Joe Solmonese at HRC's 11th National Dinner

by HRC Staff

The following is a transcript of Joe Solmonese's speech made on Saturday October 6, 2007, at HRC's 11th Annual National Dinner. A video of the speech can be viewed on here.

Good Evening, and welcome to the 11th Annual Human Rights Campaign Dinner.

OK -- Let's talk about the elephant in the room. And for a change, I do not mean Republicans. Tonight there are protesters outside of this auditorium who feel great despair. Tonight, there are people inside of this auditorium who would feel the same way. All of these people are passionate and angry at the events surrounding the Employment Non Discrimination Act over the last few days. Let me just say - I welcome their declarations! I love that our community is so free with its emotions, its ideas and its language. I love that the pursuit of free speech and civil rights is evident and alive. It means that all of our work is not in vain and that we have the strength and power within our community to fight until every person in this country has equal employment protection under the law.

I embrace your dissent, and more importantly I hear the emotion behind it. It is my mission as the President of the Human Rights Campaign to listen to all of you, to comprehend the complications that come with reform , to consider the many paths that we as a community could take to achieve our goals and ultimately guide us to our destination. I make a solemn vow to you tonight that I will do everything within my scope to harness your passion and energy in order to achieve a fully inclusive ENDA.

I do not want us to forget the reason we are gathered here tonight: To reflect on the work of the past, to celebrate our achievements to date and to look to a future full of hope and possibility for us and for the young people of this country.

Two Years Ago, as the new president of The Human Rights Campaign I read a story in the The Washington Post about a young African American woman named Felicia Holt, from Newark, NJ. Felicia was dealing with the struggles of being young, black and gay in an economically depressed urban center. But, she was also, heartbreakingly, coming to grips with the violent death of her friend Sakia Gunn. A 15-year old lesbian, Sakia was stabbed to death at a bus stop after she rejected a man's pick up line by stating that she was gay.

So, Felicia has learned, painfully, that while to be young, lesbian and out in Newark may be hazardous to one's physical health to deny who you are in Newark - or anywhere in the United States --,is definitely hazardous to one's emotional and mental health. And so Felicia struggles, each and every day.

Real life stories like these are happening all over our country.

So, as I joined the HRC family, my course was set.

I knew that if -- as a community -we could raise our sphere of influence and affect change in the Congress, in the communities, in the churches of this countryテ if we could do that, we could become a lifeline for Felicia Holt and for every other young person like her in anywhere in America

Last Year, I stood before you, armed with that mission, four weeks before the midterm elections. I told you that every ounce of power and energy that we had as an organization, as a community, and as Americans would need to be focused with laser-like precision. We set our sights on a very specific set of political campaigns that, we knew, could potentially change the face of Congress.

Today, because of your passionate commitment, your ceaseless hard work,your dedication and determination, Congress does indeed have a new face. In fact, Congress has several new faces. And one of them, our strongest ally in the House of Representatives, is the cornerstone for our success.

She is a tireless legislator for her home town and district, San Francisco. It's a city she loves, and it's a love that is reciprocated by her constituents.

She is a tremendous humanitarian, one who embodies the words of St. Francis, the patron saint of her hometown: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace where there is
hatred, let me sow love where there is despair, hope where there is darkness, light."

She is, as I am sure you all know, the Speaker of OUR House of Representatives: The Honorable Nancy Pelosi.

On May 3rd, 2007, Nancy Pelosi led the House of Representatives as it passed the historic inclusive Hate Crimes Bill.

And last week, she was joined by another one of our friends in Congress in the fight to make the Hate Crimes Bill, the Hate Crimes Law.

On September 27th, 2007, Senator Harry Reid led the Senate as it passed the inclusive Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill. [ JUDY SHEPARD]

Senator Reid had the power to guide the passage of that bill because of the work you did to put him, and people like him in power. Your tireless work, and your votes have removed old enemies like Rick Santorum, whose politics and policies spoke to the worst in human nature. Your voices have replaced him with people who value human rights on every level.

Our Congress this year has given us a glimmer of the America that we could live in, the America we are beginning to live in. It's not a country of hate and discrimination, but a country full of potential for fairness, equality and dignity for every citizen.

This Congress has given not only a young woman in New Jersey the hope for a better future, but it's given hope to that young woman's friends, her parents, her parents' friends, the economic life of that town, that state, and this country.

Now our community is in a position to have a major and lasting affect on the political life of America.

In the coming year we will be dedicated to electing a President that will hear our community and understand that Equality for All Human Beings is simply the right thing to do.

But in the coming ten days, we must garner our forces and strive to change the current language in the ENDA bill that excludes transgendered people. Since this language was stripped almost two weeks ago we have been meeting, persuading and fighting to have this language changed. It is our focus and priority right now. This is how you as a community can once again make your voices heard and help our friends in Congress do the work we put them in power to do. You MUST in the next ten days contact your Congressional Representative and urge the House to move ahead with a FULLY inclusive ENDA. Put your emotions, your intelligence and your conviction to work and help me persuade Congress that this Bill must be inclusive. Remind them that ordinary equality is really a very simple thing.

THIS YEAR, I stand before you with my eyes fixed firmly on the prize. There will be many dark hours in front of us, but to quote Dr. King "only when it's dark enough can you see the stars". The work ahead is enormous. And I can not do it alone.

This year I want each of you to commit to electing a President who will address the needs of our community. In ten days I want each of you to commit to an inclusive ENDA. Tonight, I want each of you to commit to the young people who will be our future leaders of arts, industry and government.

Together, we send them the message that the world of tomorrow is theirs, but it begins with our work -- Tonight.

Thank you.

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