by Jeremy Leaming
The U.S. Department of Justice has made historic strides in bettering lives of the LGBT community through efforts to promote equality, but Attorney General Eric Holder told an Aug. 23 gathering of the National LGBT Bar Association in Washington, D.C. that he needs the continued involvement, support and passion of its members and other advocates of equality to continue the “momentum.”
Providing the keynote address at the LGBT Bar Association’s 2012 Annual Lavender Law Conference, Holder did not reveal any new information regarding the DOJ’s efforts to protect the rights and advance equality for LGBT persons, or announce any new initiatives. In an election year that’s hardly surprising, and for this audience, it really did not matter.
So reciting the DOJ’s and the administration’s well covered efforts was enough for this crowd and sufficient to illicit rounds of ongoing applause. In a speech less than 30 minutes, Holder breezed through the Obama administration’s pro-equality work and provided plaudits for individual lawyers and advocates fighting to advance equality. (See C-SPAN video of Holder's address below the break.)
“We come together tonight at an exciting moment; thanks to the tireless work of advocates and attorneys in and far beyond this room, our nation has made great strides on the road to LGBT equality and the unfinished struggle to secure civil rights of all Americans,” Holder said. “We can all be proud today,” he continued, “that for the first time in history those who courageously serve this country need no longer hide their sexual orientation. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it is worth celebrating the fact that so many brave souls can serve proudly, honorably, honestly, openly and without fear of discharge.”
Pivoting quickly to another administration action, Holder reminded the audience at the Washington Hilton that the DOJ no longer defends a major, and onerous provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the anti-gay measure signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. (It took awhile for the administration to stop defending the blatantly bigoted law for the executive branch has a tradition of defending the constitutionality of acts of Congress.)
“We can also take pride in the fact that last year, President Obama and I directed the Justice Department not to defend the constitutionality of Sec. 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Holder said. “Since then we’ve seen an increasing and encouraging number of courts hold this provision unconstitutional.”
Holder also lauded the work of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez for his efforts to fight brutal treatment of LGBT persons pursuant to Hate Crimes law and anti-bullying initiatives. The attorney general added that he continues supporting a student non-discrimination act aimed at helping school officials nationwide to combat bullying and harassing of LGBT students. Holder continued that his Department would also support an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, long-pending legislation intended to bar employers from discriminating in hiring and firing based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The attorney general also knocked Congress’s obstruction of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate version of reauthorization includes expanded services for LGBT persons who are victims of domestic violence, among other expansions of services. The House version does not include those extensions of services, and in fact curtails existing government efforts to help victims of domestic violence. (The New York Times editorial board said earlier this year that the obstruction was fueled, in part, by the Republican Party’s ongoing anti-gay agenda.)
“Why this is something we are fighting about is beyond me,” Holder said to enthusiastic applause.
The National LGBT Bar Association’s annual gathering continues through Aug. 25. A panel discussion on Aug. 24, led by members of Justice at Stake, focused on threats to judicial independence. Several panelists noted that independence of courts is being eroded by increasing amounts of money being funneled into judicial elections in the states that hold them, and by efforts to oust judges who issue rulings that support the rights of LGBT persons or advance equality and opinions that protect reproductive rights. See ACSblog for additional coverage of that and other discussions from the conference.