Kirsten E Gillibrand

Human Rights Campaign Speech - February 3, 2018

Kirsten E Gillibrand
February 03, 2018— New York City
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Thank you everybody. To Patty and Chris, thank you for the beautiful introduction. I am so honored to be here tonight with so many incredible leaders and fighters. I want to thank my friend and our leader, Chad Griffin, for his truly groundbreaking work that he's done at HRC. Chad has been defending LGBTQ rights since he was a teenager. His dedication should inspire all of us and remind us that no matter how long a road may be, if we keep fighting and never give up, we will make progress. I'm grateful for your persistence Chad in giving voice and power to those who need it most. Thank you.

You know, being here has me feeling a little nostalgic. I first met so many of you in 2009 when I was a green, brand new member of the Senate working to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. I felt at the time it was such a monumental task with opposition from the Republican Party in Congress, the military establishment, and from much of the public. This was a time when the majority of Americans disapproved of same-sex marriage and New York had recently voted it down. So in many ways this feels like a lifetime ago, but I still remember what it was like to know that all of us were in it together, that the Human Rights Campaign would support me every step of the way, that millions of grassroots activists, many of whom are here with us now, were fighting for change, and that thousands of brave members of our military were willing to sacrifice everything to make a difference.

The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, that immoral and corrosive policy, was a landmark moment for the LGBT rights in this nation and to this day, it remains one of the proudest moments of my career. That experience was a turning point, too, because it taught me a fundamental lesson that I will never forget. Washington only acts when courageous people, people like all of you in this room, stand up and demand it. Now that's a cold hard truth, but change only ever happens when all of us unite and speak out to make our voices and our stories heard. Don't Ask Don't Tell didn't end because of lawmakers like me, it ended because of the protests, the calls, the activism of people like you, and that's been the formula for every major advance that the LGBTQ community has done and accomplished over the last eight years in the Senate. That's why even if I am the one on the stage tonight, I want to remind all of you that the fight we have on our hands is only one because of the Chad Griffin's and the Scott Campbell's of this world and all of the people that are here tonight who are determined to make their voices heard.

It's about the heroes that we have learned from and recently lost, like Edie Windsor and Matilda Krim, and all of you who are here who are never willing to give up even when it's hard, especially when it's hard. But it's also about the countless people who triumph in their own lives every single day, in their own communities, and in the lives that they touch by their countless acts of courage. In my own child Theodore, who's 14, I watched a young man build his courage over many years. First with blue hair, then a short haircut, and finally a new name, to stand before his school at graduation and define his present and his future on his own terms. I could not have been prouder even if he was my own son. He was the first in our small community of family and friends and you know how the other kids reacted? Didn't faze them at all they readily accepted his new gender identity and loved him just the same because he was still just a kid just like them, a classmate of a sibling, a member of their community. And while his mother so lovingly struggled with a new pronoun that very same week, she was deeply touched when the kids came up to her and said how's Lennon? How's he doing?

So when President Trump looks at our transgender troops as valueless and when his party tries to demonize this boy and every other like him, this arrogance and bigotry will provoke a fury in me that will not subside. And I am not alone because every time hate has shown his face marching down the streets of Charlotteville asking for IDs on buses and trains and even sitting behind the resolute desk, you have shown up you have stood up and you have fought back. Early on in this administration when President Trump tried to replace Eric Fanning, the first openly gay Secretary of the Army, with Mark Greene it was the anti LGBT extremists, thousands of you wrote and called your representative, forcing Greene to withdraw from consideration. Then, when President Trump tried to enshrine discrimination in our military with outrageous bans on transgender service members, you said no again. You would not allow the estimated 15,000 transgender heroes in our military to be silenced or to have to hide who they are. And I promise you, not until we pass a bipartisan bill that I introduced with Senator John McCain, will we stop fighting to protect these transgender troops.

Now think about that just for a second. In 2011, John McCain was one of our most ardent opponents to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. In 2017, he has added his name to my bill to protect those same troops. So we have come far, but everyone in this room knows we are still at the beginning of a journey towards making America a fairer and more equal place for LGBTQ Americans, and it will not be easy, so do brace yourselves for the battle ahead. Think about all the overt cases of discrimination that we have seen in this year alone, coming from the federal government and enabled or directed by this White House. The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has gone on record defending a business's right to refuse gay customers, and just this past spring they filed a brief arguing that the LGBTQ workers are not protected from workplace discrimination by one of the most important federal civil rights laws. And Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court, and his anti LGBTQ record is one of the worst in the entire federal judiciary.

But the hate hasn't been limited to just policy. Increasingly it is infecting our entire discourse. This administration's words and deeds has affected the most vulnerable in our communities, especially people of color, immigrants, women, Muslims, and our LGBT communities. This has been one of the drivers of a historic increase in hate crimes in the United States. According to one report, last year was the deadliest on record for the LGBTQ community in America, and if you live at the intersection of any of these communities, if you are a black lesbian or a trans women- woman, the rates of violence are even higher. I bet every person in this room has either felt it or known someone who has been targeted, bullied, discriminate against, denied a job, denied respect, mocked, even hurt physically because of their gender identity or because of their sexual orientation.

This hatred has no place anywhere in our great nation. In a country that claims to be the world's beacon of freedom, the shining city on a hill, no human being should live in fear simply because of who they are or who they love. We are all brothers and sisters in this struggle for equality and justice, and that means all of us, regardless of race, religion, cultural, identity, or individual passions. 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said, which is as true as ever, that an injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us. So that is who we are. It is why we will prevail, and it is why we will fight so hard for all the dreamers including the 75,000 of whom are LGBTQ. They face being sent back- they face being sent back to countries with no protections for them, and President Trump and congressional Republicans are not doing nearly enough to stop it.

That is not who we are as a nation. We do not use children as bargaining chips, so we have to ask ourselves in this moment, as we begin a new year, what can we do? What can each of us actually do? We can advocate, we can organize, and we can vote. We can and we must. That is my urgent plea to everyone in this room tonight. Every person must advocate, organize, and vote. LGBT rights are among the most important conversations we can have. All rights are furthered in every conversation whether it's at a lunch table, whether it's at a town hall, by the water cooler because ending discrimination fundamentally comes from the heart, but only by organizing and voting can we further the rights that will guarantee that LGBTQ Americans are treated equally under the law.

And that mission starts now. It starts in 2018 because when with our votes we will flip the house and the Senate. When we flip the House and the Senate, we will make the progress we need towards social and economic equality for all, and that's why HRC risings grassroots army of three million people across the country is going to do. If you haven't joined them already you must do that today because we know this president will never sign the Equality Act to ensure the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans. He has neither the decency nor the empathy to do so, but even with him in the Oval Office we can make progress because with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate we can create the momentum that we need for a new president to sign that bipartisan bill in 2020.

And let me just say this. I just flew in this morning from Chicago where I held a fundraiser for a House candidate named Marie Newman, so we can beat one of the most anti LGBT, anti women's rights Democrat left in our party. So let me tell you, she is an extraordinary fighter, and is a parent of a trans teen she will never stop fighting for equality. So it is a new day in this fight. No longer can incumbent status shield candidates from accountability when they oppose equality for others. All of us are called at this moment to make a difference, to help others, to do what is right, and that is what we will do for the remainder of this presidency and beyond. We will keep marching, we will keep holding up our signs, we will keep showing up to every protest. Dr. King said darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. So we are called to be the light, we are called to be the light of the world shining on that Hill, we must never give up, we must never give in, and we must stand up for everyone because our time is now at this critical moment in our nation's history, we are up for this challenge and we will prevail.