Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
7:48 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: HRC! (Applause.) It’s good to be back. It’s good to be back. (Applause.) Good evening, everyone. Good evening.
Thank you, Kelley, for your powerful words and your powerful leadership, and for your lifetime of work fighting for civil and human rights. And, Becky, thank you. Thank you so very much for all that the two of you together and individually represent.
Before I begin today, I will say a few words about the vicious attack on Paul Pelosi. I spoke with Speaker Pelosi yesterday morning, and she intended to be here with all of us. Many of you know of her longstanding leadership and allyship and support of HRC. (Applause.) And so, she is a friend. She is a dear friend — she and Paul both.
And so, I told her that we are all praying for Paul and for their entire family. And it just speaks to so much of what HRC has always stood for, which is the work that we still have to do to fight against hate and to stand up to say there’s no place in America for political violence and that we will always stand together to combat those who pretend to be powerful but define their power as knocking people down when we understand the true measure of strength is based on who you lift up. (Applause.)
So, with that, I will say it is so good to be with everyone tonight — so good. (Applause.) Thank you.
So, I first attended this dinner — the first time I attended — in 1999 with my dear friend, Mark Leno. I was a courtroom prosecutor at the time, and Mark was then one of the first openly gay members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. (Applause.)
And these many dinners and years later, I am honored to be here at the HRC Dinner as Vice President of the United States. (Applause.) Yes, thank you. Thank you.
And so, I know — and I have a history with this organization and all of the friends who are here — and I know that — how, for decades, the leaders in this room have helped our nation to realize its highest ideals. It is the leaders in this room and so many before us who marched and protested, who organized and advocated and ran for office. The people in this room who took action as allies and parents and as your full selves to advance liberty, freedom, and equality for all.
For decades, HRC has shown our nation the true meaning of patriotism. (Applause.) And together, the work we have done has also been about building coalitions, because we all know we are strongest when we fight together.
That knowledge, of course, guided Sylvia Rivera; Bayard Rustin; Harvey Milk; and my dear friend Jim Rivaldo, who helped elect Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — (applause) — and who managed my campaign when I first ran for District Attorney of San Francisco.
And Rivaldo would often tell stories and recount the earliest days of the gay rights movement, and we spent so much time together. And he would talk about the importance then and the continuing importance of working together. He talked about how the origins of the movement really prioritized bringing folks together from the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and the women’s rights movement.
He understood and talked so much about the importance of the power of coalitions. And he asked me and asked me to promise him, in his last days, that I would continue to work on what we collectively know as the power of coalition-building.
Think back to 1986. Winston Johnson, one of the early leaders of HRC — he asked his friend, Coretta Scott King, to speak at one of the first HRC galas.
Others might have turned him down, but that great civil rights leader said, “Just tell me where and when.” Because — (applause) — as Coretta Scott King put it, she said — and I quote — “I know Martin would be with you on this.” (Applause.)
Coretta Scott King spoke the words that reflect what we all know. The only way we move forward as a nation is together — together.
As has been said: In 2004, almost 20 years ago, together, we stood in San Francisco City Hall with people of all ages and races and genders and backgrounds, when I was so honored to perform some of our country’s first marriages of same-sex couples. (Applause.)
Together, we gathered again on June 28, 2013, again at San Francisco City Hall, when I pronounced Kris Perry and Sandy Stier spouses for life. (Applause.) And it was truly one of the proudest days of my life.
And we stood together in 2020 to deliver leadership for this country that was focused on bringing us together instead of pulling us apart.
As always, our work was under difficult circumstances. Then, it included, of course, a global pandemic when people had to wait in line for hours to ensure that their voices were heard.
But that hard work resulted in the election of Joe Biden and me to the White House. (Applause.) And we — the President and I — are so proud to have led the most pro-equality administration in our nation’s history. (Applause.)
You’ll remember, in fact, that on the very first day we took office, President Biden expanded protections for LGBTQ+ Americans in housing, in healthcare, education, and the workplace. We renewed a commitment to end HIV/AIDs in America by 2030. Based on legislation I was proud to introduce as a senator, we ordered insurance companies to cover the cost of PrEP. (Applause.) And we have fought, together, to make sure every person can access and afford the care they need.
Working together, we are strengthening protection for LGBTQ+ children who live in foster care. We are combatting the dangerous and abusive practice of conversion therapy. (Applause.) And we reversed the ban on transgender service members. (Applause.) Because we should honor, as a nation, all people who are willing to risk their lives to defend our freedom. (Applause.)
And we are proud to have appointed leaders from this community and beyond to the highest levels of our administration.
Since 2020, we have accomplished all that and so much more. And together, we have expanded background checks for gun purchases and — (applause) — yes; lowered the cost of insulin and prescription drugs; and cancelled student loan debt for millions of Americans — (applause); and made the largest investment — $370 billion — in fighting our climate crisis — the largest in our nation’s history.
And all that, HRC, to say: Because of your work, because of your hard work over the past 22 months in addition to the past many decades, we have made historic progress. And so much of that work is because we approached it doing it together.
And so, together, we will continue to fight to move forward. But we must recognize: In this moment in our country, there are powerful forces trying to take us backward.
Today, the rights, the freedoms, and the very existence of the LGBTQ+ people are under assault. Children’s hospitals have received bomb threats simply because they care for transgender youth. White supremacists have shown up at Pride festivals armed with assault weapons. Trans folks — in particular, trans women of color — have faced record levels of deadly violence. Every day, LGBTQ+ youth are enduring bullying and harassment.
And in states across our nation, extremist, so-called leaders have fanned the flames of hate and homophobia for political gain. These extremists, as we know, have passed “Don’t Say Gay” laws. They want to fire teachers just for having family photographs on their desk and punish students who speak openly about who they are.
You know, as Vice President, I receive letters from people across our nation. I received one, for example, from a lesbian woman in Washington who was terrified that the Supreme Court will take away her right to marry the person she loves. And another from a young trans man in Colorado who has lost half of his friends to suicide. And one from a gay man in Maryland who fears America is becoming a place where people do not see him as fully human.
Well, tonight, I have a message, in particular for the young leaders of America: We see you and we hear you and you are not alone. (Applause.) There are millions of us who stand by your side, and we are in this fight together. (Applause.) You are not alone.
And, HRC, all of this is happening in a — in a broader context. Our nation right now — and I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it until we put an end to it — our nation is experiencing an epidemic of hate.
In 2020, hate crimes in the United States surged to the highest rate in over a decade. As a former prosecutor, as a former United States senator, and now as Vice President, I have seen how hate deprives people of their most fundamental freedoms. The freedom to sit in a classroom, go to a movie, or march in a parade without fearing for their life. The freedom to be who you are, to worship how you choose, to love who you love. And the freedom to make choices about your own body.
Consider: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court of our land, just took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America — the right to make a decision about their own bodies without government interference.
And now, many extremist, so-called leaders have called for an abortion ban nationwide — nationwide. And do note the hypocrisy. These so-called leaders say they care about life while they ignore issues such as maternal mortality. (Applause.)
And recall: When Dobbs was decided, these so-called leaders said we should return this issue to the voters. And yet, these same leaders — you got to watch what they’re saying in addition to what they’re doing. These so-called leaders in states across our country have passed laws making it more difficult for the people to vote.
They say the people in the states should vote on the issue, yet they’re making it more difficult for the people to vote, with undemocratic laws, un-American laws. (Applause.)
And this — this is just the beginning. Because Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud. Contraception is on the line. Marriage equality is on the line.
And just take a look at which states attack voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and reproductive rights. And you will not be surprised to know that quite a few do all three at the same time.
The point is: All of these attacks on freedom are connected. And to respond to these threats, we must join together and build those coalitions that have been so much a part of our movements. (Applause.)
HRC, I believe that when you know what you stand for, you know what to fight for. (Applause.)
So, tonight, let us speak with one voice. We stand for the right of all people to live free from discrimination. (Applause.) We stand for the right of all people to participate equally in our society. (Applause.) And that is why we fight to pass the Equality Act.
We stand for the right to marry the person you love, and that is why we fight to pass the Respect for Marriage Act. (Applause.)
We stand for the right to participate in our democracy, and that is why we fight to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Applause.)
We stand for the right of every person to have autonomy over their own body, and that is why we will write the protections of Roe v. Wade into law. (Applause.)
And so, tonight, let us remember the advice of the great hero Harvey Milk, who said, quote, “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
Well, there’s an election in 10 days. And I know, in 10 days, we will make our voices heard and we will speak out for freedom. We will speak out for democracy. We will speak out for equality. And as always, we will speak out with pride. (Applause.)
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless America. Thank you all. (Applause.)
END 8:07 P.M. EDT