Remarks as delivered
Thank you. Thank you so much for that kind introduction. Thank you to all of you for being here today and for that warm welcome. Principal Daphne also you gave me a tour of the school earlier and I want to thank you for showing me the highlights of the school and for taking me into some of the classes, and letting me see the kids at work, but also the energy that’s here at Harvey Milk because it’s really a very special place as all of you know who work here and attend here.
So it’s so great to be here to meet all of you, to spend a few minutes talking with you about some of the issues of the day. About some of the issues that you’re facing and about some of the issues that we all face. So I really appreciate your time today. Principal Daphne is right I’ve spent a lot of time fighting for civil rights, but I will tell you that I really appreciate the Hall of Inspiration. I get my inspiration from all of you. Because you all witness the issues and the problems that we all face at the Department of Justice. And you all are the ones who have the courage to walk with us and to stand with us as we work to vindicate those rights. And so without people who are willing to stand up and say that they have an issue or a problem or something that has happen to them. We would not be able to move these issues forward. So I really want to thank all of you, as well as the entire community that supports Harvey Milk High School for all of your support of the work of the Department of Justice. It really means the world to us.
I have a team here with me today. But also here with me in the circle is Vanita Gupta. Vanita is the head of my Civil Rights Division. She’s the rock star at the Department of Justice, I have to tell you, and we are incredibly proud of the work that the Civil Rights Division has been able to do in so many important issues including LGBT issues. Obviously, we have cases and we bring lawsuits. Vanita’s team is the team that drafted the lawsuit against the state of North Carolina over HB2. Vanita’s team is the team that’s defending the guidance involving transgender rights that we distributed along with the Department of Education.
But there’s more that we do than just bring lawsuits, because it’s really important for us at the Department of Justice to feel, particularly when it comes to civil rights and human rights, that we can provide guidance and help to prevent the problems from even occurring. That’s the goal here. That’s the most important thing, creating an environment where everyone can live safely, and express themselves, and express who they are and what this world means for them in an environment that’s free from fear and coercion and any kind of prejudice. And so we do a lot of work in that regard as well. We have the Community Relations Service as part of the Department of Justice, and when we have incidents that occur like hate crimes or police shootings, we would send that team to different cities to help the residents and elected officials talk about issues and mediate issues and hopefully learn a better way to communicate.
We do a lot of work with law enforcement. You know a lot of work we do has been around police shootings that I know you all are aware of and that you see them too. But a lot of the work we do with these departments is giving them information on how to deal with different communities. Be minority communities who have issues of trust, or also the LGBTQ community. And we also spent some time here with the New York Police Department (NYPD) and their LGBTQ outreach team, talking with them about some issues, mediating some discussions between some homeless transgender youth and the NYPD. Because if groups don’t understand each other and if different people don’t have a way to talk to each other and to communicate, the misunderstandings will still continue, the misunderstandings and fear will still continue and the hate will still continue. So much of what we see in terms of hate crimes or bullying or bias stems from ignorance, it stems from fear, it stems from labeling someone else as different, labeling someone else as other. Not realizing that we’re all different, every bod-someone could look at every one of us and call us the other and react that way. And not realizing that what binds us together is so much stronger than what separates us.
I thought the artwork that I was able to see today was so wonderful. The way that you all have traced the civil rights and human rights movement through all different issues and different groups to talk about the issues of the LGBTQ community. I thought encapsulates so much of what I talk about when I go around the country.
People often ask me; you know why is this such an issue to you Attorney General. Why don’t you stick to traditional civil rights issues and civil rights movements? And the civil rights movement is wonderful, I benefited a great deal from it. But it’s because the principals that we talked about that my parents and grandparents fought for weren’t just for women, or southerners, or black people they were for everyone. So having been the beneficiary of it it’s my mission to make sure that everyone benefits from those principals. This is a great country as you know but it’s only great if everyone gets the chance to participate, if everyone has a chance to be seen for who they truly are.
So I’m looking forward to talking with all of you about your experiences here at Harvey Milk. And hearing how you think we can also do more in this year and do more in this field. What more is needed, particularly as we start going through a transition. One of the things that you should know is that even though the Department of Justice, like every other agency, goes through a transition the work that we do in this area continues. We have within the civil rights division an LGBTQ working group that has been around not just under me but under previous Attorneys General going back through several presidents. It’s staffed by dedicated career lawyers. They stay in the department. They work on these issues. These issues are important to them. So we will always have our eyes out. We will always have our eyes open. We will always be looking out for you and we always want you to come and tell us what’s happening, what your concerns are. What your fears are, and most importantly how we can help advance the goal of making sure that everyone, everyone, is treated equally and fairly in this country of ours.