These remarks were delivered at the 23rd annual HRC National Dinner.

Who are you? — An immigrant, an American or both? 

  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Straight?
  • Black, White, Latinx, Asian or Native American?

We all have identities that deserve to be respected and celebrated. But today we are at a crossroads in this nation, where our identities will either serve as a tool to achieve liberation, or as a tool to further oppress us.

For the past several years, we have seen an increasingly disturbing painting; a painting reflected on our television screens and in our newspapers; a painting of history repeating itself. Places we have seen in the past that we never want to go back to — slavery, miscegenation, sodomy laws, overt and unbridled government sanctioned discrimination. Places we thought were largely historical; limited to books and movies. 

But they are not. There has been and continues to be widespread indifference and bigotry advanced through the highest halls of power, and a fundamental regression of our society.  

At the core of this moral recession is Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their cadre of lieutenants. This federal administration is using playbooks of the past to turn us against one another. They have artfully sought to use our identities as a sword and create false hierarchies; to force us into believing that we lose something by simply recognizing someone else as a human being.

We have witnessed a dramatic roll back of our democracy at the hands of a president who holds the rule of law in contempt. He also holds our national security in contempt. And as we saw recently, he even holds weather reports in contempt… (you can tweet that). He is so divorced from reality it actually takes the breath away.  

The truth is, this administration’s path of destruction has been vast. From separating families at the border and throwing immigrant children into iron cages… to fueling white supremacy… to attacking transgender troops, undermining protections for transgender students, rolling back years and years of progress, and destroying our social fabric.

As he fumbles from one self-inflicted crisis to the next, Trump is systematically seeking to turn us against each other and have us live in a state of fear. Donald Trump wants you to believe that you will lose something if you see the immigrant as a human being, if you see the transgender person as a human being, if you see the person living with HIV as a human being. He is correct. You are losing something. But it is not what he wants you to think. You are not losing your job, or your car, or your health care by seeing people as human beings.

By adopting or acquiescing to Trump’s baseless factionalism, we are losing something much larger and more significant than what Trump tells you. 

WE are losing our souls

WE are losing our government as a place that respects and represents all of us, and 

WE are losing our democracy as we know it.

I submit to you that if we are to weather this storm, this existential crisis we face in this country, we must see beyond ourselves.  

See yourself as the bisexual Black man living with HIV in the south with little to no access to healthcare.  

See yourself as the young Latinx lesbian immigrant, who is being brutalized and persecuted in her home country because of who she is and who she loves.

See yourself as a Black transgender woman, who is literally fearful that she will die when she steps out of her home. 

See yourself as Dana Martin
Jazzaline Ware 
Ashanti Carmon
Claire Legato
Muhlaysia Booker
Michelle 'Tamika' Washington
Paris Cameron
Chynal Lindsey
Chanel Scurlock
Zoe Spears
Brooklyn Lindsey
Denali Berries Stuckey
Kiki Fantroy
Jordan Cofer
Pebbles LaDime “Dime” Doe
Tracy Single
Bailey Reeves
Bee Love Slater

See yourself as these 18 transgender people, primarily Black transgender women, who were killed this year, in this country.  Over the past seven years, more than 150 transgender women have been killed nationwide. Think about that and see yourself in them.

Behind every anecdote and every statistic, there is a real person, and we must do more to transcend the artificial barriers that separate us.

For me and I hope for all of you, transcendence means action, not talk. We must put our time, our resources and our support behind initiatives that work, and initiatives that communicate that we are all ONE community. We cannot have Trump and Pence dictate who we are. And when we do not stand up for the transgender community or do not stand up for the persecuted immigrant at the border, we are allowing them to define us. We must define ourselves and define ourselves INCLUSIVELY. And that is why I am committed to advancing initiatives to further break down barriers, to increase our capacity, and to send a strong message to all those who sow division, that we will not be torn apart.  

First, for Black transgender women who are living in crisis, their crisis must become ours as well. We must recognize that the killings of Black transgender women reflect a deep level of indifference and fear and we must directly combat it. For too long, our system has failed the transgender community. And by depending on that system, we have also failed the transgender community. We must look outside of the existing paradigm to create new systems to support transgender people in the communities they call home. 

That is why the Human Rights Campaign is launching the Transgender Justice Initiative.  First, we will build the capacity of transgender community members and leaders of color through two capacity building programs; second, we will leverage our strengths with our corporate and community partners to deliver new economic and training opportunities for transgender individuals; and third, we will transform communities by using all levers of local government to drive systematic change in areas most needed – public safety, healthcare, housing, education and employment. In doing all of this work, we will engage with local activists and advocates who are and have been on the frontlines addressing the range of barriers that put black transgender women at risk. 

We need all of you to stand up and support this work, as you have done multiple times — when our community was attacked at Stonewall, when our community was left in hospitals to die of AIDS, when our community was denied the right to marry. When our community is attacked, when our community is in crisis, we must stand up.

And as we stand, we must also stand tall for one of the most fundamental rights we have. The right to vote. We must fight against voter disenfranchisement, against voter suppression, against the erosion of our democracy. We cannot win an election, if we do not address the fact that many voters are being systematically suppressed from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Which is why I am announcing tonight that the Human Rights Campaign will be partnering with the RIGHTFUL Governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams and her organization Fair Fight, to combat voter suppression efforts which all too often target members of the LGBTQ community, including people of color, young people, and transgender people. With this partnership, we fight to protect and support our right to vote. And in doing so, we can elect a pro-equality Senate that will follow the House’s lead and pass the Equality Act, and we can elect a president who will sign it into law.

I have fought a lot of battles in my life. I have fought a lot of arrogant New Yorkers. And Donald Trump, I have a simple message for you: 

WE are coming for you. 

Nancy Pelosi is coming for you.

Chuck Schumer is coming for you.

Every person who cares about equality, humanity, and civil society is coming for you. 

And one way or another, your time is up.  

And if you don’t know what that means, look it up in the LGBTQ dictionary.

Our community -- the more than 3 million members and supporters of the Human Rights Campaign -- has never been more energized and focused. Which is why on October 10th, the eve of National Coming Out Day, the Human Rights Campaign and CNN will host an historic prime time televised town hall devoted to LGBTQ issues; where we will have an opportunity to hear directly from the Democratic presidential candidates about their plans for advancing equality. And to strengthen our relationships with our partners in the corporate, financial, and entertainment sectors, the Human Rights Campaign will expand our footprint and open offices in New York and Los Angeles. By working directly with our partners and the thousands of members and supporters in these two epicenters of progressive activism, we will be even stronger.  In this upcoming election and beyond, we are going to harness the full power of our communities — both LGBTQ people and our allies — to ensure we are heard at the ballot box. 

Finally, we must fight for our courts. We can never lose sight of how central the judiciary has been in our struggle and in protecting the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And although Trump and Pence are working diligently to pack the courts, we will meet and ultimately best them in any arena, including our courts. We must continue to believe in the independence of our judiciary. In just a few weeks, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in three landmark cases on whether we can continue to have protections from discrimination in the workplace.   

With this history in mind, the Human Rights Campaign will continue to fight in the courts and this year expand our legal footprint to do impact litigation work. Working with all of our movement partners, we will advance cases both domestically and internationally, as we expand the scope of HRC Global. Equality does not stop at our own borders. And we cannot allow ourselves to be infected with Trump’s hyper nationalism. We are part of a global equality movement, and as the world’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, it is imperative we stand with our partners in nations around the world. 

As we embark on this journey, one thing is clear. To win, we must do it together. We cannot win this war against hate if we live in our silos. We cannot win this war against division by remaining divided. We cannot win this war against indifference by ignoring each other. We must unite to break down the barriers both within and outside of the LGBTQ community, that too often allow some of us to forget about the rest of us. 

This movement must always be grounded in acceptance, because for many of us, acceptance was what we lacked when we needed it most.

As you saw in the video, I spent much of my early life in Liberia. After my family moved to the United States, I told my father on the telephone that I was gay. He got very angry, and he disowned me. He told me he wished that I was never born.

It took him years, but he finally accepted that my sexual orientation was something that I could not change.

I know that many of you have similar stories, or know someone who does. And that is why there must be space and room for everyone in this movement.

Regardless of how we self-identify, we share a common dream -- the dream of full equality.

It is the dream that led Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to fight back at Stonewall. 

It is the dream that led Harvey Milk to run for public office.

It is the dream that led Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell to fight discrimination all the way to our nation’s highest court.

It is the dream that led each of you to get involved with this incredible organization.

And it is the dream that brought me here tonight. The promise of this organization and this movement must be fully realized. As I stand before you as the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign in its nearly 40 year history, I promise you I will fight as hard and as long as necessary to make the dream of full equality a reality for all of us. All I ask in return is that you make that same promise.  

As the great Toni Morrison said, “the danger of losing humanity must be met with more humanity.” 

When we come together as a people… when we strip away at artificial barriers… when we are bold and courageous and unapologetically ourselves… when we dig deep to see beyond ourselves and to see others for who they are as human beings… our power has no limits. And as you hear that voice of anxiety in the greater sea of courage: 

  • Think about the millions of faces and voices of those we will lose if we don’t stand up.
  • Think about the dream of a real democracy becoming a reality and how it can function for all.
  • Think about how we can seize our country back.

Who are you? I say that whoever you are, however you identify, see yourself in me, see yourself in Dominique, see yourself in the person who looks nothing like you. Let our next greatest achievement be realizing the dream of full equality for all of us, and let it begin tonight, right here in this room, with each and every one of us.


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