OPM Director Speaks at the HRC Dinner in Nashville

Uploaded by USOPM on 15.03.2011

Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
I was telling them backstage, I said, gosh, it's like
hearing your own eulogy out there listening to Joe.
My mom used to tell me when I was little,
she says, you know, remember there is only four words
you really want to hear at your funeral,
look, he is still moving.
Helps you keep a perspective.
Joe, it is an honor to be here with you
and in this great city of Nashville.
I'll tell you, you all have got hospitality nailed,
you are the best.
This city rocks.
And it is a distinct honor for me to be here
with one of the great leaders.
He is someone I have always respected.
25 years ago when I worked for Congressman Hoyer,
Jim Cooper was one of my heroes, he continues to be that.
God bless you for your leadership Congressman,
thank you.
You know, the question of how we measure
the value of our time
on this planet
is far older than the song
'Seasons Of Love' from the musical Rent.
A life,
a generation,
or something more.
Let's just take my life.
Two years before I was born,
Dr. Frank Kameny,
a veteran of World War II
and a PhD astronomer from Harvard,
was fired by the United States Civil Service Commission,
solely, solely,
for being a homosexual.
When I was nine in 1968,
I recall vividly riding down Georgia Avenue
through Washington D.C.
while people burned buildings
and destroyed whole neighborhoods
out of anger over the tragic loss of a great American leader,
the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and their frustration over the brutal racism
and soul-crushing prejudice
that African-Americans still endured
more than a century after the Civil War.
I began my career with Congressman Steny Hoyer
from Maryland in 1985.
He was a member of the House Appropriations Committee
that was chaired from a gentleman from Mississippi.
Out of approximately 100 staffers
that the committee employed,
there was one African-American.
He was the doorman.
I never,
I never dreamed
that January 20, 2009
could have happened in my lifetime.
But thank God, America has a way of surprising you.
I also never dreamed
that the President would actually appoint,
and the Senate bipartisanly confirm an openly gay man
to head the successor organization
of the United States Civil Service Commission
that fired Dr. Frank Kameny.
But it became real to me in 2009
when I had the honor of being on stage with Frank
and presenting him our Agency's highest award,
as well as a formal apology on behalf of the federal government
for the sad and pointless injustice
he suffered 50 years before.
America has a way of surprising you.
Let's take my father's generation.
My dad joined the Marine Corps at 18,
before Pearl Harbor,
and he was lucky enough to make it off Guadalcanal alive.
His generation rose above the privation
of the Great Depression
and they vanquished Hitler and fascism
and persevered until communism was routed
and the Berlin Wall shattered.
Why tell this story?
I tell it because the challenges that forged them
also tempered many of them
with great humility and the possibility
that they might just be wrong on some things.
My dad learned over the course of his life
that the accepted racism and homophobia
of his youth were wrong.
Before he died he came to support
Barack Obama for President,
and as you heard in the video,
held my partner in his arms the night before he died from AIDS,
weeping as we all did.
For him it was the loss of a son in love, if not in law.
If their generation was defined by adversity,
I believe our generation
is best characterized by opportunity.
How unique is our age?
You need to soar a little higher
if you're going to get a true perspective.
Recorded human history is only about 6,000 years,
almost laughable in geologic time,
and it isn't an ever rising line in my opinion
culminating at the present day.
Instead, I believe
that history is a story of peaks and valleys
and sadly the peaks
are often far shorter than the valleys.
The Age of Pericles,
the Age of Augustus,
maybe 20 years each,
that's it,
and yet they were so great
that the lighthouse of civilization
that they built could be seen through
the dark valley of a millennium,
a thousand years and more,
it called forth the Renaissance and the Age of Reason.
I would argue that our parents
and grandparents slogged through a Great Depression
and two World Wars to bequeath to us
a great peak of history.
Think about it.
The first man who walked on the moon
still walk amongst us today.
In a few decades we have split the atom,
decoded the human genome, and created the Internet.
If the printing press launched the Age of Reason,
Gutenberg's press, the Age of Reason,
what age of discovery awaits us
with the unfathomable knowledge
that we could access now at the stroke of a key,
our cell phones in your pocket
hold more information than the great library
in the ancient city of Alexandria.
We are living amidst one of the highest
and longest peaks of recorded human history,
and the good news, it ain't over yet,
it ain't over.
Let's pause and think about the important role
that our community has played at those peaks of history;
Socrates, Alexander the Great,
Aristotle, Michelangelo,
every one of them part of the LGBT community
and every one of them instrumental
in making the peak of history shine as bright as it did;
so no pressure.
But what wonders and miracles are we going to yet create
or uncover in our own lives?
How much higher and brighter will we build our lighthouse?
Will 21st Century America shine forward for 2,000 years?
Only you could answer that question.
I believe it begins with a joyful awareness
of the age of opportunity in which we live.
It gains momentum when we seize the day to do more
and to do better
and it flowers when we secure our rights by doing right.
Trust me, if America sees in us an appreciation
of how every job must be done, not only well,
but better without prejudice, then trust me,
America will surprise us with a
Fully Inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
If America sees our deep and abiding commitment
to fidelity and love,
then trust me, DOMA will fall.
I know four couples
who between us
have nearly 100 years of commitment.
Now, don't get me wrong, none of us are saints.
We fight, we falter, we fail.
But fidelity is not about perfection.
It's about staying in the game through thick and thin
and holding onto love no matter what.
Two of us lost partners to AIDS.
We both were the primary caregivers
and held our partners as they died.
Were either of us married?
But I dare anybody to tell me that we weren't in love.
Gay and lesbian parents raise children in loving
and caring homes and treasure their children
every bit as much as anybody.
And our entire LGBT community,
whether parents or not,
weep at the woeful and oh so needless tragedy
of bullying and teen suicide.
We know the value, the innocence, and the opportunity
that is represented in each and every child,
and it is up to us
to work with all Americans to build a future
that is worthy of their potential.
Scripture says, you will know them by their fruits;
our community's fruits, our love, and empathy.
They are creativity and joy.
We are the poetry of Walt Whitman and James Baldwin.
We are the plays of Tennessee Williams and Tony Kushner.
The art of Grant Wood and David Hockney.
We are the music of Josephine Baker, Cole Porter,
and of course Chely Wright.
But we are also,
we are also the rock solid courage
of Mark Bingham,
who charged the cockpit of Flight 93 on September 11.
We are the rock solid courage of Daniel Hernandez
who rush to Gabrielle Giffords' side in a hail of gunfire.
And we are the proven leadership
in the Public Square of Harvey Milk and Annise Parker,
now Mayor of America's fourth largest city.
Look at how far we have come.
Three years ago you could marry legally
in one state in the union,
Today you can add to that list of Massachusetts,
it's legal in New Hampshire,
Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont,
and the District of Columbia.
Two years ago it was still legal to discriminate against
LGBT government workers here in Nashville.
Today, thanks to every one of you in this room,
and HRC, even Cracker Barrel has seen the light.
Less than two years ago
killing someone just because of who they loved
received no special attention.
Today America's moral stand is clear.
Hate crimes are against the law of the land.
We will not tolerate them here or anywhere in the world.
Less than two years ago those living with AIDS
or other preexisting conditions could not find health insurance
anywhere in our land.
Now, they finally,
at long last, after 45 years of trying,
and thanks to Congressman like Jim Cooper,
have their access to health insurance guaranteed, finally.
Less than one year ago a hospital could keep us
from our ill partner's side.
Now, we are safe in our valve,
to be together in sickness and in health.
Less than one year ago
the bravest heroes amongst us,
Eric in that list,
could not openly and honestly serve their nation
or lay down their lives with honor for their flag.
But starting this year gay men and women
will be able to serve our nation openly,
and long last with honor and integrity and pride.
As President Obama said, "No longer will many thousands
more be asked to live a lie
in order to serve the country they love.
Sacrifice, valor, and integrity are no more defined
by sexual orientation than they are by race,
creed, religion, or gender."
You know, amidst the ten year struggle
against Don't Ask, Don't Tell, my dad,
who I mentioned served at Guadalcanal,
said to me one time sitting on the porch
in his very matter of fact way,
you know, I don't know what all this fuss about gays
in the military is all about.
We didn't call them gay, but they were there.
They have always been there
and they died as bravely as anybody else.
My dad didn't live to see the ultimate repeal of this law,
but he never lost faith or confidence
that the country would get around to fixing it eventually,
because he knew
America has a way of surprising you.
This historic victory belongs, first and foremost,
to those in our community like Eric,
who have always risked their all in service
to their country in the armed forces.
God bless you Eric and everyone like you.
Jim, God bless the 111th Congress
for their unwavering leadership.
Give thanks to Senators Kennedy, Levin, Lieberman,
Collins, and Reid,
Speaker Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Patrick Murphy.
And I hope none of us forget the amazing leadership
exhibited by Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen.
We can take pride in our own representatives,
Frank Baldwin and Polis in this fight,
and every LGBT activist,
including each of you in this room,
who never flagged and never faltered,
so that our civil rights could advance
and ring true our pledge of liberty and justice for all.
Let me also mention that we owe an extra special thanks
to our President, Barack Obama.
There were many dark moments in this fight.
There were certainly times when I despaired of getting it done.
But one man never wavered.
He never stopped fighting or believing.
From his clarion call in the State of the Union Address,
to talking to Senators, pushing, cajoling,
he put the full weight
and credibility of his Presidency behind this effort.
Let me tell you,
I know
he doesn't always wear his heart on his sleeves,
but nobody should take that
or mistake that for a lack of passion or commitment.
Simply put, this repeal would not have happened without him.
You know, our lives, our accomplishments,
this moment in history we've been talking about,
it's more than just a checklist.
It's more even than victories for those
who want to serve in the military.
It is nothing less than the formation of a new ring of life
on the American tree of liberty.
Our country is advancing and the tree of liberty,
thank God, grows, but in one direction, by adding rings.
Your city, Nashville, knows this.
You know the pulse of this great country better than anybody.
Nashville captures the grit and determination
that no matter how bruised we might be,
hope and hard work
and good and love
win out more often than not.
It is up to you to help the rest of us
fully appreciate the peak of history over which we stand
and the unique and very special
privilege and opportunity
we have to be alive in America
at this age of opportunity.
Help us to see our own unique responsibility,
both personally and as a community,
for the success of this age
and the brightness of our light
for all ages to come.
Let our good deeds outshine the hate of the minority
with overwhelming love.
Let our good cheer turn the fear of the few
into the courage of the many.
Let us surprise all the cynics
and call forth nothing less
than a renaissance of human achievement.
Let us, as was sworn in Athens, leave our country,
not only not less,
but better,
and more abundant
than it was given to us.
That is our challenge.
That is our opportunity.
And rising to meet it will be our joy.
Thank you! God bless you
and God bless the United States of America!
Thank you!
Thank you!