Obama Cites Gays in Speech to NAACP, Draws Cheers
President Barack Obama addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the occasion of the group’s 100th anniversary, saying that discrimination in America is at an all-time ebb, and outlining what remains to be done.
Among the groups of Americans Obama cited as still feeling the sting of prejudice and "the pain of discrimination" were "African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender," as well as "Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country" and "Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their god."
But the group that drew cheers and the most applause when mentioned by the President was America’s GLBT citizens.
Obama noted that discrimination still afflicts "our gay brothers and sisters" who are "still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."
In his speech, Obama declared that "The first thing we need to do is make real the world of the NAACP charter" by eradicating "prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States."
Declared the President, "On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination cannot stand.
"Not on account of color or gender--how you worship--or who you love.
"Prejudice has no place in the United States of America."
Obama’s speech was made July 16 in New York City, where a crowd of thousands had assembled in formal evening dress to celebrate the NAACP’s 100th anniversary.
In what the press has suggested was Obama’s first speech to "Black America," Obama exhorted parents to take greater responsibility for the future success of their children, reported The New York Times in a July 16 article.
The nation’s first African American president also had a message for the country’s youth.
"No one has written your destiny for you," Obama declared.
"Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!"
The characterized Obama’s 45-minute speech as "one part politician and one part black preacher as he spoke in lilting cadences, his voice quiet at times, thundering at others, in unusually personal terms."
The article went on to quote Obama as saying, "When I drive through Harlem and I drive through the South Side of Chicago and I see young men on the corners, I say there but for the grace of God go I."
The New York Times article noted that "Obama has largely avoided talking about himself in racial terms," except when the occasion called for it, as with Obama’s famous speech n racial issues in America during his presidential campaign.
Obama’s pointed inclusion of GLBT Americans in the list of those who still face discrimination comes at a time when the President has found himself criticized for doing too little, and doing it too slowly, to advance the cause of equality for gays and lesbians.
On the campaign trail, Obama had spoken of wanting to see the repeal of anti-gay federal laws such as the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act and the military’s policy against openly gay troops, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
As President, however, Obama has sought to usher in those changes through the legislative process, rather than through the use of any executive orders.
While that might be politically wise and more likely to lead to substantial and enduring change in the long term, some GLBT leaders, growing impatient, had taken to saying that the Obama administration was abandoning gays and lesbians.
The President’s inclusion of GLBT citizens and their cause for full equality before the law in a speech before a mostly African American audience is also politically meaningful; in a stunning reversal of GLBT legal and progress, California voters last year narrowly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that stripped gay and lesbian families of their existing right to marry. African American voters favored the amendment, as did churchgoers and older voters; but it was the state’s Blacks who got the blame, along with Mormons, whose church had issued an edict for its adherents to contribute money and time to the cause of rescinding family rights from gays and lesbians.
The New York Times reported that press secretary Robert Gibbs deflected the notion that the NAACP speech was Obama’s first address to his African American constituents.
"I think the first speech to black America and the first speech to white America, the first speech to America was the Inaugural Address," the article quoted Gibbs as saying.
The article also quoted NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous, who called Obaam’s speech "the most forthright speech on the racial disparities still plaguing our nation" the President had made during his Oval Office tenure.