Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night mentioned LGBT people only once – saying the country must “defend all our rights,” including “the rights of women, workers, LGBT rights, and rights of people with disabilities.”
(Hillary Clinton delivers her acceptance speech Thursday. Photo: Michael Key/Washington Blade)
Given the prominence of LGBT people and issues throughout the four-day Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, the single explicit reference probably seemed perfunctory – especially when compared with that of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during his acceptance speech last week.
Trump spoke of the “49 wonderful Americans” killed by a gunman in an Orlando LGBT nightclub who was “targeting the LGBTQ community.” He promised to “stop it.”
“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful, foreign ideology – believe me,” said Trump.
Clinton mentioned Orlando in her speech, saying the enemies of America must be defeated. And many LGBT viewers probably felt included with her statement that “When any barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone.”
But LGBT people were still highly visible throughout the convention this week – both as speakers on the main stage at the Wells Fargo Center and through the speeches of nearly every speaker during primetime coverage for a national audience.
Lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez of Dallas spoke just a couple of hours before Clinton did Thursday night, urging communities to do what they can to restore good relations between police and minorities. In giving an example of how she has felt respected in her community, she recalled being at a restaurant in uniform with a person she described as both her “partner” and her “girlfriend” and having a waiter tell her that four different patrons asked to pay for their meal. Valdez also said she has her deputies attend various community events, including Pride events, because “the only way to serve your community is to know your community.”
Other LGBT speakers Thursday included Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (New York), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus. Maloney introduced himself as the “first openly gay person ever elected to Congress from the state of New York.”
“Last week, a speaker at the Republican convention called equality a ‘distraction. Who cares?’ he asked,” noted Maloney. “Well, I care.”
Though he didn’t mention the person’s name, Maloney was referring to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. In his remarks, Thiel was making the point that the controversy over transgender use of bathrooms was “a distraction from our real problems – who cares?”
“My husband Randy and our three children care,” continued Maloney. “These LGBT leaders standing with me and throughout this hall and country care. The authors of our Declaration of Independence signed right here in Philadelphia – they cared. Americans in Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall – they cared. And Hillary Clinton cares, too.”
Maloney introduced Sarah McBride, “the first transperson ever to address a national convention.”
(Sarah McBride was the first out trans person to address a Democratic convention. Photo: Michael Key/Washington Blade)
McBride, who is a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, came out as transgender while in college four years ago. She has since interned at the White House. She said the struggle for equality became especially urgent for her when she learned that her transgender husband had cancer. He, too, was active in the fight for transgender equality, but died shortly after they married in 2014.
“More than anything else, his passing taught me that every day matters when it comes to building a world where every person can live their life to the fullest,” said McBride. “Hillary Clinton understands the urgency of our fight.”
And it was clear that most other speakers at the Democratic convention understand, too. Nearly every non-LGBT speaker made explicit mention of their support for ending discrimination against LGBT people. Even a conservative evangelical minister from North Carolina –where the legislature has passed a law prohibiting local jurisdictions from passing laws to stop discrimination against LGBT people and to bar transgender people from using a public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity – expressed understanding.
The Reverend William Barber II, speaking Thursday night, told the primetime convention audience that he is concerned that, “when religion is used to camouflage meanness,” then America has a “heart problem.” People must stand together for the rights of everyone, he said, including LGBTQ rights.
Without explicitly tackling so-called religious freedom laws, Clinton later seemed to echo that sentiment, saying, “We will stand up against meanness and divisive rhetoric whenever it comes.”
And many of the top Democratic leaders made their support for LGBT people and equality a prominent part of their speeches and biographical videos.
On Wednesday night, a biographical video about Vice President Joseph Biden made conspicuous mention of his early support for marriage equality.
Vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine (Virginia) invoked the name of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in his speech Wednesday night.
The biographical video introducing President Barack Obama highlighted his support for the U.S. Supreme Court decision for marriage equality.
And Obama also mentioned marriage equality, the tragedy of the Orlando nightclub massacre, and gays in the military in his speech Wednesday night.
“… When we change enough minds; when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen. Just ask the 20 million more people who have health care today. Just ask the Marine who proudly serves his country without hiding the husband he loves,” said Obama, to huge applause from the arena. “Democracy works, but we gotta want it – not just during an election year, but all the days in between.”
– reported by Lisa Keen