Thank you, Marc Salans, for your kind introduction, and for your outstanding leadership of DOJ Pride. Marc has been an effective advocate and great resource for the Attorney General’s Diversity Council on ways we can better promote diversity and inclusion for the LGBT community across the Department. Today’s event would not be possible but for the extraordinary work of DOJ Pride and the Justice Management Division – and particularly the staff of our Equal Employment Opportunity Office. We are grateful for the critical work they do on a daily basis, and particularly for their efforts in organizing today’s program.
I want to thank all of you – and particularly our program participants, including our keynote speaker, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, as well as Melissa Schraibman, Peter Fox -- for that stirring rendition of the National Anthem -- and of course the students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, who will be performing later – for helping us commemorate LGBT Pride Month.
It’s a distinct pleasure to be a part of this celebration. I send the regrets of the Attorney General who wishes he could be here today. I know that part of today’s celebration is to honor him for his commitment to justice and equality. I am certain he would have emphasized that, while it’s important to reflect on changes that have been made, it is absolutely essential that we look forward at all that is left to be done.
In the year since we last came together to reflect upon – and to celebrate – the contributions and achievements of our nation’s LGBT community, notable changes been made. In December, Congress passed – and President Obama signed into law – the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act, a measure that paves the way for America’s many brave LGBT men and women in uniform to serve our country openly for the first time, and to put their considerable skills and talents to work in patriotic service without having to hide who they are. In February, on President Obama’s order, the Attorney General notified the Speaker of the House that, in two pending cases, the Justice Department would not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. The President and the Attorney General’s concluded that, given the documented history of discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientations, DOMA should be subject to a heightened standard of review and that, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, Section 3 of DOMA fails to meet that standard.
Notwithstanding those developments over the last year, we know that LGBT citizens remain at risk of discrimination and violence. At the Justice Department, we have prioritized the aggressive enforcement of our civil rights laws, including the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The Department has worked with communities across the country, to train thousands of federal and state law enforcement partners on the Shepard Act. Similarly, we are going into schools to train teachers and administrators; and we are holding school districts accountable when they fail to take steps to protect LGBT students from severe harassment and bullying by their peers.
In April 2011, the Attorney General approved and expanded the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy to include, for the first time, gender identity as a form of prohibited discrimination. While I appreciate that there are many who believe the policy should go further still, it does represent a significant first step and we are working with our partner agencies, namely OPM and the EEOC, to make not only our policy—but all federal EEO policies—stronger and consistent across the federal government. This effort reflects the Attorney General's ongoing commitment to ensure that all employees can effectively support the Justice mission, and work in an environment that values diversity and is free of discrimination.
And—timely to note today—as we are assembled here this morning, the two-day LGBT Youth Summit is taking place. It’s the first-ever federal conference focusing on this community; and DOJ – through CRT and OJP (OJJDP and OVC)—has played an active role in its planning.
Yet as we gather today to celebrate what has happened over the last year – not just in the armed services and the federal government, but in the hearts and minds of the entire nation – we are mindful of the work that remains to be done before the promise of equality can be fully realized.
As individual citizens, as a Department, and as a country, we cannot afford ever to be content with the status quo when it comes to safeguarding the civil rights of all Americans. Every day, we must rededicate ourselves to these vital efforts of insisting that America lives up to its highest ideals of fairness and equality. The theme of today’s celebration – “Moving Equality Forward: the Power of Allies” – recognizes that not only are the civil rights of all Americans at stake in this work, but also that, to be successful in this endeavor, it is critical to find partners and allies in every place throughout the country that we can. Whether they are government leaders, business executives, advocates, community leaders, or people working in communities all across the country for fairness, justice, and equality – all are critical partners in our effort to make America live up to its ideals.
I’m proud to say that – today, when it comes to protecting and empowering LGBT citizens – our nation is on a path of progress. And in the months and years to come, let us strive to build upon the hard-fought victories of so many leaders and allies – both in our Department, through the critical work of organizations like DOJ Pride, and beyond – and to honor the promise of “equal justice under law.”
I feel privileged to count all of you as partners in this effort, I am grateful for the work you do to support our mission in offices and components around the world, and I hope that you enjoy the rest of today’s celebration.
At this point, I’m pleased to turn things over to our keynote speaker – a distinguished attorney, and a longtime public servant, who exemplifies what it means to serve as an ally to the LGBT community. Please join me in welcoming back to the Department one of our nation’s most respected and dedicated advocates former Solicitor General Theodore Olson.