WASHINGTON – In recognition of Baltimore Pride 2017, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, issued the following statement recognizing June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.
“Pride. Equality. Freedom. These values are at the core of Pride Month for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families in Maryland and across the United States. Every American deserves the same freedoms, the same opportunities, and the same protections under the law to love who they love.
“Respect. Dignity. Hope. LGBT Americans have helped drive the innovation and bold ideas that make America exceptional. They have stood sentry in our military, made scientific advances, created jobs from Main Street to Wall Street, made all of America laugh and cry, and so much more. LGBT individuals have enriched our communities and made us a stronger nation.
“Fear. Apprehension. Caution. Those of us who defend civil rights every day understand that these are discouraging and uncertain times. Despite the highs of Windsor and Obergefell, the LGBT community feels the sting of Pulse, the blatant discrimination of North Carolina, the inexplicable abandonment of transgender students in schools, and the decades of injustice that reach back far beyond Stonewall. The results of last year’s presidential election brought an unwanted chill to the winds of momentum that had swept through the LGBT community.
“To all of my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers, I say this: You are not alone. I support you. I will fight alongside you. We will not allow extremism to take away the inherent rights afforded to each and every one of us. Equality and liberty will prevail over any who would use hate and bigotry to frighten or intimidate others.
“To that end, I’ve joined with nearly half of the United States Senate as a sponsor of the Equality Act (S. 1006), historic, comprehensive federal legislation that would ensure full federal non-discrimination equality for LGBT individuals by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to other protected classes, such as race or religion, in existing federal laws. Despite major advances in equality for LGBT Americans, including nationwide marriage equality, the majority of states still do not have explicit LGBT non-discrimination protection laws. The Equality Act would fill in the gap by explicitly banning discrimination in a host of areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, access to credit, and federal funding.
“As we build a new future of equality for all, despite the current headwinds, it’s important that we learn from our nation’s past and use it as a source of strength and a teachable moment for those unaware of the history the LGBT community and what our nation has been through. It is my firm hope that we are not seeing a redux of a McCarthy-like rise in political-driven discrimination.
“For this reason, I was taken back a bit at the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, who are now serving as America’s top diplomats that neither of them would say the phrase ‘LGBT.’ Following that peculiarity, it’s been widely reported that the Trump Administration has scrubbed LGBT content from various federal government websites – in some cases changing the agency’s official nondiscrimination policy.
“Juxtaposed with the Obama Administration that lit up the White House in rainbow lights during Pride month and backed up that concrete actions of support, this attempt to erase LGBT individuals from government was disturbing. I was alarmed because I knew that it had been tried before during the McCarthy era. It had a damaging effect on U.S. foreign policy back then and it cannot be repeated.
“The ‘Lavender Scare’, as it came to be known, was part of the government’s larger attempt to rout out supposed communists and ruined thousands of people’s careers and personal lives. David Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (University of Chicago Press, 2006), the definitive academic study of the issue, found that at least 1,000 people were dismissed from the U.S. Department of State alone for alleged homosexuality during the 1950s and well into the 1960s before the ‘scare’ ran its course.
“According to the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, employees were forced out of the Department on the ostensible grounds that their sexual orientation rendered them vulnerable to blackmail and made them security risks, with many more prevented from joining the Department due to a screening process that was put in place to prevent those who ‘seemed like they might be gay or lesbian’ from being hired.
“Last year, in my role as Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, I urged then Secretary of State John Kerry to shine a spotlight on this dark period in American diplomatic history by issuing the first-ever public apology for the Department of State’s targeting due to perceived sexual orientation.
“This month, I am introducing new legislation, similar to what was enacted for the men and women of our military who also were forced to hide their real self to the world, to make amends and help right the wrongs that were leveled against our U.S. diplomats during this un-American and unacceptable episode in our history.
“A few have asked me ‘why now? Why do we need to relive past transgressions when there are ‘more important things to do?’ The answer is clear: the current Administration may work to avoid using the words lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but Congress should take firm action to show LGBT Americans that their valuable contributions to our country – today or 60+ years ago – are very real and they are recognized. We cannot and should not turn our backs on the individuals who sacrificed so much for the benefit of the American people. We cannot and will not turn back the clock on the hard-fought civil rights of the LGBT community.
“The theme of the 2017 Baltimore Pride celebration is ‘Pride Unleashed,’ a commitment to ‘work boldly and to live freely.’ I can think of no better mantra for LGBT Marylanders and allies as we fight side-by-side to protect civil rights and celebrate the strength of our diversity.”