Totally humbled to be among you. I look out at the audience and you are the people who have worked to create so much progress. I’m truly, truly moved to be here today. I work for a President – I get to work for a President – who is identified with two words: hope and change. But it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official. Hope and change is about a deeply held and proud American tradition: a tradition of toil to ensure the triumph of progress; a tradition of love winning out over fear. Hope and change.
Congressman John Lewis knows something about hope and he knows something about change. He did not imagine an America where black people could just sit at the same lunch counter; he envisaged an America where black people could lead in our Congress and, indeed, lead the country. And he went out and fought like hell to make it happen. That is change.
Senator Tammy Baldwin knows something about hope and change. She wanted to be a United States Senator. She didn’t care that there had never before been an out LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate – in her own words, she didn’t run to make history; she ran to make a difference. But thanks to her, no young person will ever have to wonder whether a gay person can be elected to the Senate. They have Tammy Baldwin. We have Tammy Baldwin. That is change.
And, the intrepid Leader Nancy Pelosi knows something about hope and change. She envisaged an America where people had access to quality, affordable healthcare, and where brave men and women can fight for the country they love, regardless of who they love. And, with President Obama, she made that happen. That is change. [Applause].
Hope is about envisioning a world where it is simply not okay to execute people on the basis of their sexual orientation, as is legal in seven countries. Change is about ensuring that homophobic countries who seek to eliminate “sexual orientation” from the United Nations resolution on extrajudicial executions, fail. And thanks to President Obama’s leadership they have.
Hope is about envisioning a world where LGBT persons have a seat at the table. Change is about ensuring that organizations dedicated to advancing LGBT rights enjoy the same privileges and accreditations at the United Nations as any other organization. And thanks to President Obama’s leadership, they now do.
Hope is about envisioning a global consensus that LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights. Change is about passing the first U N resolution in history that recognizes that. And under President Obama we have.
Hope is about envisioning a world where promoting LGBT rights is a central part of our foreign policy. Change is about the President of the United States directing his entire government to do just that. And he has.
Hope is about envisioning a world where leaders do not target their most vulnerable citizens with laws that criminalize their existence, as is true, now, in 76 countries around the world, including Nigeria and Uganda, where new legislation, further targeting LGBT individuals, was signed into law earlier this year. Change is about standing up to them when they do. And under President Obama we have.
Hope and change is about envisioning a world that is fairer, kinder, more just—not just for some people, but for all people.
Hope and change is about being more like John Lewis, more like Tammy Baldwin, more like Nancy Pelosi, and more like Harvey Milk.
Today each of us has come to the White House to honor a man who refused to accept anything short of equality. He was impatient with excuses. He was intolerant of injustice. He demanded dignity for himself and for all Americans. In so doing, he helped to make America more fair, more just, and more equal. In short, Harvey Milk made America more American.
There will always be the cynics amongst us who mock the power of hope and the promise of change. “Hope will never be silent,” Harvey Milk told them. And his legacy is a reminder that hope is never to be mocked.
For the millions of gay people in this country who can now choose to serve their country openly and proudly, hope and change has real meaning.
For the millions of gay people in this country who can now enjoy the same federal benefits as their straight colleagues, hope and change has real meaning.
For the millions of young people in this country who for the first time have leaders committed to ending bullying rather than seeking to codify inequality in the Constitution, hope and change has real meaning.
Hope and change is not a campaign slogan. It is a call to action. A call that Harvey Milk embodied, a cause he died for, and a crusade that we all must pledge to carry on.
But in our celebration and pride about how far we have come – as we unveil stamps commemorating those who made this possible – we cannot lose sight of how far we have yet to go. While we now do live in an age where the National Football League has, for the first time, drafted an openly gay man, we still live in an age where the National Football League can fire him for being gay. Postage stamps will not change that. Legislation will.
Supervisor Milk liked to begin his speeches by saying, “My name is Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you.” For those who raise your voices in the face of intolerance, who speak up for equality, who fight for the vulnerable, you are continuing the work of a great American, an American we honor today with a stamp, but whose work will forever live in the freedoms he helped protect, the equality he helped advance, the Constitutional principles and promise he helped render real for all Americans, not just some. Harvey Milk, you have recruited us. And we will be forever grateful. And we will be forever changed. Thank you.
This site is managed by U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City and the Bureau of Public Affairs in Washington, DC. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.