In the Oxford English Dictionary “equality” means, “Identical in amount; neither less nor greater…having the same measure, number, value, intensity.” How did three Democratic presidents, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Lyndon Johnson, speak to equality?
President Barack Obama on Monday, June 1, named June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month” issuing a proclamation: “The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
President Bill Clinton was the last president to issue such a proclamation (President George W. Bush never issued a LGBT proclamation,), first doing so in 1999 and then in 2000. Obama’s 572-word proclamation calls for ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and also includes the phrase “transgender” for a first time. Clinton’s proclamations never referenced “bisexual” or “transgender.” Another first: Obama’s proclamation reiterates his support for same-sex civil union laws.
President Johnson made a famous civil rights speech on March 15, 1965, to the full United States Congress a week after deadly racial violence erupted in Selma, Alabama, as African-Americans were attacked by police while preparing to march to Montgomery to protest voting rights discrimination. Excerpts follow: “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.
“At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many of them were brutally assaulted. One good man–a man of God–was killed.”
President Clinton’s June 2, 2000, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month Proclamation was sent from Berlin, Germany as a June 2, 2000, White House Press release. “Gay and lesbian Americans have made important and lasting contributions to our Nation in every field of endeavor. Too often, however, gays and lesbians face prejudice and discrimination; too many have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities.
“In recent years, we have made some progress righting these wrongs. Since the Stonewall uprising in New York City more than 30 years ago, the gay and lesbian rights movement has united gays and lesbians, their families and friends, and all those committed to justice and equality in a crusade to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices and to protect gays and lesbians from prejudice and persecution.”
President Obama’s proclamation designating June as Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered (LGBT) Pride month was made in a press release from the Office of the White House Press Secretary. “Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.”
President Johnson continued: “There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our Democracy in what is happening here tonight. For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government–the government of the greatest nation on earth. Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country–to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man. In our time we have come to live with the moments of great crises. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues, issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression.”
President Clinton continued: “I am proud of the part that my Administration has played to achieve these goals. Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration. To build on our progress, in 1998 I issued an Executive Order to prohibit discrimination in the Federal civilian workforce based on sexual orientation, and my Administration continues to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.”
President Obama continued: “LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country’s response to the HIV pandemic.”
President Johnson continued: “The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal.” “Government by consent of the governed.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” And those are not just clever words, and those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty risking their lives. Those words are promised to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom. He shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
President Clinton continued: “Yet many challenges still lie before us. As we have learned from recent tragedies, prejudice against gays and lesbians can still erupt into acts of hatred and violence. I continue to call upon the Congress to pass meaningful hate crimes legislation to strengthen the Department of Justice’s ability to prosecute hate crimes committed due to the victim’s sexual orientation.”
President Obama continued: “Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBT rights movement, more LGBT Americans are living their lives openly today than ever before. I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration. These individuals embody the best qualities we seek in public servants, and across my Administration — in both the White House and the Federal agencies — openly LGBT employees are doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.”
President Johnson continued: “To apply any other test, to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race or his religion or the place of his birth is not only to do injustice, it is to deny Americans and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish it must be rooted in democracy. This most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country in large measure is the history of expansion of the right to all of our people.”
President Clinton continued: “With each passing year the American people become more receptive to diversity and more open to those who are different from themselves. Our Nation is at last realizing that gays and lesbians must no longer be “strangers among friends,” as the civil rights pioneer David Mixner once noted. Rather, we must finally recognize these Americans for what they are: our colleagues and neighbors, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, friends and partners.
President Obama continued: “The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.”
President Johnson continued: “Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument: every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to insure that right. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.
“There is no issue of state’s rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer. But the last time a President sent a civil rights bill to the Congress it contained a provision to protect voting rights in Federal elections. That civil rights bill was passed after eight long months of debate. And when that bill came to my desk from the Congress for signature, the heart of the voting provision had been eliminated.
“And we ought not, and we cannot, and we must not wait another eight months before we get a bill. We have already waited 100 years and more and the time for waiting is gone. So I ask you to join me in working long hours and nights and weekends, if necessary, to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly, for, from the window where I sit, with the problems of our country, I recognize that from outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.”
President Clinton continued: “This June, recognizing the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done, we observe Gay and Lesbian Pride Month and celebrate the progress we have made in creating a society more inclusive and accepting of gays and lesbians. I hope that in this new millennium we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and tolerance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.”
President Obama continued: “My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include 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. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.”
President Johnson continued: “As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. But a century has passed–more than 100 years–since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than 100 years ago that Abraham Lincoln–a great President of another party–signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.”
President Clinton continued: “Now, therefore, I, William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2000 as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the gay and lesbian Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our national life.”
President Obama continued: “These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
President Johnson continued: “And so I say to all of you here and to all in the nation tonight that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future. This great rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all–all, black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor.
“Now let none of us in any section look with prideful righteousness on the troubles in another section or the problems of our neighbors. There is really no part of America where the promise of equality has been fully kept. In Buffalo as well as in Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as Selma, Americans are struggling for the fruits of freedom.”
President Clinton concluded: “In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-fourth.”
“President Obama continued: Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.”
President Johnson continued: “This is the richest, most powerful country which ever occupied this globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the president who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion.
“I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races, all regions and all parties. I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.”
President Obama concluded: “In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.”