Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for that warm welcome. Thank you to Valerie Jarrett for that kind introduction and for the vital work you do to promote opportunity and advance the cause of justice. I’m so happy to be here with so many inspiring women and important allies. I want to thank First Lady [Michelle] Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls for convening today’s event and for ensuring that women’s issues are seen for what they truly are: American issues. I want to recognize all of today’s speakers, who have dedicated themselves to ensuring that women have the equal access to education, employment, health care and security that all Americans deserve. And I want to thank all of you for being here and for working tirelessly in your communities – day in and day out – to build a world that is more safe, more tolerant, more equal and more just – not just for some, but for all.
That’s a goal that feels especially poignant today. Even as we gather here for a summit about seeking the way forward and lighting the road ahead, I know that we are all still feeling the impact of this weekend’s terrorist attack in Orlando. I want you to know that, at the Department of Justice, I am working alongside my colleagues – including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the National Security Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Florida and state and local partners on the ground – to investigate this appalling crime. We will continue to bring all resources to bear as this investigation continues and all our hearts and prayers are with the 49 innocent lives lost; with the many more who were threatened or injured; and with the families and loved ones whose lives have been forever changed.
But as we focus on our response to this terrorist attack, let us not lose sight of who the victims were. As President Obama has said, this was an act of terror and it was an act of hate. It targeted a gay club during a Latin night and the individuals who were injured and killed were members and friends of the LGBT community – many of them Latino. These were men and women – many of them young people – who went to a club to enjoy their evening, to spend time with friends and to celebrate Pride Month in a place where they could be themselves, where they could breathe freely and where they could feel safe. Everyone needs a place of safety.
I know that the women in this room and women around the country, understand the importance of those places of safety – places where we don’t have to look over our shoulders, or worry about our surroundings. Places where we can relax and let our guard down and simply be who we are. Everyone needs a place of safety. For some people, those safe places are churches; for others, they are mosques; for still others, they are community centers or sorority houses. This gathering itself is a safe place for collaboration and growth among women, where we can speak with and learn from each other in a supportive atmosphere. For our friends and family in the LGBT community, places that offer safety, inclusion and acceptance have historically been few and far between even as they remain profoundly necessary – particularly because a gay person’s home isn’t always a place where he or she feels safe from judgment or violence. And so bars and clubs have, at times, provided a haven from judgment, a respite from intolerance, a source of comfort and community. Indeed, they have provided sanctuary.
This attack was made all the more devastating because it occurred in such a place – a place that was supposed to be safe. It deeply damaged a sense of security and has left a profound feeling of loss. As always, the question we ask ourselves is, where do we go from here? For me, the larger answer is that, in response to this tragedy, we must examine what we can do – and what we must do – to make our country a place of safety and comfort for all Americans – no matter who we are, where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love.
There are a number of ways to move forward in that work – for those of us at the Department of Justice and for all of us here and around the country. First, we will continue to investigate this attack and see if there are lessons we can learn to prevent another tragedy. We need to talk about gun laws that allow an individual to legally purchase weapons that facilitate mass killings. We need to resist the voices that prey on fear and sow division. And most of all, we need to stand against hate and to stand for the kind of love that America embodies at its best. As we all attempt to make sense of an inherently senseless act, I want our LGBT friends, neighbors and family members to know: we support you, we stand with you and in the aftermath of this horrific attack we have been inspired by you. We have been inspired by your community coming together in resilience, coming together in strength and coming together in love. You have relied on all of these in the past – to know yourselves, to declare yourselves and to stare down prejudice with defiant pride. You are giving all of us the example we need as we rebuild our sense of safety and community and vow never to let fear take hold – and we honor you for that.
These are not easy tasks and they are made more difficult in the aftermath of a terrorist attack like this one that shakes our understanding of our own safety and that has the potential to make us doubt who we are and what we can accomplish together. It can be tempting to give in to cynicism and despair. It can be tempting to believe that our progress is illusory – that one step forward will always be met with two steps back. But I want us to remember that the victims of this attack were living in an America that had newly recognized their fundamental right to marry; that had draped the White House in a rainbow flag; that had declared in one voice from our highest court that “love is love.” And we are still that country. Far from dividing us as terrorism aims to do, this attack has brought us together – in support, in solidarity and in love.
That was clear in the long lines of men and women in Orlando waiting to give blood to help people they did not know. It was clear in the vigil being kept outside the White House by LGBT Americans and allies as the Gay Men’s Chorus sang “We Shall Overcome.” It is clear even today, as we gather together as women from different regions and different backgrounds; from different generations and different traditions – to discuss how we can draw our nation closer to the fulfillment of our fundamental belief: that all men and all women are created equal.
We are a country that shares a bond of common humanity that is stronger than divisions of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. That is the principle on which this nation was built. That is the bedrock on which our shared community stands. That is the notion that has drawn us all here together in a shared call for safety, for opportunity and for advancement. And that is the promise that has ignited every movement for progress in our history – even in the face of vicious opposition; even in the face of brutal threats; even in the face of violence and fear. We are still that country. And as we move forward, we will continue to stand together. We will be strong. We will be united. And we will be proud.
Thank you once again for being here today. Thank you for your extraordinary efforts to promote leadership and create opportunity. And thank you for the work you do each and every day to make this nation safe, supportive and free for all.