Pride 2010 Update



Be sure to check out new additions to the archive during this year’s LGBT Pride Month. Apart from the formal speeches, a couple texts stand out. In particular, make sure to read Gloria Nieto’s statement “Poverty is a Queer Issue”. Also, David Mixner writes of the importance of preserving queer history.

Crisis in the LGBT Community: We Are Losing Our History by David Mixner
Remarks by President Obama at the LGBT Pride Month Reception
Remarks By Secretary of State Clinton at An Event Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Month

Poverty is a Queer Issue by Gloria Nieto
Google: Celebrating Pride 2010
On Equality by Alexi Giannoulias

Please email me if you have other important texts to add for Pride 2010!

Remarks by the President at Luncheon for the DNC Gay/Lesbian Leadership Council


by Bill Clinton
Private Residence
Dallas, Texas
See also: Interview en route to this event
September 27, 2000

1:15 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: You’ve got to calm down now, we’ve got work to do. (Laughter.) But I thank you for that welcome. And I want to thank Chuck and Jim for welcoming us. This is a really beautiful place. I love the art, I love the architecture, I love the light. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten to give a speech under Betty Davis eyes. (Laughter and applause.) I bet I hear about that one. (Laughter.)

Thank you, Julie and Kay. I’d like to thank Ed Rendell for agreeing, after he left the mayor’s job, to do this old part-time job as chair of the DNC. And my friend of many, many years, Andy Tobias, who has really done a wonderful job in more ways than most people know. Thank you, Elizabeth. I thank Julian Potter, my White House liaison. (Applause.) And the others who are here from the White House today.

I also want to thank Brian Bond, who is the Director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. And we have one very important candidate for Congress here, Regina Montoya Coggins — (applause.) And, Molly Beth Malcolm, thank you for being here, for getting on that — (applause) — what was that talk show you were on last night, taking up for our side? That guy just talks louder when he starts losing arguments. You hung in there really well. (Laughter.) You did a good job.

I want to say to all of you that this is an interesting time for America, a time of enormous progress and prosperity, but a time of real ferment, too. And people are trying to come to grips with all the currents of change that are running through America. The Fort Worth City Council voted to extend discrimination protection to gays and lesbians — (applause.) Gay Dallas city councilman changes party. (Applause.) Good deal. Regina wants to represent the community, and the congressman says he doesn’t — not sure he does. (Laughter.) It’s a big deal. We’re debating all these things.

I’m honored to have had the chance to be President at a time when all these issues were coming to the fore, and to have a record number of members of the gay community in my administration. We are fighting for the hate crimes bill, and basically, we now have a bipartisan majority in both Houses for it. We’ve got all the Democrats but one and about, I don’t know, 12 or 13 Republicans in the Senate voted for the hate crimes bill. And we have 41 Republicans in the House who voted with about 200 of our crowd to instruct the conferees on the defense bill to leave it in there.

I was asked just before I left Washington — a couple of you mentioned it to me — that one of — someone in the leadership of the Republican Congress said that he didn’t think this would get to be law this year. Well, if it doesn’t get to be law, it’s because the leadership doesn’t want it, because we’ve got a majority of the votes for it. So I would urge you do to whatever you can.

There’s been a sea change movement. Gordon Smith, who is the Republican Senator from Oregon and an evangelical Christian, gave an incredibly moving speech in the Florida Senate for it. I don’t know if you saw it, but there was a Republican state representative from Georgia who gave a decisive speech in the Georgia legislature for the hate crimes bill. And I don’t know if you’ve circulated that, but it’s an overwhelmingly powerful speech. And I think it could have, if we can get it around, an impact on some more members in the House. But we’ve got the votes; it’s just a question of whether the leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress stays to the right of the country on this issue.

The same thing is true of the employment nondiscrimination legislation. I actually hope that we might pass that this year. There are big majorities across the country for this. It is not just a Democratic issue. It is not just a liberal issue. It’s not even just a gay rights issue. It’s a fundamental fairness issue in America. And we get a few changes in the Congress, that will pass next time too, assuming the election for President works out all right.

So we’re moving in the right direction. But we’re dealing with this — this election, in some fundamental way, I think, is a referendum about whether the whole approach we’ve taken to our national problems in our national life is the right one. I ran for President partly because I just got sick of seeing my country held back by the politics of division; by a sense of political and economic and cultural entitlement, almost, on the part of the people who had been running things for a long time, with absolute confidence that they could divide the American electorate in ways that made their opposition look like they were out of the mainstream and not part of ordinary American life.

And it seemed to me that it gave us bad economic policies, bad social policies, ineffective crime and welfare policies, and a lot of hot air and not much results. So, when the people gave Al Gore and me a chance to serve, we tried to adopt a unifying approach that would bring the American people together, and that would not make choices that were essentially phony.

We believed we could cut the deficit and invest more in education and the American people. And, sure enough, it worked. Today, before I came here, I announced that we would have this year a $230 billion surplus, the biggest in the history of the United States; that we would, when I left office, have paid off $360 billion of the national debt. Keep in mind, the annual deficit was supposed to be $450 billion this year when I took office. So it’s gone from $450 billion projected deficit to a $230 billion actual surplus. (Applause.)

And yesterday we released the annual poverty figures which show that poverty is at a 20-year low. Last year we had the biggest drop in child poverty since 1966; the biggest drop in minority poverty in the history of the country since we’ve been measuring the statistics; 2.2 million people moved out of poverty last year alone; all income groups experienced roughly the same percentage increase in their income. But in America. And the bottom 20 percent actually had slightly the higher percentage increase, which is good because they’ve been losing ground for many years while working hard.

So I think it makes sense to have economic and social policies that bring people together. And it’s rooted in an essential Democratic belief that everybody counts, everybody ought to have a chance, and we all do better when we help each other. It’s not complicated, and it turns out to be good economics.

And it turns out to be quite effective social policy. If you look — we said that we ought to put more police on the street, punish people who are particularly bad, but do more to prevent crime in the first place, and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and kids. And, lo and behold, it worked. Now, that hasn’t stopped people from fighting us, because they’re driven by ideology and control, not by evidence.

One thing I respect about our opponents, they are totally undeterred by the evidence. (Laughter.) I mean, in a way you’ve sort of got to admire that — I don’t care what works, this is what I believe. (Laughter.) So what if they’ve got the longest economic expansion in history and 22 million new jobs and the lowest minority unemployment rate recorded and the lowest female unemployment rate in 40 years — I don’t care, I still want to go back to running the deficit and having a big tax cut.

So what if keeping a half a million felons, fugitives and stalkers from getting handguns, and not interrupting anybody’s day in the deer woods, and putting 100,000 police on the street has given us the lowest crime rate in 27 years. I still don’t want to close the gun show loophole and I want to get rid of the 100,000 COPS program. That’s their position. It’s not just about guns, it’s about police — they do not favor the federal program that is now putting 150,000 police on the street. And they have promised to get rid of it. And I could go on and on.

So what if 18 million Americans every single year are delayed or denied coverage by an HMO when a doctor is pleading for it, I’m still not for the patients’ bill of rights.

Now, I could just go on and on, but the point I want to make is this election is about way more than gay rights. I have a unifying theory of how America ought to work — I’ve tried to build one America. I’m elated when the Human Genome Project revealed we are all 99.99 percent the same genetically. (Laughter.)

I’ve been touting to a lot of people this new book by Robert Wright called “Nonzero.” He wrote an earlier book called “The Moral Animal.” The essential argument of the book is that notwithstanding all the depravity of the 20th century, and the Nazis and the communists, that essentially society is moving to higher and higher levels of decency and justice, because it’s becoming more complex and we’re becoming more interdependent. And the more interdependent people become, and the more they recognize it, the more they are forced to try to find solutions to their disagreements, in game theory parlance, which are nonzero sum solutions as opposed to zero sum solutions — those are where in order for somebody to win, somebody has got to lose.

It’s not a naive book. I mean, we’re going to have a race for President; it’s a zero sum race, one will win, one will lose. But the general idea is that we ought to organize society in such a way that we more and more and more look for solutions in which, in order for me to win you have to win, too. We have to find respectful ways to accommodate each other so that we can honor our differences, but be united by our common humanity.

So, for me, cutting the welfare rolls in half; adding a couple million kids to the rolls of children with health insurance; being for the hate crimes bill and the employment nondiscrimination bill; being for New Markets legislation to expand opportunity to people and places left behind; and continuing to get the country out of debt so interest rates stay low and prosperity stays high, so the rest of the country is secure enough to reach out to people who are different from them, which is easier to do when you’re secure than when you’re insecure — to me, this is all part of a unified strategy.

And I guess what I would like to ask you to do is to continue to reach out and to keep working. Never allow yourselves to be marginalized or divided against your friends and neighbors. Because the progress we’re making is because more and more people are identifying with our common humanity. As horrible as it was when young Mathew Shepherd was stretched out on that rack to die in Wyoming, it got a lot of people’s attention. And when that police commissioner from Wyoming stood up and said, I was against hate crimes legislation before, and I was wrong, the experience of knowing this young man’s family, knowing his friend, knowing what his life was like, and understanding the nature of this crime and why the people committed it has changed my life — seeing his parents stand up and talk — obviously, not exactly a liberal Democratic activist living out there in Wyoming — (laughter) — talking about this whole issue in profoundly human terms has helped to change America. And they are trying to redeem their son’s life by making sure that his death was not in vain.

And the American people are fundamentally good people. They nearly always get it right once they have the chance to have personal experience, if they have enough information and they have enough time to absorb it.

Now, that’s why, in this election, it’s important that you keep reaching out and understand that clarity is our friend. I just get so tickled watching this presidential campaign, maybe because it’s interesting for me; I’m not part of it now. (Laughter.) Except as I often say, now that my party has a new leader and my family has a new candidate, I’m now the Cheerleader-In-Chief of the country. (Laughter and applause.) But it’s sort of like — one week we read in the press that there is something wrong with one of the candidates. Then, the next week, oh, there’s something wrong with the other. And let me tell you something. I totally disagree with that whole thing. I think we ought to posit the fact that we have two people running for president who are fundamentally patriotic, good, decent people who love their country, but who have huge differences that tend to be obscured by the daily and weekly coverage of this or that flap.

And sometimes, I get the feeling that the flaps are being deliberately used to obscure the underlying reality. Now, the underlying reality is that these people have huge differences on economics — huge. And the Republican position would basically take an enormous percentage of the non-Social Security surplus, roughly three-quarters of it, and spend it on a tax cut. Then, if you partially privatize Social Security, that’s another trillion bucks, you’re into the Social Security surplus, and that’s before you have kept any of your spending promises. That means higher interest rates.

We just got a study which said that the Gore plan would keep interest rates roughly a percent a year lower, over a decade, and that’s worth — there’s some dispute about it, but somewhere between $300 billion and $390 billion over 10 years in lower home mortgages, and $30 billion in lower car payments, and $15 billion in lower student loan payments. That’s a big tax cut.

It also keeps the economy going. There are huge differences in economic policy. Big differences in education policy. Even though both say they’re for accountability, I would argue that the Democratic program on accountability is stronger, because it says, we favor voluntary national exams; we favor identifying failing schools, and then having to turn them around, shut them down, or put them under new management. So there are real consequences here.

And we favor, in addition to that, which they don’t, putting 100,000 teachers out there to make smaller classes, and rebuilding or building a lot of schools — because you’ve got kids just running out of these buildings, and a lot of school districts just can’t raise property taxes any more.

There are huge differences in health care — a patient’s bill of rights, Medicare drug program. You know, all this medicine flap, it obscures — what is the underlying reality here? The underlying reality is, we have the money to give senior citizens who cannot afford it otherwise a drug benefit through Medicare. And our position is that we ought to do it, and that over the long run, it will keep America healthier, make lives longer and better, and keep people out of the hospital. It’s a simple position — that if we were creating Medicare today, there’s no way in the world we would do it without a prescription drug program.

Their position is, we ought to do that for the poorest Americans and everybody else ought to buy insurance. Now, half of the seniors who cannot afford their medical bills are not in the group of people they propose to cover, number one. Number two, even the health insurance companies, with whom I’ve had my occasional disputes, if you’ve noticed, I’ve got to hand it to them. They have been perfectly honest in this. They have said, we cannot write a policy that makes sense for us that people can afford to buy.

Nevada passed the bills that the whole Republican establishment is for, and you know how many health insurance companies have offered people drug coverage under it? Zero. Now, so the evidence is not there. But like I said, I’ve got to give it to them. They are never deterred by evidence. (Laughter.)

Now, what’s the deal here? What’s the real deal? The real deal is, the drug companies don’t want this. Why don’t they want it? You would think they would want to sell more medicine, wouldn’t you? They don’t want it because — I can’t believe we just don’t read these things — they don’t want it because they believe if Medicare provides this many drugs to this many seniors, they will acquire too much market power and require them, through market power, not price controls — there are no price controls in this, this is totally voluntary — that they believe they will have so much market power, they will be able to get down the price of these drugs a little bit and cut the profit margin.

Well, we can argue about how much more expensive drugs are here than drugs made here are in other countries — and it’s different from drug to drug, but instead of getting into one of these sort of nitpicking deals, let’s look at the big picture. The big picture is, you can go to Canada and buy medicine made in America cheaper in Canada. Why? Because all these other — and Europe — because they impose limits on the price.

So we all, Americans, we have to pay for all the research and development for the medicine. Now, we’ve got great drug companies, we want the drugs to be developed. I personally think we ought to be willing to pay a premium. But I don’t think there’s a living person who needs the drugs who should not be able to get them. And we can do this for seniors on Medicare now — the fastest-growing group of people in America are people over 80.

So it’s not just about gay rights. It’s about seniors’ needs; it’s about kids’ needs to be in decent schools; it’s about what works to make our streets safer. And then, there are the environmental issues.

Now, it’s not like we don’t have any evidence here. We’ve got the toughest clean air standards in history. We’ve got cleaner water, safer drinking water, safer food. And we set aside more land than any administration in history except the two Roosevelts, and now we’ve got the longest economic expansion in history. So that’s the evidence, right?

We also know, in terms of the present energy crisis, that we’ve been trying for years to get this Congress to give tax credits to people to buy presently available energy conservation technologies and products, and that, off the shelf today, there are available products that would dramatically increase the efficiency of our energy uses. We’ve tried to put more and more money into research for new fuels, new engines, fuel cells, the whole nine yards, without success.

What’s their approach? They still say, don’t bother me with the evidence. You cannot grow the economy and improve the environment, so put us in there: We will reverse President Clinton’s order setting aside 43 million acres, roadless acres in the national forests; we will review even the national monuments, may get rid of some of them; we will relax the clean air standards — because you can’t do it. Don’t bother me with the evidence. This is about the air gay and straight people breathe. (Laughter.)

What I’m saying to you is, this is a big deal. I get so frustrated because I wish — that’s why I hope these debates serve to clarify this. I mean, I know it’s hard for them, because it’s hard for them to get up and say, I’m sorry, I just think we ought to have dirtier air. I mean, it’s hard — (laughter) — I understand it’s a hard sell. I understand that.

But you’ve got to understand, there are differences here that will affect the lives of real people, that will affect the kind of America this young man grows up in. That’s what these elections ought to be about. And I’m perfectly prepared to posit that they’re all good people. And I’m sick and tired of everybody trying to pick them both apart. That’s not the issue. The issue is that people — study after study, after study, after study shows that people who run for president, by and large, do what they say they will do.

And, by the way, there was one independent study that showed that in my first term, even before all the stuff I’ve done in my second term, I had already kept a higher percentage of my promises to the American people than the last five Presidents. (Applause.)

Now, you couldn’t possibly win a Pulitzer Prize or a Niemann fellowship if you said that. But we ought to be better. We do not need to jump on our opponent’s personally. But we do need to make darn sure that every single person knows what the differences are. And these Congress — I’m telling you, every House seat, every Senate seat is pivotally important to the future of this country. That’s one example — assume they are honorable people in the Senate and the House and the people running for the White House.

One of them believes in Roe v. Wade, one of them doesn’t. There’s going to be two to four judges on the Supreme Court coming up. Why wouldn’t they each do the honorable thing, that is, what they believe is right? Now, we ought to have — we’ve never had a time like this in my lifetime. We may never have another time where we’ve got so much peace and so much prosperity, where people are secure enough to talk about a lot of things we used to not talk about.

I mean, let’s face it. Here we are in Dallas, Texas, having this event, right? Because America has come a long way. Your friends and neighbors have. Your fellow citizens have. This is a different country than it was eight years ago. So now we’ve got to decide, what do we propose to do with all this? You have friends all over the world. Most of you have friends in virtually every state in America. I am imploring you to talk to people every day between now and the election.

Regina will win if people understand exactly what the choices are. The Vice President will be elected if people understand exactly what the choices are. Hillary will be elected to the Senate if people understand exactly what the choices are. And yet so much of what passes for political discourse is designed to obscure, rather than clarify, the differences. Somebody doesn’t agree with me, let them stand up and say what they think the differences are, but let’s talk about the things that will affect other people.

Most people I’ve known in politics have been good people who worked harder than most folks thought they did, and did the best they could to do what they thought was right. But we have honest differences — in health care, education, the economy, human rights, gay rights, foreign policy. One side is for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the other isn’t. You talk about something that could have huge consequences on your kid’s future.

So I am imploring you. I thank you for this money. We’ll do our best to spend it well. We need it. They’re going to out-spend us, but we proved in ’98 we could win at a $100-million deficit. But there’s some deficit at which we can’t win, because we’ve got to have our message out there, too. So we’ll be less in the hole because of what you’ve done today.

But you just remember this. There are a significant number of undecided voters — that’s why these polls bounce up and down like they do — and they’re having a hard time getting a grip on the election, the undecided voters are, partly because there’s not enough clarity of choice.

So I implore you. You wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t have a certain amount of political and citizen passion and courage, and if you didn’t have clarity of choice about some issues that are very important to you. So I ask you, take a little time between now and the election, every day, and try to find somebody somewhere that will make a difference, and give them the same clarity that you have.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 1:42 P.M. CDT

Interview With Chris Bull of the Advocate


by Bill Clinton
Air Force One
En route to: Luncheon for the DNC Gay/Lesbian Leadership Council
September 27, 2000

Hate Crimes Legislation

Mr. Bull. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I thought we’d jump ahead in the questions a little bit, because I noticed this morning at the press briefing you talked about the hate crimes legislation and opposition to including sexual orientation in it.

There was the front page of the Washington Post today, a man walks into a gay bar in Virginia and starts shooting. With all the evidence about this particular aspect of hate crimes, why is there still so much opposition in Congress?

The President. First, let’s talk about the good news here. There’s 57 votes for it in the Senate, and about 240 votes for it in the House. Virtually all the Democrats, but four or five of them, are for it. And we’ve got 41 Republicans on a motion to instruct the conferees to leave it in the defense bill. So there’s no question that we now have a majority for it.

How would it not be included in? The leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republican Party is still well to the right of the country on this issue. Same thing in Texas, you know, they could have had a hate crimes bill after James Byrd was killed, if Governor Bush had just lifted a finger for it. But he was unwilling to take on the rightwing in his own party, and so it died.

And it’s the same thing in Washington. If the leaders of the House and the Senate can be persuaded to instruct their conferees to follow the will of the majority, it will prevail. If it doesn’t prevail, it’s because the leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republicans is still to the right of the country on the issue.

Matthew Shepard

Mr. Bull. As you may remember, the murder of Matthew Shepard, the student in Wyoming—-

The President. I remember it vividly.

Mr. Bull. —-really changed the way Americans see hate crimes against gay people. What was your initial reaction to that murder?

The President. Well, I think it was particularly horrifying and heartbreaking because he was so young and so small and the way they killed him was so graphic. But it did galvanize the country. You know, the American people are fundamentally decent. But like human beings everywhere, since the dawn of time, they’re afraid of something that’s profoundly different from the life they know and the experiences they’ve had.

Usually, the way civilization progresses is something happens that forces people to see things in a different way, in a more human way. And that’s what Matthew Shepard’s death did. I think the fact that his parents, who are obviously not leftwing activists, just mainstream, hardworking Americans, became advocates for the hate crimes legislation and the fact that that police commissioner there, O’Malley, was so eloquent in saying that the experience of dealing with Matthew’s death and dealing with his family and his friends had changed his life, as well as his attitudes.

I think those three people deserve an enormous amount of credit for the way the country has moved.

Mr. Bull. With the depth of the problem that you’ve just described, people’s psychological response to difference, is hate crimes legislation really the best way to deal with the problem? Does it really get at the roots of it?

The President. Well, I think it’s just one piece of it. I think it’s really important to pass ENDA, and there are big majorities for ENDA in the country, too. And it hasn’t passed for the same reason.

The other thing I think that’s important–and ENDA would really feed into this–is that we just need people, all the American people, to have the opportunity to interact on a human level, in the workplace, in social settings, with gays and lesbians and know that they’re interacting with them. Personal contact, it may sound old-fashioned and naive–it’s not a substitute for laws–but it will change attitudes.

I’ll never forget in the administration’s early debate over gays in the military, there was a national poll published which showed that Americans, who knew a gay person and knew they knew a gay person, were 2-1 in favor of changing the policy. So if you believe that most people have goodness in them and will, other things being equal, treat their fellow human beings in a decent and fair way, then you have to overcome ignorance and fear. And it takes time, and it takes contact.

President’s Background on Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. One of the things for which your administration will be remembered is, early on, you talked a lot about gay people in a way that Americans hadn’t heard from that level of government, which is in terms of tolerance, inclusiveness, a place at the table, having no one to waste. How did you come across that approach to including gay people in, sort of, the rhetoric of the civil rights movement?

The President. Personal contact. In 1977, when I was attorney general, there was an attempt to make–we had just adopted a new criminal code, and the criminal code had gotten rid of all the status offenses, including homosexuality. I imagine those old laws are still on the books in some States.

And one of our legislators went home, and he lived in a very conservative district, and he was roundly abused by the religious right at the time. And that’s just when they were getting up and going there, in the midseventies. So he came back and introduced a bill, essentially, to make homosexuality a crime again but turning it from a status offense into an act. And I tried to kill it then. It just struck me as wrong.

And I remember, it was the first thing that sort of, I don’t know, brought me to the attention of some of the gay community in my home State. It was never a big issue. And I failed. I thought I had it done, and I failed. Literally in the last 30 minutes of the last day of the legislative session, they voted it out. And we knew we had to kill it in committee because the legislators would be afraid to vote against it back then.

I knew from the time I was a boy growing up that I knew people who were gay, even though they didn’t talk about it. So I always felt that. And then when I started running for President and people who were active in the gay rights cause started to talk to me–starting with David Mixner, who had been a friend of mine for, by then, way over 20 years–I just decided that it was one thing I was going to try to make a difference in. And I started actively seeking out members of the gay community. Marty Rouse helped me a lot in New York, took me to a big meeting there I never will forget.

I know it seems sort of–it probably seems strange to everybody. I was running on a New Democratic platform. I was a Governor of a southern State, and on issues like fiscal responsibility and some foreign policy issues I was, I suppose, to the right of where most activist Democrats were. But it just struck me as a human rights issue from the beginning, and a personal issue.

Future of Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. Having set that tone in the White House, is there–how do we maintain it after you’re in office? How do we make sure it doesn’t go back to pitting groups against one another?

The President. Well, first of all, I think that it will never be quite the same. I think we have to give–you can’t give me too much credit and give the gay community too little, or give the American people too little credit. I mean, I don’t think it will ever be fashionable for people in national life to demonize gays again.

But I think the extent to which we continue to progress will depend entirely on who’s elected. Al Gore is for the hate crimes legislation and the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act” and has been at least as open, if not more open, than me in pursuing this cause. This is something that he really, really feels strongly about.

And I don’t believe Governor Bush is a bad person, with a bad heart. I think he basically has a good heart. But I think that–you know, he passed on the hate crimes bill in Texas, and I don’t think he’ll be for the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act.” And if he wins and he keeps his majority in Congress, I just don’t think we’ll get very far legislatively. And there won’t be nearly as many appointments, and I don’t think the approach to AIDS, both at home and abroad, will be nearly as aggressive.

Legislative Agenda/Gays in the Military

Mr. Bull. With all your success in setting a different tone on the gay rights debate, the legislative and policy related areas have been more challenging. How do you think–I mean, what needs to be done to actually make concrete legislative gains in terms of the military policy, et cetera?

The President. Well, I think two things. I think, first of all, on the concrete legislative gains, I think the most important thing is to change the composition of Congress. It doesn’t have to change a lot–you know, 10 or 12 seats in the House, even if the Democrats didn’t win a majority in the Senate–if we picked up three or four seats, so that it was effectively a split, I think it would change the landscape dramatically.

So I think if you had a President who was committed and some changes in the Congress, even modest changes, I think it would make a huge difference on the legislative front.

On the gays in the military issue, I think it’s important to remember—-

Mr. Bull. That was a case I’m sure a lot of Democrats who opposed an initiative—-

The President. Oh, we got killed. I think a lot of people forget– and I don’t want to be too defensive about this–but a lot of people forget that I did not accept General Powell’s proposed compromise until the Senate had voted 68-32 in a resolution against my position. The House, we knew there were over 300 votes against us, so we knew they had a veto-proof majority. But we thought we might be able to sustain a veto of an attempt to ratify the old policy, until the Senate voted 68-32 against it. So that meant they had a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

So my guess is that what the next move should be is to try to get the Congress to restore to the military and the executive branch discretion to make this decision and then to try to explore–because I think there have been some changes in attitudes to the military, too– whether there is–you know, what kind of steps could be taken from there.

I don’t think that the Congress would be willing to legislatively reverse it and adopt the policy that I favor. But they might be willing to give the policy back to the executive branch and to the military on the condition that the President pledge to kind of work through this thing with the military. And I do believe there has been some progress there. There’s still a lot of resistance, too, as you know, but I think there has been some progress.

Mr. Bull. You were pilloried on both sides of that issue in ’93.

The President. The worst of all worlds, everybody was mad at me.

Mr. Bull. Because you had your friend David Mixner–was protesting. And you said at the time that you had spilt a lot of blood on the issue. What did you mean by that?

The President. Well, just that. I mean, I cared a lot about it. I thought I was right. I didn’t agree to compromise until I was beat. One of the things I learned the first 2 years is that–I don’t think it was apparent to 90 percent of the people in the gay community who cared about this that we were beat. That is, I don’t think that we made enough of the Senate vote, and maybe what I should have done, if I just was concerned about my own standing and clarity, is just let them pass it and veto it. Then they’d override the veto. We’d be back where we were.

But the way they implemented the changes that we announced in the first few years were just about as bad as it was before. Now, it’s gotten a little better now. Bill Cohen has gotten on it and changed a lot of the training. There is no question that as a practical matter, even though it’s unsatisfying as a matter of principle, that if the policy as I announced it or implemented it, it would be better than the policy before. But for years there was a lot of resistance to that.

I think it is going to get better now if the next Secretary of Defense hews to the line that Secretary Cohen has set out.

Gay Community Leadership

Mr. Bull. The gay rights movement I think eventually came to see that it, itself, had failed to provide you a certain amount of political cover to create the conditions in America in which people supported such a change. You’ve experienced gay rights leaders for a long time now. How do you think it could become a more effective, mainstream political force in the long run?

The President. Well, first of all, I don’t think that they failed any more than I did. Look, I fight a lot of fights I don’t win. The NRA beats me more than I beat them in Congress. The insurance companies beat me on health care, and so far, they’re beating us on the Patients’ Bill of Rights. The drug companies, so far, are beating us on adding a Medicare drug benefit.

So it shouldn’t be surprising or, I would argue, discouraging that the first time you come out of the box on some of these issues you don’t win. America has always been, like all societies, a place where organized, entrenched interests initially have more power than even popular causes that are not equally well organized, particularly when the issue may not be a voting issue yet with the American people.

There are lots of issues where a majority, maybe even two-thirds, agree with me, and I still can’t pass it in Congress because to the people who are against it, it’s a voting issue or a contribution issue, and to people who are for it, it isn’t.

Now, I think the gay community has come a long way just since I’ve been here, both in terms of the sophistication of it’s arguments and the quality of its organization and its active participation in the political process, including contributing to campaigns of the people you agree with and believe in. So I think all that is to the good.

But I still say, I think the most important thing–I was just looking over the people that are going to be at this lunch that we’re going to and what they do for a living. They have normal jobs in big companies that are important, and they’re in a position to exercise influence over people with whom they work. The thing I think is important is to try to get more non-gay supporters of these issues who see it as civil rights issues and see it as a voting issue, an important political priority. And I think that it’s going that way.

Same-Sex Marriage

Mr. Bull. In ’96–I think I actually had the year wrong–you signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you think Americans–and, politically, that was a hard issue for everyone in Congress, as well as you. Do you think Americans will ever come to the point where they can find same-sex marriage acceptable?

The President. I don’t know the answer to that. But again, I think that under the law, gay couples who have manifested a genuine commitment should have all the legal options that others do, whether it’s how they leave their estates or cover their partners with health insurance on the job or such simple things as the right to visit hospital beds during family visiting hours, you know, the whole panoply of things.

And then I think that when people come to respect that, and people will put their own words to whatever the relationship is and it will– the main thing is that we recognize the integrity of commitments and the right citizens have to leave their property and take care of the health of people they love and all the things that people do.

Also, I think one of the things that may impact this debate in the future is the parallel debate that’s going on in some places still over adoptions, because you see more and more gay couples adopting kids. Very often, they’re children who wouldn’t be taken by other people or who haven’t been. And I think that’s going to have an impact on people.

I’ve always felt that all those anti-adoption laws were wrong. I think that the present law is the right–the historical, almost common law standard in America, although it’s in statute now and our country is–these decisions should be made based on what’s best for the child. I think that responsible childrearing is the most important work of any society. And insofar as people see it being done by gay couples, I think that will add to a bill’s support for fair treatment.

Mr. Bull. Have your own views on same-sex marriage, itself–not on civil union or domestic partnership legislation–changed since ’96?

The President. My views were and are that people who have a relationship ought to be able to call it whatever they want. And insofar as it’s sanctified by a religious ceremony, that’s up to the churches involved. And I always thought that.

I think what happened in the Congress was that a lot of people who didn’t want to be anti-gay didn’t feel that they should be saying that as a matter of law, without regard to what various churches or religions or others thought, that the United States policy was that all unions that call themselves marriages are, as a matter of law, marriages. I don’t think we’re there yet.

But I think that what we ought to do is to get the legal rights straightened out and let time take it’s course, and we’ll see what happens.

Gay Support

Mr. Bull. Just two or three more questions. With your political troubles with the GOP and the House, polls showed that gays and lesbians, along with African-Americans, were among your staunchest supporters. They really rallied to your cause and thought it was very, by and large–you know, there are certainly gay Republicans who would disagree–felt that you were being treated unfairly, your private life being used against you.

How do you feel about that support that you got from—-

The President. First of all, I was honored to have it. And secondly, I think that partly it came out of the same wellspring of experience that prompted so many African-Americans to stick with me. They’ve been there. The people who’ve been targeted, who’ve been publicly humiliated and abused, I think, identified with what was going on, because they knew, the whole world, if anybody had been paying attention, knew by then that the whole Whitewater thing was a fraud–it never amounted to anything, which has now been acknowledged–that the civil lawsuit against me was also totally unmeritorious, as even the judge said.

So they knew that basically the whole thing was just a vehicle to try to find some last, desperate way to undermine the result of two elections and what I was trying to do for the America people and the fact that I tried to be a President for people who had been left out, left behind, ignored, and kicked, as well as for the vast majority of the American people that just needed somebody to do the right things in Washington.

So I think that there were a lot of people that knew what it was like to take a bullet, and they saw it for what it was.

Religious Right

Mr. Bull. Gays and lesbians are often the target of really unrelenting attacks from the right wing, especially religious conservatives like Falwell and Robertson. They’ve sometimes turned their focus on you, as well. Does that enhance your empathy for the plight that gays and lesbians sometimes experience?

The President. Yes, although I always—-

Mr. Bull. I mean, has it surprised you, the—-

The President. —-my empathy level was pretty high. Does it surprise me that they hated me as much as they did? A little bit. But I think there are two things. First of all, for all their railing against entitlements on behalf of poor people, a lot of those people have a sense of entitlement to cultural superiority and political power. And they don’t think anybody that’s not part of their crowd has a right to cultural legitimacy or political power. And before ’92, I think most of them thought no Democrat would ever win again. They thought they had this little proven formula, you know, to sort of portray us as enemies of ordinary Americans–to use a phrase that Newt Gingrich used against me and my wife. I think that was part of it.

And I think the other thing is, I think that one of the reasons they disliked me especially is that they see me as an apostate because I’m a southern white male Protestant, and southern white male Protestants have been the backbone of their political and social power, because we tend to be more politically and socially conservative.

So I think those are the two things that prompted it. Maybe they just don’t like me. You know that old joke about the guy that falls off the mountain? He said, “God, why me?” And He said, “Son, there’s just something about you I don’t like.” [Laughter] So maybe that’s it. I don’t know. [Laughter]

Boy Scouts

Mr. Bull. Boy Scouts of America, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Scouts’ right to determine their own membership criteria and exclude gay Scouts. Members of Congress have asked you to resign your honorary position. Would you be willing to do that?

The President. Let me ask you a fact question, first. The Girl Scouts have a different policy, don’t they?

Mr. Bull. Yes, they have no policy.

The President. Well, I can tell you that my present inclination is that I shouldn’t do it, because I think the Scouts do a world of good and because I think they can be persuaded to change. I think the policy is wrong, and I’ve made it quite clear that I think their policy is wrong. And they certainly know where I stand on it. I believe they’ll change, and I think we should keep working on them.

But I don’t know that it wouldn’t do more harm than good, especially now, at the end of my tenure, for me just to do what would be a symbolic act of resignation. I also really appreciate a lot of the good they’ve done, especially with inner-city kids and poor kids, and I don’t think we should negate the good they’ve done or we try to change what’s wrong.

I think they’re afraid. And I think there are all these, sort of, preconceptions–that I think are totally wrong–that gay adults are more likely to abuse children than straight adults. And if you look at the evidence every year in cases of child abuse that have a sexual component, there’s just no evidence to support that. But I think there’s a fear factor there.

Mr. Bull. But aren’t those kids that you’re talking about, that are being helped by the Scouts, being taught that they can mistreat gay kids, gay kids are second class?

The President. If I thought they were doing that–you know, one of the things that bothered me about the military situation is I thought there was an affirmative, anti-gay bias in the military. And there still is in some places. But as I said, I’m convinced Secretary Cohen is making an aggressive effort to deal with that now. If I thought they were, that would have some impact on me. I don’t–if that’s going on, I don’t know about it. It may, but nobody—-

Mr. Bull. Just the policy of exclusion would imply—-

The President. —-nobody has ever given me information about that. I think it’s much more a function of their buying into the presumption that, particularly, gay Scout leaders would be more likely to have some sort of improper influence on the kids, rather than being inherently anti-gay.

AIDS

Mr. Bull. Can I just throw in one question, because we haven’t addressed AIDS?

The President. Sure. Yes, do that.

Mr. Bull. We probably should get that in; I’m sorry. Because of the advances of AIDS treatment and the decline in death rates, it’s hard to maintain the sense of urgency about ending this disease. You’ve worked on it a lot during your two administrations. How can we maintain that sense of urgency to conquer it?

The President. The first thing I think we have to do is to keep in mind, keep the public in mind that there are 40,000 new cases every year, and that more than half of them affect children and young people under 25. That’s a lot.

The second thing I would say is, I do believe there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the Congress and in the country to continue looking for a cure and to continue investing in that.

And thirdly, there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus to continue, I think, the very large funding levels that we’ve achieved in CARE. So I think we’re in reasonably good shape on that.

The next big step that I think will keep a sense of urgency is to really internationalize the struggle, to recognize America’s responsibility to deal with the global AIDS crisis and to understand that the relationship between AIDS at home and AIDS abroad is quite a close one, especially with borders being as open as they are now, a lot of immigrants coming here every year, and our responsibilities and the rest of the world and our hopes for the rest of the world–particularly in our outreach to Africa, to the Indian subcontinent, and increasingly to the states of the former Soviet Union, where the AIDS rates are growing very rapidly–our ability to do what we’re trying to do in those areas will turn, in no small part, on our ability to work with them, to help them reverse the epidemic.

You’re going to have African countries–I’ve had an unprecedented outreach to Africa, and we just passed this big trade bill with Africa, and we’re trying to get debt relief for the poorest African countries that are being well run. But there are countries over there that last year had very high growth rates, that within 10 years to 15 years will have more people in their sixties than in their thirties in those countries because of the AIDS epidemic. Their economies, their societies are very likely to become largely dysfunctional, along with their political systems, unless we can do something to turn the AIDS epidemic.

I think we can keep more edge on the fight against AIDS at home if we marry it more closely to the fight against AIDS around the world.

Mr. Bull. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. I enjoyed the visit.

Mr. Bull. I appreciate it very much.

The President. Thanks.

Note: The interview began at 12:47 p.m. aboard Air Force One en route from Andrews Air Force Base, MD, to Dallas, TX, and the transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 23. In his remarks, the President referred to Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush; Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard; Commander David O’Malley, Laramie, WY, Police Department, who investigated Shepard’s murder; gay activist and author David Mixner; and Marty Rouse, assistant to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview

Improving Hate Crimes Reporting


by Bill Clinton
September 13, 2000

September 13, 2000

MEMORANDUM FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

SUBJECT: Improving Hate Crimes Reporting

Unfortunately, each year our country experiences a number of hate crimes. We have all heard about the heinous incidents such as the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas, in June 1998. In October of that same year, Mathew Shepard, a gay college student, died after being beaten and tied to a fence. In July 1999, Benjamin Smith went on a racially motivated shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana. At the end of this rampage fueled by hate, Ricky Byrdsong, an African American who was a former basketball coach at Northwestern University, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student at Indiana University, were killed, and eight others were wounded. In August 1999, Joseph Ileto, an Asian American and U.S. postal worker, died at the hands of a gunman in Los Angeles. This same gunman also injured five persons, including three children, at a Jewish community center. Finally, this year there were two rampages in Pennsylvania in which several people of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds were killed or injured. These crimes affect the entire Nation, the communities in which they occur, and the victims and their families in ways fundamentally different from other crimes. People are targeted simply because of who they are — whether it is because of their race, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

During my Administration, we have worked hard to fight hate crimes. I established the National Church Arson Task Force in June 1996 to oversee the investigation and prosecution of arson at houses of worship around the country. I held the first-ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes in November 1997. At the conference, I announced that the Department of Justice would establish Hate Crimes Working Groups in the U.S. Attorneys’ districts across the country. These working groups, essentially Federal-State-local partnerships, typically include representation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State and local law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices, educators, and community groups. The groups work to ensure close coordination on hate crimes investigations and prosecutions among responsible law enforcement agencies; promote training of police, investigators, and prosecutors in identifying and dealing with hate crimes; encourage victims to report hate crimes; and educate the public about the harm they cause. In April of this year, I held a strategy session with some representatives of these Hate Crimes Working Groups at which law enforcement officials — at the Federal, State, and local levels — reported that they coordinate closely on hate crimes investigations and prosecutions.

In 1998, the last year for which FBI figures are available, 7,755 hate crimes were reported — nearly one hate crime every hour of every day. Of these hate crimes reported, 56 percent were motivated by race, 18 percent by religion, and 16 percent by sexual orientation. However, there was certainly an underreporting of hate crimes.

Today, I announced a new report, “Improving the Quality and Accuracy of Bias Crime Statistics Nationally: An Assessment of the First Ten Years of Bias Crime Data Collection,” which was funded by the Department of Justice. This report noted that over 10,000 city, county, and State law enforcement agencies now participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Hate Crime Data Collection Program. Although 83 percent of participating agencies reported that no hate crimes had occurred in their jurisdiction during the previous year, follow-up surveys with line officers showed that 31 percent of those agencies had investigated one or more incidents of hate crimes. These data indicate a disconnect between what line officers believe are hate crimes and what is reported to the FBI. Extra-polating from this data, the report estimates that between 5,000 and 6,000 additional agencies may have encountered hate crimes that were not reported to the national program. In addition, the report noted that 85 percent of law enforcement officers responding to a survey believed that hate-motivated crimes are more serious than similar crimes that are not motivated by bias.

Based on the results of this report, I hereby direct the Department of Justice to work with State and local law enforcement agencies, as well as relevant law enforcement organizations, to come up with a plan to improve hate crimes reporting, within 120 days. I understand that the Department already plans to meet with representatives of State and local law enforcement organizations later this month. In addition to this meeting, the Department should consider in its plan whether various actions, such as the following, would improve hate crimes reporting:
Pilot programs in jurisdictions where law enforcement agencies reported zero incidents of hate crimes;
A study to analyze the role that juvenile offenders play in the number of hate crimes committed each year;
Training sessions by Federal law enforcement on identifying and reporting hate crimes; and
Activities by the U.S. Attorney Hate Crimes Working Groups to work with community groups and local law enforcement to improve hate crimes reporting in their areas, including helping to bring more victims forward to the police.

In carrying out these activities, I know that you will continue your leadership on fighting and preventing hate crimes in order to make this country a safer place for all Americans.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

Letter on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act


by Bill Clinton
Text of a letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives
July 12, 2000

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I write to urge you to bring the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) to the floor for a vote before the August recess. Last month, the Senate, in a strong bipartisan showing, voted over-whelmingly to pass this legislation that would strengthen federal hate crimes law. As the Senate vote demonstrates, passing hate crimes legislation is not a partisan issue. It is a national concern requiring a national response. Now it is time for the House to do its part to ensure that strong hate crimes legislation becomes law this year.

Since this legislation was introduced in November 1997, our country has witnessed countless acts of bigotry and hatred. In June 1998, James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was brutally dragged to his death. In October of that year, Mathew Shepard, a gay college student, died after being beaten and tied to a fence. In July 1999, Benjamin Smith went on a racially motivated shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana. At the end of this hate-fueled rampage, Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American who was former basketball coach at Northwestern University, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student at Indiana University, were killed, and eight others were wounded. In August 1999, Joseph Ileto, a native of the Philippines and U.S. postal worker, died at the hands of a gunman in Los Angeles. This same gunman also injured five persons, including three children, at a Jewish community center. Finally, this year there were two killing rampages in Pennsylvania. In March, an African-American man shot and killed three white men. In April, another man murdered an African-American man, a Jewish woman, two Asian-American men, and an Indian man. We must take action now to stop these acts of violence.

This legislation is absolutely necessary because hate crimes are fundamentally different from other crimes. Victims are targeted simply because of who they are — whether it is race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. These acts of violence affect entire communities, not just the individual victims. This legislation would provide more tools to State and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. It would also expand protection to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

I ask the House of Representatives to follow the bipartisan example of the Senate by passing hate crimes legislation before the August recess. We must send a message that hate crimes will not be tolerated, and that one more hate crime is one too many.

Sincerely,

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

Presidential Proclamation for Gay and Lesbian Pride Month (2000)


by Bill Clinton
June 2, 2000

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

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 discrimina-tion; 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, WILLIAM J. 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.

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.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

Remarks by the President on Hate Crimes


by Bill Clinton
The East Room
April 25, 2000

2:32 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Amy Klobuchar and all the other law enforcement officials, civil rights leaders who are here; Attorney General Reno, Deputy Attorney General Holder.

Before I begin my remarks about hate crimes, I’d like to say just a brief word about the reunion of Elian Gonzalez and his father. After five months, it was long overdue. Now that they have been safely reunited, I believe it’s time for all of us, including the media and those of us in public life, to give this family the space it needs to heal its wounds and strengthen its bonds; to work to lessen the pressure on them as the matter goes forward in the courts.

The thing that really matters now is that little boy and his life and his family. And I think, at least for the next several days, the less we all say about it and the more time he has to breathe the air of a normal life, the better.

I would like to commend the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Holder, the law enforcement and the INS. They had a very, very difficult job to do, with no easy choices. And I am grateful that they were able to safely reunite the young boy with his father. Thank you. (Applause.)

We have just had a very, very good meeting with people who are on the front lines of law enforcement in our communities, people with different responsibilities, very different backgrounds, different viewpoints, who have all come to the same conclusion: we need to work together as partners and as a national community to fight crimes fueled by hate. And we need strong federal hate crimes legislation.

I want to be clear: most hate crimes are investigated and prosecuted at the state level. We support that. In fact, one of the reasons that I asked Janet Reno to become Attorney General over seven years ago is that she had been a prosecutor in Miami for a dozen years. And I wanted the federal government to have a unified law enforcement policy with state and local authorities all across this country in an unprecedented partnership. I think we have achieved that.

But in some of the most brutal, hate-motivated crimes, federal officials have been prevented from teaming up with local law enforcement. That has denied communities the resources and the expertise they need. We can draw a line against hate by drawing on each other’s experiences.

One important way to ensure that hate crimes are punished and justice is done is to make sure we’re all able to do our part. And that was the focus of our meeting today. Probably, you’ve heard me say many times by now that the great irony of this very modern age is that the biggest stumbling block we face is perhaps the oldest problem in human relations — our fear of those who are different from us. It’s not a far leap from that kind of fear and then to distrust, and then the dehumanization and then to violence.

We have seen that in case after case across this land: a man dragged to death in Texas because he was black; a young man stretched across a fence in Wyoming because he was gay; children shot in Los Angeles because of their faiths; and a young Korean American shot coming out of church by a man who said he belonged to a church that didn’t believe in God, but did believe in white supremacy.

In 1998, the last year for which we have statistics, over 7,700 hate crimes incidents were reported in our nation — almost one an hour. And it is suspected by the experts that many more go unreported. These are not like other crimes, because these crimes target people simply because of who they are. And because they do, they strike at the heart of who we are as a nation.

Whenever one of these crimes is committed it creates a tension and fear that rips at the fabric of community life. This is not a partisan statement, but a simple statement of fact. This is about people who go to work, obey the law, are good citizens and good neighbors, who ought to be able to live their lives in dignity and without fear of abuse or attack but cannot. That’s why we have worked hard to combat such crimes.

Two and a half years ago I convened the first ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes. Since then we have increased substantially the number of FBI agents working on them. We have successfully prosecuted a number of serious cases, formed local hate crime working groups in the U.S. Attorneys Offices around our nation, worked to help police officers identify the signs of a hate crime. My budget for the coming year includes funding for hate crime training for law enforcement.

But we must do more. You have already heard today, federal laws punish some crimes committed against people on the basis of race or religion or national origin. But they are hamstrung by needless jurisdictional requirements for existing crimes. Right now federal prosecutors cannot prosecute even the most heinous crimes unless the victim was voting, serving on a jury or doing some other federally protected activity. That defies common sense.

Today I heard about a case involving three skinheads in Lubbock, Texas, who declared a race war in their community, murdered one African-American as he was walking down the street and injured two others. Local prosecutors and the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided together that the case should be tried in federal court. The skinheads were convicted and are behind bars with no chance of parole. But if the victim had been inside a friend’s house instead of on a public street, that would not have been a hate crime under today’s federal law. That doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t matter where the murder was committed. It was still a hate crime. And the resources of the federal government were needed.

We also must give federal prosecutors the ability to prosecute hate crimes committed because of sexual orientation, gender or disability. These account for a growing number of such crimes. As the community leaders have told us today, this is not about taking anything away from states and communities. It’s about making sure all our hometowns have the tools they need to fight hate.

So today I want to announce some new ways to do just that. First, the American Prosecutors Research Institute, the research arm of the National District Attorneys Association, is releasing today a resource guide, the first of its kind, to help prosecutors’ offices handle hate crimes investigations and prosecutions. This report was funded by the Justice Department. It highlights model practices around our country, giving guidance on everything from screening cases and investigation, to trial preparation, to help in preventing the crimes in the first place.

Second, I’m announcing the release of a new guide that highlights promising practices by communities to confront and reduce hate crimes. It spotlights five national models, from California to Maine, for training criminal justice professionals, treating the emotional and practical needs of hate crime victims, and taking creative steps to root out hate from public schools.

Third, and most important, I am renewing my call on Congress to pass a meaningful hate crimes bill. Last year, Congress stripped out important hate crimes protections from a bill that had already passed the Senate. I vetoed the bill in part because it did not contain the strong hate crimes provisions we’re fighting for.

This year, America needs action. No one should be victimized because of how they look, how they worship, or who they are. The one thing I regret today is that all of you and through our friends in the media who are here, the American people, could not have heard the personal testimony of the two law enforcement officials — who came all the way from Wyoming to be with us — about how the searing experience of Matthew Shepard’s murder and their responsibility to investigate it; to get to know his friends, gay and straight alike, and his family; to understand the circumstances of the inhumanity which took his life — how all of that changed their lives. That is really what this is about. We need to provide a law that works. And we need to get beyond the law so that we all work together. It is profoundly important.

Let me say in a larger sense, this is part of our efforts to make our country a less violent place. I am grateful that crime is at a 25-year low; that homicides are at a 30-year low; that gun crimes have dropped 35 percent in the last seven years. But as we saw just yesterday at the devastating act of violence at the National Zoo here in our nation’s capital, where seven young people were shot and wounded in a senseless act, our country still has too much violence and too much crime.

I’d like to express my concern and support to the Mayor and the entire community and, obviously, to the victims and their families. But whether it’s a random act against children or a crime driven by hate, it should be obvious to all of us that we can do more and we must do more.

Seven years ago and three months now, when I became President, I think there were a lot of people who really wondered whether the crime rate could be brought down in our country; whether we could become less violent. In such an atmosphere, maybe reservations about taking even sensible steps could be justified. But today we don’t have any excuses. We know we can make America a safer place.

But while the crime rate may be at a 25-year low, and gun crimes may be down 35 percent, and the homicide rate may be down to a 30-year low, there is not a single soul in this room or in this entire country who believes that our children are as safe as they ought to be, that people are safe from hate crimes, no matter what their race, their religion, their condition or their sexual orientation, that we have done all we can to make this the country it ought to be.

So if you believe that everyone counts and that everyone should have a chance to live his or her life, and if you believe we all do better when we work together, then you’ve got to help us pass this legislation. It’s very important and we don’t have a single excuse not to do it.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 2:45 P.M. EDT