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On Sunday, I was proud to march in Manhattan's Pride parade all the way from 38th St. & 5th Ave. to Christopher St. in the West Village, near where the Stonewall riots took place 41 years ago this week.
It was on June 28, 1969 that a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers stood up, fought back, and openly challenged a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Sheridan Square. Gay New Yorkers, for the first time, took to the streets and publicly identified themselves and the modern gay rights movement was born. The Stonewall Uprising was an act of unheralded bravery that kicked off a battle for LGBT equality, a fight that we are still waging to this day.
As you know, the LGBT community remains subject to the injustice of institutionalized prejudice every day. The time is long overdue to grant LGBT Americans the equal rights and equal protection they deserve. It's unconscionable that in 2010 America, LGBT men and women are barred from openly serving in our armed forces, can be fired from their jobs or denied housing simply because of who they are, and are denied marital status and benefits. This must change.
So, as Pride month comes to a close and we look toward the ongoing battle for equality, I'd like to outline my legislative agenda to eradicate this institutionalized prejudice towards LGBT Americans. It is an agenda that I pledge I will continue to fight for all year round even as we look back, remember and celebrate the events that kicked off what I consider to be the civil rights march of our generation.
1. Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Since 1993, over 13,000 brave men and women have been discharged from the United States Armed Services solely because of who they are and who they love. We have lost over 800 soldiers in mission critical posts, including 10% of our foreign language experts, especially in Arabic and Farsi, who are invaluable in the global fight against terrorism. This policy is detrimental to unit cohesion and morale, as well as antithetical to the moral foundation upon which our Army and nation have been founded. One year ago, I asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold the first hearings on the subject since 1993. During this vital hearing, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that, “For me personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” This testimony ensured the historic votes in which the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House of Representatives voted to repeal DADT. I call on my Senate colleagues to ensure that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal language remains in the 2011 Defense Authorization bill. It is time for Congress to fully repeal this destructive policy to strengthen America - both militarily and morally.
2. Pass a fully sexual and gender identity inclusive Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
It is against the law to terminate an employee on the basis of race, religion or gender. However, LGBT Americans can still be fired from their jobs with no recourse or legal redress. No statute addressing sexual orientation and gender identity exists at the federal level, and working LGBT Americans are at risk every day, especially in tough economic times, of losing their jobs. We must do better: all Americans should be viewed the same in the eyes of the law and deserve equal protection in the workplace.
3. Ensure that Immigration Reform includes the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).
When Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform, I will push for language supporting this key measure in the final bill. I support a system where LGBT couples can sponsor their partners and place them on a path to citizenship. Too many families are kept apart every year due to this injustice.
4. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The right to enter into a federal civil marriage contract with the person who you love should be a basic right, not a privilege, and should be recognized in all 50 states and accorded all of the over 1,000 federal rights and privileges granted to non-same sex married couples. According to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal system classifies marriage as only existing between a man and a woman. DOMA should be repealed outright. Marriage equality should be the law of the land.
5. Amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include full federal protections for LGBT Americans.
We should amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to grant full equality to LGBT Americans. This watershed bill is among the most important strides our nation has made in the last century, providing equal protection under law to all Americans, regardless of race, gender and religion. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in this landmark legislation. It is a matter of justice, fairness, equal opportunity and equal protection.
I'm sorry I'm not able to stay and answer questions in the comments right now but look forward to reading them all. Thanks for all your hard work and activism on behalf of equality.
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