Pelosi Remarks at Department of Interior and National Park Service LGBT Theme Study Launch
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the Department of the Interior and National Park Service LGBT Theme Study Launch. The theme study is part of a broader initiative by the Administration to guarantee that the National Park Service accurately reflects the many contributions made by the LGBT community to our nation. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for your kind welcome. Thank you, Director Jarvis, for your kind and generous words of welcome. Because I am intruding on your very distinguished panel, perhaps Jon’s introduction will be longer than my remarks, so that you can get back to your flow of conversation.
“I bring you all greetings from all of your supporters in the House of Representatives. We had 13 votes just now – right at this time. I bring my regards to Secretary Jewell, and thank her for the path that you are on now with this recognition. It’s something we’ve all been hoping for for a while. So thank you, Secretary Jewell, thank you, Director Jarvis, for your leadership.
“There are so many things that I want to tell you. But I just thought I would tell you this one story to show you just how far things have come. When I was a brand new Member of Congress, my whole issue was HIV/AIDS. When I came to the Congress – since you’re historians, I thought you might like to know this story: so, lo and behold, we have the quilt that wants to come to Washington, D.C. So I go to the Park Service and say: ‘The quilt is coming to Washington, D.C., and we want permission to be able to display it on the Mall.’ And they said: ‘Absolutely out of the question. It’s just not going to happen.’ And I said: ‘You don’t understand. ‘No’ is not a possibility for us.’
“This is the giant AIDS quilt. It’s thousands of quilts – they came to my house. We made the announcement that such a quilt would exist when I was brand new Member of Congress. And I said: ‘Nobody sews anymore. Don’t even think of going down that path.’
“I said: ‘I have five children – I know how to knit, sew, crochet, and I don’t sew. So who’s going to sew?’ And they said: ‘People will sew.’ Well, they did. And you know the story – and it’s just a mammoth thing. So anyway, a huge quilt – going to take over the whole mall, so we thought. Park Service said: ‘No, it’s going to kill the grass. It is far too heavy. It will kill the grass.’ This is before your time, John.
“You’re too young to remember this – yes, of course you would say ‘yes.’ That’s why I’m saluting you today.
“So I said – being completely at the bottom of the rung of the Congress of the United States – I used all kinds of names of people who would be supportive, taking a little license here and there and then getting permission, asking permission after. And: ‘Absolutely not.’
“So the problem was, if you leave the quilt on the ground – now, this is a huge quilt. You understand: it’s covering the whole. They said: ‘We’ll give you a corner,’ like one of those corners where they sell ice cream cones or hot dogs. ‘You can have a corner for a few patches.’ I said: ‘You’re not getting it. There’s something not coming through here.’ So I said: ‘So every 20 minutes kills the grass. So if we have volunteers to lift up this quilt’ – that weighs many tons – ‘every twenty minutes, we’re okay? We’re going to air out the grass underneath.’
“They said: ‘Nobody could possibly do that.’ Well, one thing we had were volunteers and enthusiasm. So one way and another, the great President Bush – it was in his Administration, and I love him for it, that gave us permission. And the quilt was on the Mall. And every 20 minutes – or so…
“…thousands of volunteers would lift up this quilt. It was in segments, so it was very possible. So the grass was not killed. Well this was – I said when it was – and then on Friday night, ABC news has ‘Newsmaker of the Week,’ and they show the quilt; helicopters filming. It’s like a wonder of the world. It’s the most fabulous thing you could ever see. And Cleve Jones was the ‘Newsmaker of the Week,’ because he was the originator of the quilt. And it would not have been possible without the Park Service.
“So I come here to thank you for that. And in doing so, I say that much of the progress we have made – and I know that you heard from our distinguished Ambassador, John Berry. We’re so very, very proud of you, Mr. Ambassador. You make us proud in so many ways. You used to work for Steny, at the House, and then on to the Administration, and now our very distinguished Ambassador to Australia. And I understand you were talking about when the Aborigine were asking about how you end discrimination and the rest.
“I do think, since I mentioned the quilt and its relationship to AIDS, that the whole movement on the subject of HIV/AIDS – to end discrimination, to improve prevention, to increase funding for research and care – really did help in ending discrimination against the LGBT community. I say that because it was a horrible thing. We were bearing two people a day that we knew. It was so horrible, those of you who knew – I don’t think any of you were born at that time, but it was really horrible. I’m going into the ‘80s, and people were finding out that they had loved ones in their families who were gay and HIV positive, and sometimes they found that out in the same day, in the same moment.
“But that gave us that opening that changed, I think, people’s attitudes towards it, people who were very anti-funding for HIV, because: ‘Why should we do that when we have other diseases?’ When they had a family member, everything changed. So I do think that the HIV/AIDS advocacy community did an enormous service to our country – not only on the issue of HIV/AIDS, but also in terms of opening the door to understanding and ending discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and LGBT community members and the rest.
“And for us, in San Francisco, it’s not a question of tolerance. That’s not a word we use. That’s condescending. It’s about respect. It’s about taking pride. So I thank the Park Service for taking pride. I was just in Seneca: thank you for what you’ve done for women’s rights there, and now to recognize LGBT equality in our community.
“And so whether it is DOMA, whether it is so many things – marriage equality, which we want across America – the thing is that it’s about ending discrimination. It’s about expanding freedom. It’s about making America more American. And as you do so, we have some spots in San Francisco that we think would be good candidates.
“But I won’t go into that now; far too many…
“Harvey Milk’s camera shop, the UN plaza – where we had a ten year vigil on HIV/AIDS. We have some candidates to consider on the west coast, but we are proud of the ones you have on the east coast already.
“So thank you for affording me the opportunity to interrupt your program, but also to thank you for all that you have done in the role of ending discrimination and enabling us to pass a hate crimes bill that is fully inclusive. People said: ‘You could do it in a minute if you took out transgender.’ I said: ‘No, I couldn’t do it in a million years if I took out transgender.’
“That was never going to happen. And I do want to salute our President. Because, although we were very proud of passing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislatively, that would never have happened without his leadership. On one historical note, Barney Frank – all those people who were so instrumental in helping us repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – when we first passed our amendment, I went to them and I said: ‘Today, you are making history,’ looking at the sort of liberal bloc that was there. And they said: ‘Yes, we passed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the defense bill.’
“I said: ‘No, that was only part one. Part two is you are now going to vote, for the first time in your lives, for a defense bill. Because if you don’t vote for the bill, it’s not going to pass.’ ‘Aw, the Republicans will vote for it. They always vote for the defense bill.’ I said: ‘This is my line of work. This is what I do. I read minds. They’re not voting for it. They’re not going to vote for it.’ Well, we may have gotten nine votes for the defense bill. They all voted against it – not to be partisan…
“But they all voted against it. And we needed every Democratic vote to pass it. So Barney Frank, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich – people like that – were marching down the middle. I said: ‘Just hang back. Trust me. Just hang back. If they vote for it, you don’t have to vote for it.’ But they didn’t.
“But attitudes have changed. And, you know things are much better. And you know it would not have happened without all your advocacy and leadership and pride. And that’s why it’s so wonderful that the Park Service is doing what it is doing under Secretary Jewell’s leadership and Jonathan Jarvis’ leadership. Because again, it is about taking pride – long overdue, but nonetheless, quite wonderful.”