Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Reaching back to Stonewall, June carries a special significance for LGBT individuals across the nation. For more than forty years LGBT Pride month has been a time for all Americans to celebrate the immeasurable contributions LGBT individuals have made to our great nation, the progress the LGBT community has made in the U.S. and abroad, and the challenges faced in the fight for equality.
Mr. President, America’s never-ending effort to become a ‘more perfect union’ involves the long quest to secure equal rights and justice for the LGBT community by, as I just said, changing hearts, minds and policy. The last year has seen hard-fought progress for the LGBT Americans.
With the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Obergefell v. Hodges, same sex marriage is now a fundamental right in every state in the Union. After years of legal battles and families being told that the government would not recognize their love and mutual commitment in the same way it might view their neighbors, the Supreme Court finally ruled that equality is an inherently American value that should not be denied or taken away from anyone. And just this past Friday, President Obama designated the historic site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City as our nation’s newest national monument. This designation will create the first official National Park Service unit dedicated to telling the story of LGBT Americans.
The LGBT community has made strides in righting past wrongs. I commend Defense Secretary Ash Carter for adding sexual orientation to the U.S. military’s equal opportunity program. Roughly a year after that historic decision, Eric Fanning, an eminently qualified public servant, with a long track record of working on behalf of the men, women and families of our armed forces, finally was confirmed by the Senate to become the Secretary of the Army. Secretary Fanning is openly gay, and his confirmation reflects a long overdue but commonsense understanding that sexual orientation and gender identity are not relevant to one’s ability to serve this nation.
Our military was not alone in taking steps to ensure that all who wish to serve their country and community are able to do so without discrimination.
The Boy Scouts of America announced that, “the national executive board ratified a resolution removing the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.”
Mr. President, I think this move by the Boy Scouts is worth noting because it impacts two issues that I find very important to the future of this country: the welfare of our children, and encouraging civic involvement. The Boy Scouts of America are one of our most venerated civic organizations serving young people.
I believe that no individual should be prevented from serving their country or enriching their community based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Boy Scouts’ decision not to discriminate will lead to more well-rounded scouts.
For as much progress as we have seen in the last year, there have been several recent events that show our need to recommit to building a more perfect union for all Americans.
The shooting on June 12 in Orlando and attacks on LGBT individuals across the country and abroad show that in far too many places across the world, being openly LGBT still carries great risk.
That an attacker would target this venue, especially during Gay Pride Month, is a horrific tragedy and a senseless loss of human lives.
My deepest sympathies are with those killed and injured in this terror attack and hate crime, along with their families and loved ones. My thanks go out to the first responders who saved lives in the midst of such danger. There is no simple solution to preventing this type of tragedy. But one step that would help is for Congress to enact commonsense gun safety legislation in the coming days.
American values of tolerance, compassion, freedom and love for thy neighbor must win out over hate, intolerance and homophobia.
No one should fear for their lives simply because of who they are. This moral truism extends beyond the LGBT community. And so it is disturbing that state legislatures have recently taken steps to breathe new life into the defunct and deplorable practice of separate but equal facilities. Attempts to restrict the use of public facilities by transgender people is unsettling to say the least.
As a Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, I take special note when foreign legislatures take steps to codify discrimination.
When we see discrimination happening in our own society, we must take action.
In our democracy, state-sponsored discrimination sends two strong messages. First, it tells those who are being discriminated against that the government does not fully recognize you as an equal member of the society. Secondly, it sends a not-so-subtle wink and a nod to private citizens and businesses that further discrimination and abuse will be tolerated.
Thankfully, Americans of every sexual orientation and gender identity have spoken out against these laws.
In the United States Senate, I have been a proud ally of the LGBT community and will continue to oppose efforts to return to a time when our government sanctioned discrimination.
This struggle for equal rights continues not only in our states but here in the Congress. The House of Representatives, for example, recently considered a provision to prevent businesses that contract with the U.S. government from discriminating against LGBT employees. It is shameful that in 2016, the Congress of the United States of America cannot agree that discriminating against Americans based on a core identifying characteristic is wrong, just as it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or religion.
Congress should take up and pass the Equality Act, which I am proud to co-sponsor, which would provide comprehensive anti-discrimination protection for LGBT individuals in areas such as housing, education, employment, credit, and public accommodations.
Congress should take up and pass my End Racial Profiling Act, which prohibits discriminatory profiling by law enforcement officers, including profiling based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Mr. President, as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have worked to put international human rights at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, whenever possible. The international community has made notable strides in ensuring that LGBT individuals are treated with the respect and dignity that all people deserve.
Nepal took the commendable step of including LGBT protections in their new constitution. Malta, Ireland, Thailand, Bolivia and Vietnam all passed laws protecting transgender individuals.
Ukraine outlawed LGBT workplace discrimination, Kazakhstan struck down a dangerous anti-LGBT law and Mozambique decriminalized homosexuality. These are small but important steps.
But as much as we can and should celebrate global progress on these matters, we have also seen troubling setbacks. In too many countries, being LGBT still is criminalized or met with violence. Most recently with the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan, a USAID employee at the U.S. embassy in Bangladesh and editor of Bangladesh’s first and only LGBT magazine. Tragically, what happened to Mr. Mannan in Bangladesh is seen over and over again around the world. LGBT rights are human rights, and as we engage with the international community on human rights, we must prioritize LGBT rights.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the American experience is about individuals working together to build a ‘more perfect union’ by changing hearts, minds and policy. Since our founding, the U.S. Senate has played a key role in achieving this goal. It is very clear that ensuing LGBT Americans are afforded all the same rights and protections as their neighbors is central to building that ‘more perfect union’. The Senate should stand as a bulwark against intolerance and guardian of civil rights for LGBT individuals everywhere.
Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to recognize the Baltimore Pride Celebration. Baltimore Pride will be held for the 41st time July 19th-24th. Baltimore has a strong LGBT community with a long history of activism and civic engagement. The Baltimore Pride Celebration is a chance to celebrate all the amazing contributions LGBT Baltimoreans make to my hometown.