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American Society & Values

President Obama Proclaims June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month

By Jeffrey Thomas
Staff Writer


Washington — Calling on Congress and the American people to "work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity," President Obama issued a presidential proclamation June 1 in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

"I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans," Obama said. "As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also issued a statement recognizing Gay Pride Month, expressing gratitude to U.S. government lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in Washington and around the world and thanking them and their families for their contributions to efforts to establish stability, prosperity and peace worldwide.

"Gays and lesbians in many parts of the world live under constant threat of arrest, violence, even torture," Clinton said. "The persecution of gays and lesbians is a violation of human rights and an affront to human decency, and it must end. As secretary of state, I will advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

Historical Roots of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month

In his proclamation, President Obama noted that 40 years ago, on June 28, 1969, in New York City, patrons of the Stonewall Inn launched the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement when they "resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community."

"During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans," he added.

The first gay pride parade was held in 1970 on the one-year anniversary of what came to be known as "the Stonewall Rebellion." (See "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month Celebrates Diversity, Liberty.")

At annual gay pride parades, in addition to colorful floats and marching bands, participants often carry rainbows of colored balloons or multicolored banners or flags to symbolize diversity. Parents, friends and families of gay Americans celebrate and support them by turning out for the marches.

By the 25th anniversary, an estimated 500,000 people participated in the New York parade.

Although the annual parades in New York and Los Angeles on the last Sunday in June tend to get the most media attention, many communities around the nation hold parades, street festivals and educational, civic and social events during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. For many, the month is a time to celebrate diversity and civil liberties and rights.

The Stonewall Rebellion is the "watershed moment" in the history of the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement, according to Andrew Dolkart, a Columbia University architecture professor and preservationist who helped prepare the Stonewall Inn’s nomination for national landmark status. "Stonewall marked the first time that gays and lesbians as a group forcefully and vocally asserted their rights to equality under the law. The events of Stonewall opened the door for millions of gay and lesbian Americans to begin pressing for full and equal civil rights. Indeed, within a few short years of Stonewall, thousands of gay and lesbian civil rights organizations had sprung up all across America."

According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, nearly 90 percent of U.S. companies listed on the Fortune 500 (companies with the highest revenues) have policies that include workplace protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The foundation reports that more than half of those large companies provide same-sex partner benefits.

There is no federal law to protect gays or lesbians from workplace discrimination. A 1998 executive order by the president instructs all federal agencies to prohibit discrimination in employment because of sexual orientation.

A Controversial Issue

President Obama also reiterated his support for key aspects of the LGBT political agenda, including "enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security."

In 1993, President Bill Clinton attempted to change military policy so that openly gay soldiers could serve. After considerable controversy, Clinton and the military compromised, instituting the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that permits gays to serve as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. In the years since, more than 12,000 gay service members have been discharged for violating or defying the policy.

While some aspects of gay rights remain controversial in the United States, trends favor tolerance and understanding.

Gallup Polls of public opinion have been measuring American attitudes toward gays for many years. In a recent poll, 69 percent of Americans favored allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, versus 43 percent in favor in 1993. A CNN poll puts support at more than 80 percent.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked his views on gay marriage at a June 1 event at the National Press Club in Washington. "I think that freedom means freedom for everyone," Cheney said. "I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish." He added, however, that he does not support federal legislation on gay marriage. "It has always been a state issue and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis."

Five states are or will soon be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Several other states offer some form of domestic partnership or civil union to same-sex couples.

President Obama has said he supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

As of 2007, the overwhelming majority of Americans (89 percent) believe homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. Three-fifths of Americans today believe homosexual relationships should be legal, as opposed to only one-third in the mid-1980s. Almost as many view homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

More information on diversity is available at People & Places.

President Obama’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month proclamation is available on the White House Web site.

The full text of Secretary Clinton's statement is available on the State Department Web site.


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