Obama Touts HIV Record at LGBT Donor Event as Protestors Urge Action on LGBT Immigration
June 20, 2014
In remarks this week, U.S. President Barack Obama touted a range of HIV- and LGBT-related initiatives and reforms enacted during his administration, lamented the stalemate in Congress that blocked the passage of more comprehensive legislation protecting LGBT workers, and urged community leaders to speak out for marginalized Americans.
President Obama's remarks came at a fundraising gala of the Democratic National Committee's LGBT Leadership Council in New York City on June 17 -- one day after the White House announced that the president would sign an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"The majority of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses already have nondiscrimination policies that protect their employees -- not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it helps them attract and retain the best talent," Obama said at the gala. "We don't benefit as a country or an economy -- businesses don't benefit -- if they're leaving talent off the field. ... In the United States of America, who you are and who you love shouldn't be a fireable offense."
"I know that many people in this room have photographs with smiling friends from days gone by," Obama said to his audience of 550 gathered donors. "A lot of those friends are gone, taken before their time -- both because of a disease and because there was a government that failed to recognize that disease in time. And that can happen again if we're not careful."
"That's why my administration created the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy," the president continued. "That's why we're working toward an AIDS-free generation, so fewer people have to know the pain of this disease and so our country doesn't lose any more of its sons and daughters."
Obama reminded the audience that his administration had completed the removal of the 22-year-old ban on people with HIV traveling to the U.S., a policy change that also ended the prohibition on the immigration of people living with HIV. He also cited reforms to hospital, health care, insurance and housing policies that were based on stigma, fear or discrimination.
To great applause, Obama also urged the crowd of political donors and LGBT leaders to raise their voices for others, including "poor kids, regardless of sexual orientation," low-paid workers, undocumented immigrants, those seeking equal pay for equal work and those who experience racial discrimination. "If you've experienced being on the outside, you've got to be one to bring more folks in even once you are inside," he explained. "That's our task. That's our job. That's why we're here tonight."
Outside the fundraiser, protestors urged the president to do even more on LGBT rights issues, particularly in relation to immigrants. Members of the LGBT and immigrant rights groups GetEQUAL, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (a project of United We Dream), Immigration Equality, and Make the Road New York gathered to urge the president to stop deportations and grant administrative relief to undocumented immigrants.
On the United We Dream website, the immigrant youth-oriented advocacy group explains that "over 267,000 LGBTQ undocumented immigrants live each day afraid of being deported -- many to countries that criminalize homosexuality. For these individuals, deportation is almost certainly a death sentence. And many thousands more LGBTQ U.S. citizens have also seen their families torn apart as their parents and siblings have been deported. President Obama has the power to end this suffering, yet he refuses to use his administrative power to stop deportations and give undocumented immigrants a way to remain legally in the country they know and love."
Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender woman from Mexico, died in detention in the U.S. in 2007 after she was denied HIV treatment.
Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.
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