Thank you, Marc. I appreciate your kind words, and I especially am grateful for all that you – as well as your colleagues on the DOJ Pride Board and across the Justice Management Division – have done to bring us together today. It’s a pleasure, as always, to be part of this celebration. And it’s a privilege to welcome so many distinguished guests – including this year’s keynote speaker, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum – to the Justice Department.
Thank you all for being here as we commemorate LGBT Pride Month – by reflecting on the extraordinary contributions of LGBT Americans and their allies, and by recognizing the outstanding achievements of this year’s award recipients.
I would like to begin by congratulating each of the DOJ team members – as well as the students from the Anoka-Hennepin School District – who are receiving the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award for their innovative, dedicated efforts to prevent and combat sex-based discrimination and harassment in the classroom. Your actions have made a profound difference in the lives of countless young people, and helped to ensure that all of our children have access to safe and supportive learning environments.
I’d also like to acknowledge this year’s James R. Douglass Award recipient, Diana Flynn –Chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Appellate Section – who is being honored for her remarkable work in raising awareness about – and helping to address – a host of issues facing LGBT employees across the Department.
Today’s awardees have made a tremendous impact – improving lives, families, and entire communities. They’ve also helped to advance our nation’s critical and ongoing struggle for LGBT equality. And each one of them serves as an important reminder that this work is driven forward –not just by institutions like this one, but also by individual actions – of courage, compassion, and commitment.
Thanks to the advocates, activists, and attorneys in this room – and all across the country – we have made meaningful, once-unimaginable progress in recent years. And we come together at an exciting moment.
Here at the Justice Department, we can all be proud of the robust efforts that are underway to combat discrimination – in all its forms – in every community, every workplace, and every school. Particularly in recent years, the Civil Rights Division has strengthened its critical efforts to protect our nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals from the most brutal forms of bias-motivated violence.
This past April, the Department issued its first-ever indictment under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – the landmark legislation that President Obama signed into law in 2009 – for an alleged anti-gay crime in Kentucky. Since then, we’ve continued to review numerous reports of federal hate crimes, and are resolved to bring charges whenever and wherever appropriate. At the same time, we’re doing our part to educate and train our law enforcement partners across the country on gender identity-based discrimination, so that those who serve on the front lines are better equipped to prevent, identify, and stop discrimination wherever it occurs. And we’ve fought to expand protections for LGBT individuals by supporting an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would extend workplace protections to LGBT individuals, and a Violence Against Women Act that would ensure that the law’s non-discrimination provisions cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Department also has been working to coordinate significant, Administration-wide efforts to combat bullying – and to send a clear message that these actions have no place in our nation’s schools, and – quite simply – will not be tolerated. Across the country, we’re working closely with educators, administrators, and students – including courageous members of the Anoka-Hennepin community – to resolve harassment allegations and to lay out a blueprint for sustainable reform. As we move forward, let me assure you that we will continue to use every resource – and every appropriate legal tool – to provide help to students who feel unsafe or have been victimized, to forge partnerships with relevant stakeholders, and to engage with community leaders to prevent and combat unacceptable behavior and to promote healthy environments for every child.
It is this same determination that guides the Justice Department’s internal efforts to create a more inclusive work environment, and to strengthen our mission to serve all Americans by attracting a diverse range of qualified individuals; and by providing the opportunities – and the support necessary – for every Department employee to develop, to grow, and to thrive both personally and professionally.
In pursuit of this goal, last year, I approved and expanded the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy to include – for the first time – gender identity as a form of prohibited discrimination. Just this month, I am pleased to report that the Bureau of Prisons announced that every federal prison will soon appoint an LGBT representative to their Affirmative Employment Program, to help start a dialogue about critical gender-identity issues for staff serving in more than 120 facilities nationwide. And, in just a few weeks, the Department will hold the second installment in what has become an ongoing series of diversity-related training sessions.
As we seek to build on this essential progress in the months and years ahead – and strive to take this work to a new level – I am honored to count each of you as an essential – and indispensable – partner. And I will continue to rely on the great work of DOJ Pride and JMD’s Equal Employment Opportunity Staff in increasing the visibility of important diversity initiatives and helping to foster candid discussion about concerns facing LGBT employees and community members. Whether through training seminars geared toward transgender employees or informal brown bag discussions, you’ve been consistent leaders in bringing all of us together. And I am hopeful – and optimistic – about where your efforts will take us from here.
There’s no question that we have much to celebrate – and much to be proud of – as we gather today. But there can also be little doubt that, when it comes to making good on the promise of equality for every American, the hard work is far from over.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the leadership and guidance that passionate activists like today’s keynote speaker, Chai Feldblum – Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – have provided over the years.
Throughout her remarkable career, Commissioner Feldblum has been an advocate, a law professor, a public servant, and a pioneer. When President Obama appointed her to her current post at EEOC, she was a natural – and an extremely qualified – choice to lead the Commission’s important work, having dedicated much of her life to protecting the rights of disadvantaged individuals and those facing discrimination.
Since taking office, Commissioner Feldblum has encouraged and elevated discussions on a number of critical issues relevant to the most vulnerable – and marginalized – groups among us, including members of our nation’s LGBT community. And from the early days of her career – when she played an instrumental role in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act and its amendments – she has helped find ways to adapt today’s workplace to the needs of a changing workforce.
I am deeply grateful for her service to our country, her tireless dedication to tolerance and understanding– and her commitment to ensuring the rights of LGBT Americans. It is an honor to share the podium with her today. And, as the first openly lesbian Commissioner of the EEOC, I can think of no one better to hear from on this morning’s theme: “The Power of Out.”
Please join me in welcoming Commissioner Chai Feldblum.