Pelosi Remarks at the Equality Illinois 25th Anniversary Gala


Chicago – Democratic Leader Nancy delivered remarks today at the Equality Illinois 25th Anniversary Gala upon accepting the 2016 Freedom Award.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Thank you all.  Good evening.  Thank you all very much for this wonderful honor.  On behalf of my family, my constituents, my colleagues, this is a personal as well as an official honor for me.  It means a great deal for me.  Speaking of my colleagues, I’m proud to be here with [Congresswoman] Jan Schakowsky, [Congressman] Mike Quigley, [Congresswoman] Robin Kelly, [Congresswoman] Tammy Duckworth.

[Applause]

“Thank you, Bernard.  Thank you for this wonderful honor and generous words and your strong leadership for Equality Illinois.  Congratulations on seven years of great accomplishments.  Let’s thank Bernard.

[Applause]

“Thank you Equality Illinois again for this great honor.  I am so excited because it’s a very special honor to me – because in 2005, this award was given to my colleagues, my friends, my supporters, which I was very proud of in my election: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.  They were together for over 50 years.  We still have Phyllis.

[Applause]

“And when we were arguing the Defense of Marriage Act, I displayed their portrait in large form on the floor of the House as a tribute to them as [the Members] voted against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

[Applause]

“I am honored to receive this award with Bob Mariano – is this an Italian night? I hope so.  I’m proud of that.  [He] is receiving the 2016 Business Leadership Award for ongoing commitment to diversity, LGBT inclusion at Mariano’s Groceries.  Congratulations to you, Bob.

[Applause]

“When I mentioned Phyllis and Del, that was just one connection to San Francisco.  We have several.  We have many.  We have Illinois and California, San Francisco, Chicago.  And one of them is J.B. Pritzker.

[Applause]

“J.B., congratulations on the success as chair of this gala – what a tremendous, tremendous success.  I knew, I worked with and loved his mother, Sue.  Earlier, it was referenced that he drew his value of respect for the LGBT community from his mother.  I said to J.B. there was something I would tell him tonight that he might not know about his mother that is very special to me.  When I was chair of the Northern California Democratic Party, she was the treasurer – our offices were together; our desks were in the same room.  And she was very instrumental in writing the 1982 – well, we wrote it in ‘81 – platform that was passed in January of ’82: the California Democratic platform which supported LGBT families – 1982.  Sue Pritzker.

[Applause]

“So, he comes by his support, his values, in a family way.  Thank you, J.B.  Thank you so much.

[Applause]

“So people say to me all the time: well, it’s easy for you because San Franciscans are so tolerant.  And I say: tolerant?  I don’t like that word.  It’s condescending to me.

[Applause]

“We’re not tolerant, we take pride.  We respect and we take pride.  So let’s take pride in some of the accomplishments.  Richard talked about a number of them earlier, we’ve seen them in film and presentations, but let’s just let me thank you for the role that you played in so many things.

“It is a true privilege to be here with so many advocates, leaders, champions for LGBT Americans celebrating the 25th anniversary of Equality Illinois.  What a long array of members of the official family, legislators, governors, judges, commissioners and the rest in support of LGBT values.  I would like to acknowledge one in particular who wasn’t on the stage: Fred Eychaner.

[Applause]

“Without Fred Eychaner, none of the accomplishments we celebrate tonight would have been possible.  He has been an intellectual source, a strategic thinker, sometimes the resources to match the energy that was there – but really, a person who has made all the difference in the world and all the difference in the lives of LGBT people in our community.  Thank you, Fred Eychaner, for your tremendous, tremendous leadership.

[Applause]

“I know that we’ll be joined by Michael Sacks to give Bob the award in a little bit and he has fought for LGBT equality for many years and was recognized last year, 2015, with the Business Leadership Award.

“Both Fred and Michael have been longtime supporters of President Obama, and aren’t we proud of our President?

[Applause]

“More on him later.  Supporters of President Obama and pro-LGBT candidates enable us to elect a majority of people committed to a progressive LGBT agenda.  Thank you Equality Illinois Founder, Art Johnston for your vision.  Thank you, Art.

[Applause]

“To be the founder, how proud you must be?  We take pride in it.  And Chair Grant.  Grant, thank you – Grant Gochnauer – for your leadership as well.  And everyone we’ve heard from: Nicole, Richard – a whole list of leaders one way or another in this wonderful organization.

“For 25 years, Equality Illinois has stood on the front lines of advancement for LGBT families – you know that – indeed, expanding the freedom in America that belongs to every American.  Your determined leadership has driven key legislative victories for LGBT rights in Illinois; your engagement has empowered vital progress on the national level.  And, as Bernard mentioned, you did this in a bipartisan way – hopefully some of that  bipartisanship will rise to – down, up, over, whatever – to the national level where it is so needed.

[Applause]

“Thank you all for making a difference, for making a difference in so many ways.  In Congress, our priority – if you’re in public office, you know one of the things you want to do is expand freedom.  We did so with expanding the Hate Crimes law, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, working to pass the Equality Act.  I’ll talk more about that.  But they were all about expanding freedom.  Equality Illinois was with us when the Democratic Congress acted to pass the fully-inclusive Federal Hate Crimes bill.

[Applause]

“Just a little background on some of this.  When Republicans tried to block the bill, they told me: you could get this Hate Crimes bill passed in a minute if you drop ‘transgender’.  I said: Democrats are not going to pass it in a million years unless we have ‘transgender’ in there.

[Applause]

“To us, this was the most vulnerable need.  I wish you could have seen Mathew Shepard’s mother advocate for a fully-inclusive bill.

[Applause]

“I wish you could have seen the sheriff from Laramie come before us and say: I was one of those sheriffs that you dreaded, but I’ve had an epiphany when I saw what they did to Mathew, and now I’m traveling the country talking to people like me about how they should be receptive to LGBT rights and I’m going through the south with it.  An epiphany.

“One person who didn’t need an epiphany was our colleague Barney Frank.

[Applause]

“He said: right now, I am the chairman of the Financial Services Committee – I am a power in Washington.  Leaders of finance and the rest beat a path to my door.  But I wasn’t always the chairman of the Financial Services Committee.  I was once a vulnerable teenager who had questions about myself.  And this Hate Crimes bill being fully inclusive means everything to me.

“They spoke so beautifully, it’s impossible to tell you the impact of their words, but they had an impact on our hearts, and they made a fully-inclusive Hate Crimes bill possible.

[Applause]

“All of that inside maneuvering, though, would not have happened without the outside mobilization that you all provided.  Inside maneuvering, outside mobilization, that’s how we shorten the distance between what is inevitable to us and inconceivable to others.  Bringing that dynamic together.

[Applause]

“And we have more work to do in that regard.  Equality Illinois was with us when the Democratic Congress acted to repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’. Together we expanded freedom and fought discrimination in the military.  I commend President Obama for his great leadership in getting this discriminatory policy repealed.  It would not have happened without the leadership of President Barack Obama.

[Applause]

“His work with the generals was absolutely essential.  I want you to know that.  I know you take pride in him in Illinois.  We do in the whole country.  But he was essential to this – not that he wasn’t essential to the rest of it, but this: he made all the difference.  And it is really important for him to have the dialogue that he had with the generals because not only did he want to pass the law, we wanted to have the acceptance and make it easier for the implementation.  There are a lot of stories about that but, in the interest of time, we’ll talk privately about some of the other behind the scenes…

“In the courts, Equality Illinois helped turn up the heat when the Republican House Leadership decided to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.  They knew it was unconstitutional – they knew.  They knew when it passed; it was unconstitutional in the 90s.  And that’s why, in the 2000s – in the middle of the 2000s, like 2005 or so – they passed a law that said there should be no judicial review for the Defense of Marriage Act because they knew it couldn’t stand the test of constitutionality.  They knew.  But nonetheless, they decided to spend millions of taxpayer dollars voting in a strictly partisan way, to spend that money to defend the Defense of Marriage [Act] – so-called – in the courts.

“With your help, they lost every single case every step of the way.  Thank you, Fred Eychaner.

[Applause]

“Illinois, congratulate yourselves.  Illinois, take pride.  Equality Illinois helped build the foundation of facts that guided the Supreme Court to their decisions on Prop 8, on DOMA and their magnificent ruling for justice and love in the Obergefell decision.  Thank you, Equality Illinois.

[Applause]

“Today, because of your leadership, your leadership – take credit, take pride – at long last, marriage equality is the law of the land in every state in the union.

[Applause]

“But even with this awesome victory in hand – and as our calendars fill up with the joy of wedding invitations – we are reminded of all the work that remains.  As has been said by earlier speakers, we’re not finished.  Too many LGBT children are still subjected to torment on the playground and the outrage of the so-called ‘conversion therapy’.  What a nerve.

[Laughter]

“Don’t we take pride in Illinois and California banning conversion therapy?

[Applause]

“Congratulations on Illinois’ ban taking effect this past New Year’s Day.  What a wonderful way to start the New Year.

“It is time for the entire country to follow Illinois and California’s lead.  Congress needs to pass – on the national level – Congress needs to pass the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to end the hurtful and hateful practice of conversion therapy everywhere in America.

[Applause]

“With your help, we expanded the Hate Crimes Law – we expanded freedom by expanding the Hate Crimes Law to expand LGBT – we expanded LGBT service in the military, and now, we must expand freedom by ending discrimination throughout our society, by expanding the Civil Rights Act.

[Applause]

“More than 111 million Americans live in states where LGBT people lack clear state-level protections against discrimination in the workplace.  For a long time now, many of us have worked together on ENDA to end discrimination in the workplace.  But with the recent victories that we all are heralding tonight, we had a bigger vision.  We said, ‘Why should we just pass a bill to end discrimination in the workplace?  What about housing and transportation and so many other things?’  And so, with our other legislative victories and our progress in the courts, the time was right for a bigger vision.

“I was honored to join Congressman David Cicilline and the LGBT Equality Caucus in introducing the Equality Act – adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the historic Civil Rights Act that protects our democracy.

[Applause]

“The Civil Rights Act is something sacred.  It is a pillar of freedom in our country.  It was transformative in its protections.  It is not altered lightly.

“Our Congressional Black Caucus guards the gate of the Civil Rights Act, for fear that if we opened it up, who knows what could be added or subtracted.  It is for that reason we were so very proud to stand with Congressman John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders joining us in saying: it’s time.  It’s long overdue.

[Applause]

“I cherish and want to share with you the words of the late Julian Bond, who died last year – a storied leader of the NAACP, a great a champion of the Civil Rights Movement as there has ever been – there from the start.  Before he died, he said, ‘It’s time to take action to end this discrimination.  It’s time to add concrete protections for LGBT people to the existing civil rights law, ensuring that sexual orientation and gender identity enjoy similar treatment as religion, national origin, and race.’

[Applause]

“This is a real breakthrough, but we have to pass the bill.  So we need inside maneuvering, but more importantly, nothing great happens in the Congress without the outside mobilization.  So, we have some work to do.  We cannot rest.  We will not relent until we have fulfilled your theme: ‘until we’re all equal.’  Everywhere.  It will take work.  It will take persistence.  I hope it isn’t so, but I think it will also take a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President.

[Applause]

“Hopefully, the good example of Illinois, of bipartisanship, will again effect what happens in Washington.  But it will be achieved.  We will shorten the distance between the inconceivable to them and the inevitable to us – equality for all, everywhere.

“So much of our progress – in the courts, in the states, and in the Congress – has been possible because of the activism and outside maneuvering, again, of the LGBT community.  I firmly believe that the work organizing against the HIV/AIDS epidemic laid the foundation for all our successes against LGBT discrimination.

“The work that was done by so many here and others who went before – when it was mentioned that I spoke in my first speech on the Floor about coming to Congress to fight against AIDS, and it was said correctly that my colleagues were surprised that – you know, Bernard mentioned that they said they were surprised that I would say that on the Floor.  What they said to me was, ‘Why do you on your very first day in Congress want to be known for that?’  Imagine that they would say that.  Of course, coming from San Francisco, I thought, ‘Wow.  We have even more work to do than I thought.  If they think that.’  And I said, ‘the reason I said I came here to fight AIDS is because that’s why I came here.’

[Applause]

“Seriously, it was a model to the nation on organizing – breast cancer action, others followed the lead of HIV, but the ending of discrimination, of families finding out at the same time that their child was HIV infected and was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – at the same time.  It was a curious time over 25 years ago.  And over time, that work breaking down that discrimination, making HIV/AIDS a priority in our fight, recognizing that it was a resourceful virus, and every time we thought we had it, it would mutate and that we had to change – well, we had to change our tactics in fighting it, as well, scientifically and politically and officially.  And I think that accelerated the pace of ending discrimination; whether it’s in the workplace, marriage, hate crimes, the military.  I thank everyone who was involved in those efforts on HIV/AIDS.  It’s a priority for me, but I think the community made so much of a difference, and I thank you for that.

“The LGBT community helped break the stigma, improve quality of life and drive radical gains in treatment.  Together, we will push HIV/AIDS into the dustbin of history.  Thank you for making that possible.

[Applause]

“So just to review, Equality Illinois has given your state and our country 25 years of courageous, committed leadership – years marked by almost unimaginable change.  I think Richard used that term earlier – unimaginable change.

“Thank you for your energy and engagement, which have helped transform the landscape for LGBT Americans – and ‘transform the landscape’ was in one of your videos, so we’re all thinking along the same track here.

“Thank you for your patriotism in promoting freedom in America. Your work breaking down LGBT discrimination makes America more American.  Take pride in that.

[Applause]

“Thank you for opening a new era of hope and pride for future generations.  You truly honor the pledge to the flag that we take every day, to pledge ‘liberty and justice for all.’

[Applause]

“I thank you, again.  Again, on behalf of my family – this means a great deal to our family – my constituents – of course, proud to represent them – and my colleagues in Congress, who made all of these victories possible with their courage.

“Equality Illinois, thank you.  God bless you.  God bless America.  Thank you again.”