as other survivors of intimate partner abuse. Of course, with the historic Supreme Court decisions in United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, we achieved watershed victories not only for couples who sought equal marriage rights, or even for the LGBT community – these were victories for all Americans. They were victories for all of us, who understand the truth of President Obama’s words: that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love that we commit to one another must be equal as well. And in just the last few weeks, we have stood side-by-side with the transgender community to demand respect, to insist upon dignity and to ensure that transgender individuals are able to live the lives they were born to lead.
These are all remarkable steps forward. And how fortunate are we to be able to live and work in this time? Right here, right now. How many people actually get to see and be a part of their country literally moving towards a better place? We think of those great moments which are often lost to history. But we are here and now. So here and now, in this place, let us celebrate these achievements and let us express our own pride. Pride in this country for drawing closer to the promise of equality and opportunity that was made at its founding more than two centuries ago. Pride in this Department of Justice for being a part of an extraordinary movement that has made its way from a bar in Greenwich Village to the steps of the Supreme Court to a White House draped in the rainbow flag. That’s a path, that’s a journey. But most of all, let us express our pride, and our admiration, let us express our gratitude for all of you here today – and in the LGBT community and its millions of allies who have spent decades performing the small acts of courage – who stood up, came out, who carried on every day in the face of antagonism, in defiance of threats and in pursuit of the chance to live freely and without fear. Because it is your courage that truly inspires our pride.
Now, of course there is no doubt that we have further still to go – and recent events have reminded us that progress does not come easily and that victories are rarely total or final. But we all know, the fight for equality has never been easy, no matter who has carried the banner. It is up to all of us, in the days ahead, to stand up all forms of bigotry, no matter how small or how large and to press forward in our mission to ensure equal rights and equal justice for every American. Because it is still true that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
It will not be easy. But always remember this, remember this, know this, and keep this in your hearts: because of the work that you have done, this country has been transformed, it has. As we take these next steps, as we move forward in this fight, we will do so in a country that has formally recognized that love is love and that extends the right to marry to gay, lesbian and bisexual couples. As we move forward in our march, we will do so in a nation that legally protects transgender individuals’ right to be their true selves without abuse, without discrimination and without fear. And as we continue this journey, we will do so in a society that understands more than ever that the LGBT community’s story is part of our larger American story – a story of struggle and hope; a story of reversal and redemption; and a story of a nation that sometimes, some would say often, falls short of its ideals, but that is always determined to overcome.
The fact that we have arrived at this point – and that we are entering into this new era – is in large part thanks to your outstanding work. And in the days ahead, this country, this movement, this department, will continue to rely on all of you. We’ll rely on your engagement, we’ll rely on your leadership, we’ll rely on your strength, and we’ll rely on your courage. The brilliant attorneys, the hardworking advocates, who’ve worked with us as hard as we seek to build on our momentum and expand on our success. We will rely on courageous public servants like Ashley Evans as we work to broaden our approach and foster inclusions. And we will rely on passionate leaders like the man I am so pleased to be able to introduce to you now – a true leader in the LGBT movement, a champion in the cause of civil rights.
Shannon Price Minter serves as the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights – one of the America’s foremost advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Shannon has spent his professional career speaking out for all those who face discrimination because of who they are and whom they love. He has received numerous awards for his important and trailblazing work and last year, he was appointed to serve as a member of President Obama’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Now, Shannon has made his name advocating the large policy issues that affect so many of our communities. But he has also worked on cases dealing with individuals and their right to have a family, and have the family built in the American dream. Because of course the ability to love, and to create that family, is at the heart of community, is at the heart of our country. In doing so, he is upholding the highest ideals of the republic. It is truly an honor to have him address us here today. Please join me in welcoming Shannon Price Minter to the Department of Justice.