COLUMBIA, S.C. — In her keynote address, Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of state and first lady Hillary Clinton, shared the following remarks at the SC Equality Dinner with Hillary event held on Nov. 7 at the Columbia Marriott, 1200 Hampton St. She spoke about her support for the LGBT community and her plan to continue to fight for equality for LGBT families and young people in the across the nation. The dinner was a benefit for SC Equality.
“Thank you. Wow. I am very honored and excited to be here, but I’m a little nervous. You have not been fed. I don’t want this to turn into “The Hunger Games.” I’ll do my part to fulfill my obligation this evening, but I am all that stands between you and dinner — or at least I hope that’s true.
“I want to thank Jeff [Ayers, executive director for SC Equality]. Thank you, Jeff, for not only those kind words but your leadership of South Carolina Equality during this momentous year. I want to also recognize Linda Ketner, who was with me when we were together; she was the MC at the NAACP evening gala in Charleston — 98 years anniversary. And I thank Linda for all of her leadership on so many important causes. I want to thank Gilda [S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter]. She’s such a shy and retiring person. But you always — you always know when she’s on your side, you can count on her all the way. And thank you, Gilda, for being here tonight and for all your advocacy on behalf of civil rights and gay rights and human rights from your position in the legislature.
“I want to add my words of appreciation and admiration to Liz Patterson and her testimony, as it was rightly called, and also for your pioneering work as a woman political leader here in South Carolina and your service in [inaudible].
“I am happy to be back in South Carolina. I am excited by the opportunity to travel around the state and visit with so many different folks. We had a great event last night at Winthrop, and it was a chance for people to see the three of us who are running for the Democratic nomination in action. And then to be here with you this evening, after a great town hall that I did this afternoon at Claflin University in Orangeburg.
“So I am delighted to add my voice and support for SC Equality with all of you, because I know from the conversations that I’ve had, you have stood with families across South Carolina. You’ve stood up for young people, who sometimes feel so hopeless and alone and told them it does get better, that they are perfect just the way they are. You have elected lawmakers and helped to pass laws, and helped to stop laws, which was a great accomplishment. And you’ve helped to change hearts and minds across not only the state, but the nation, by saying very clearly that LGBT folks deserve the same rights and opportunities as any other American.
“And it is remarkable to see the progress that has been made, and it’s worth celebrating that this evening. There have been victories, and there has been an extraordinary level of support for what has occurred. I too want to add my voice of congratulations to Colleen Condon and Nicholas Bleckley, and thank them for being willing to be on the forefront of making it possible for so many others to have the lives [inaudible].
“I also want to thank lawyers and advocates like [inaudible] and Malissa Burnette. And [inaudible] our table, it’s not often lawyers get standing ovations. So you should kind of take advantage of that when it’s possible.
“But everyone here and so many others who couldn’t be with us, who marched and sang and wrote briefs and did everything you could to make marriage equality the law of the land, not just here in this state but across the United States. I’m also grateful that we have a sense of not only what has been accomplished, but the challenges that still lie ahead. The people who started this organization — Linda, Harriet Hancock, or “Mama H” as she was known — began a fight for equality without at all knowing what the outcome would be. That’s the way activists and advocates always have to start: knowing that what you are standing for is right, but also not being sure when others will recognize and accept that.
“When Linda quoted from T. S. Eliot, she knows exactly what I mean when I talk about that. Because sometimes even after you make a lot of progress, you still have to keep fighting. And it takes people in every generation then to figure out what their role will be in the ongoing struggle.
“Some of you may know a young woman named Chase Culpepper. Is she here tonight? No? She did something so ordinary last year: she walked into a DMV in Anderson to get her driver’s license, just like any other 17-year-old might do, but because Chase is transgender she was treated differently. She was ordered to wash her face and take off her makeup, told to look male in her photo. And she walked out of there thinking, “I don’t want any other kid to go through that experience.” So she spoke up and she pushed for the rules to be changed. And now anyone who wants to get a driver’s license in South Carolina can be photographed the way they look [inaudible].
“Chase wasn’t even in elementary school when Linda and Harriet and everybody started this. But because of what you all have done, she had the courage to say, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not right.” Small victories like that add up to real change. And I know that sometimes the simplest of acts may feel quite revolutionary, like going to the DMV or going to a parent-teacher conference at your child’s school, or celebrating a wedding anniversary or even just bragging about your family around the office. A million ordinary acts that were unimaginable for so many, for so long, and now are not just a part of your lives but they are a part of the fabric of our lives together.
“And so we can look back with great satisfaction, but we have to keep defending rights that have been won. I thought the struggle over voting rights was over in the 1960s. And here we are, once again fighting to make sure people get to register and vote and not be stopped with artificial barriers. Well, it is the same with the rights of the LGBT community.
“The vote just a few days ago in Houston is a reminder that fear and misconceptions exist, and there are still too many people willing to exploit them for political gain. There are still too many places in our country, and there’s too many places here in South Carolina, where LGBT Americans are targeted for harassment and even violence. And there are way too many young people who are uncertain, even scared of what their future might hold.
“So here in this really lovely setting for this celebratory dinner, I want to ask you not to forget how much work still lies ahead. The work isn’t finished until every single person is treated with equal rights and dignity, no matter where they live. So the obstacles that remain are ones that I see very clearly – injustices and the dangers that you and your families still face. And I am committed to working with you to stand up for your fundamental rights.
“Now, I bet most of you know the story of Crystal Moore. Is she here tonight? Well, Crystal Moore, the first woman police chief in Latta, South Carolina — and when the new mayor fired her, for no reason other than she happens to be a lesbian, the entire town rallied behind her: gay, straight, black, white. Even people she had arrested and put in jail stood up for her. And the reason turned out to be pretty simple: she was a fantastic police chief and they didn’t want to lose her. But the mayor wouldn’t change his decision. So you know that the town did? They had a special election and they overwhelmingly voted to take the power to hire the police chief away from the mayor and give it to the town council. Then the town council turned around and hired Chief Moore back.
“Now, this is a woman who devoted her life to upholding justice and her community made sure she was treated justly too. If the people hadn’t stepped up to give her job back to her, she would have had no recourse. Because as I said last night, people not only in this state but a majority of other states can still get married on Saturday and then fired on Monday. That’s just wrong, and that’s one of the things we have to change. And you cannot leave the protection of fundamental rights to state and local authorities. It is essential to have federal protections that safeguard the rights of all Americans.
“That is why I will do all that I can to make sure Congress passes the Federal Equality Act. That law would finally outlaw discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, public education, public accommodations, access to federal funding and credit, and in the jury system. As a president, I think it’s imperative that we understand everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. And the law needs to recognize the unfinished business of equality and justice in America. So I invite all of you to come to the White House when I sign that law [inaudible]. And I’m sure Jeff and Linda will make it possible for that to happen.
“But we have other work to do. We have to secure better health care for the LGBT community. And one of the many reasons why the Affordable Care Act is a good law is because it made it illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of a person’s sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity. Because the fact is, as you know, too many people still struggle to get the care they need. And every Republican governor who refused to accept Medicaid expansion because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, including right here in South Carolina, is doing a lot of harm to people with HIV and AIDS who often need medical [inaudible].
“I am still going to do everything I can to persuade Republican governors to extend Medicaid. Just a few days ago, the Republican governor of Alaska did. I know that even the Republican governor, I’m told, in Alabama is looking at it. And I sure hope the Republican governor here in South Carolina does as well.
There’s also some unfinished business. LGBT people who are serving in our armed forces — now, the fact that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is over doesn’t change the reality that more than 14,000 men and women were forced out of the military for being gay, some long before “don’t ask, don’t tell” even existed. And many were given less than honorable discharges. I really think we should honor and thank those men and women for their service by updating their service records. Let’s make sure they get the honorable discharge they deserve.
“Now, meanwhile, transgender people are still prevented from serving openly. That’s an outdated rule, especially since you and I know there are transgender people in uniform right now. And they are serving their country. That’s why I support the policy review that Defense Secretary [Ashton] Carter recently announced at the Pentagon. It’s why I hope the United States joins many other countries where transgender people are free to serve openly.
“We also have to address the growing crisis of violence against transgender Americans. This year has seen the murder of at least 20 transgender women, primarily women of color, and so much violence goes unreported or ignored. When I was at the State Department we made it easier for transgender Americans to change their passports to reflect their true gender. And as president I will work to make sure that we provide respect and dignity for transgender Americans.
“Now, some of you might recall that as Secretary of State I had no role in any domestic politics, but I noticed as I traveled to 112 countries on your behalf there was a growing movement against the LGBT community. Laws were being passed, sometimes even laws calling for imprisonment, even the death penalty, for people who were LGBT, and it became a grave concern to me. I spent time talking to leaders, talking them out of supporting such legislation. But it became such a serious threat, because as I traveled I would meet with LGBT activists and several times I had to meet with them in secret because it was so dangerous for them to be identified.
“So in 2011, I went to Geneva to the Human Rights Council to say something that really should go without saying: Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights. And the United States has to stand up for human rights everywhere. That’s who we are. And under my presidency that’s who we will continue to be.
“Now, to echo Linda and Jeff, this is just one of the many reasons, albeit a very important one, why this election is important. Candidates on the other side have often said quite intolerant things about the LGBT community. Ted Cruz slammed a political opponent for marching in a Pride parade. Now, my response to that was that he clearly has no idea what he’s missing. I first marched in a — at a Pride parade when I was the First Lady and then I marched in the parade when I was senator. I want to invite Senator Cruz to join in next year.
“Amid ridiculous and offensive comments, there are deadly serious issues at stake. Every single Republican candidate is against marriage equality. Many of them are already on record as being against laws to end discrimination. Many are against same-sex couples adopting. And as has already been said, the next Supreme Court may have three, possibly four, openings during the next presidency. We cannot afford to take a risk. I will do my part to make sure issues such as these are given the attention they deserve on the campaign trail, and more importantly I intend to be and will be your partner in the White House. There is no doubt in my mind that progress is possible but not in any way inevitable. We have to keep working to make sure equality is a reality.
“And as I look out at all of you, I am struck by the variety of ages – some who have been in this struggle for a very long time and some quite young and new to it. That’s as it should be. I think of all the moms and dads out there who worry about whether their children will be okay. I think about the hospitals that still won’t let both moms into the emergency room with their sick child. I think about the parents and the kids who worry about whether their teachers and classmates will be accepting of them, whether law enforcement will treat them fairly — all those millions of worries, large and small, that LGBT Americans live with every single day.
“I’m fighting for an America where, if you do your part, you can get ahead and stay ahead, where you can be accepted for who you are; where liberty and equality, where diversity and unity, where opportunity and justice are not just values we recite but goals we work to achieve. I don’t want anybody to be left out. We need everybody’s talents in America today.
“And as I said in the beginning, we have a lot to celebrate. This is really the fastest civil rights movement that I’m aware of in the history of the world. But do not grow weary because there is still much left undone. And those who have been at the beginning of this movement, those who started SC Equality, have so much to pass on. But the torch inevitably will be passed and a new generation must step forward to continue to make the case to call out the champions as well as the adversaries, to be on the front lines tirelessly because there is no end to this struggle, and to support one another not just in good times but in the bad ones.
“I’m very proud to see all of you here tonight, because I represented New York, where being an advocate for equality was not quite as challenging. And one of the reasons I wanted to be here was to really congratulate you, because you have made such a difference for so many people, and I for one am grateful. Thank you all very much.”
— Text of speech provided by Hillary for America