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Vice President Joe Biden Speaks at OutGiving 2015

Mon May 11, 2015

On Saturday, May 2, Vice President Joe Biden delivered remarks at the biennial OutGiving conference in Dallas. OutGiving brings together major donors and institutional funders – both LGBT and allies – in a private setting to connect, learn, and exchange ideas on ways to advance equality through strategic and intentional philanthropy.

The Vice President delivered the following remarks to a crowd of 150:

One of the great things about being in the business I’m in, and I really mean it, is as you travel around the country, as you engage in the issues of the day, you actually make friends, friends for a lifetime, friends you know that even though you don’t see each other that much, you know if you picked up the phone and you called for help, they wouldn’t ask. They’d be there. That’s how I feel about Scott and Tim. That’s how I feel about you, and I don’t even know you guys that well. No, I really mean it. I really mean it. You can tell. You can taste it. You can feel it. You can smell it. It’s just — as my mother would say, it’s that sixth sense.

I came for a simple reason. I came to say thank you. And I really mean that. Not only for what you’ve done for the LGBT community, but for what you’ve done for every straight man and woman in America. You so underestimate the consequence of the courage you’ve shown from the time you were kids. You’ve freed decent, ordinary Americans, the vast majority of whom are not homophobic, the vast majority of whom are just unsure, ignorant, not knowing, not exposed.

You allowed them to feel comfortable — comfortable in their skin in supporting basic human rights for all people. And I really mean it. It’s because so many of you, men and women in this room of character and consequence, were willing to step forward early, risking your positions, risking in some cases, your physical security. You stepped up and you spoke out.

As I said in the video, and I’ve said time and time again, Harvey was right and I got a chance to get to know Harvey a little bit: “Hope will never be silent.” But you’re the ones. You’re the ones that gave so many people hope because you weren’t silent.

Imagine what it would if you stayed silent. I mean it sincerely you so underestimate the power of what you’ve done.

So many Americans even 10 years ago knew it was wrong to discriminate, but they didn’t think it was socially acceptable to stand up and take issue. They weren’t bad. They didn’t know. But you made them comfortable. You made them realize it’s their brothers, their sisters, the neighbor, their roommate in school that they didn’t know at the time. You changed it all. You’re the ones that have changed the culture. And that’s what’s required, a fundamental cultural change. And it’s happening. It’s happening with real rapidity.

I’ve been asked by many of you in this room — and my wife, as I speak, is down in Atlanta, talking to the Human Rights Commission down there. She is — my whole family, everybody — I’m always asked, why did I speak out, why did I have — it was real simple, real simple. It’s the way I was raised. I was raised by a decent, gentle man — a true gentleman, definition of which is never inflicting harm on anyone else, without a prejudiced bone in his body.

He really did believe — my dad — he really did believe all God’s children are entitled to be treated with dignity. The word I heard him use more than anything else about everything was about dignity. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. I remember when I was a teenager — I told Scott this story before, and I think I did Tim because I was asked why — what was it about how I was raised. And I remember my dad, who ran an automobile agency, I was — I worked in a suburban not country club, a swimming club, and I was a lifeguard. And it was a great job. But I had an opportunity to work in the projects in the city of Wilmington. I was really — got very early on engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. So I was going down to the city hall in Wilmington, Delaware to get an application to work in the city park systems where the six big swimming pools. And because it was hard to get a parking spot, my dad was driving me in, going to drop me off, go around the block while I got the application, fill it in, and then drive me back — we weren’t very far from there — and go to work.

And I’ll never forget there were two guys by Rodney Square. And we stopped at a red light, and two guys on the corner, and they turned and kissed — embraced one another, and kissed. And each walked a different direction. And I looked at my dad quizzically — because I had not seen that before — and he just looked at me, he said, Joe, they’re in love.

That was the totality of the explanation, just self-evident: Joe, they’re in love. Simple as that.

So quite frankly, it’s been extremely simple for me ever since. There’s nothing complicated about this. Because I learned early on there is never, never, never a cultural justification for denying someone their basic human rights, or stripping away their dignity in any circumstance. Culture cannot be used as an excuse to denigrate, to persecute, to take advantage of another human being on any basis. Because whether it’s about violence against women, or it’s about LGBT community, or it’s cultural differences — these really are — not a joke — they’re our brothers, they’re our sisters, they’re our classmates, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. So thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do.

Mary, I was talking about you — we got to talk a little bit earlier. Mary Bonuato is here tonight who has argued so brilliantly and well before the Supreme Court on the subject of marriage equality this past week. 

If the Court decides, as — and it’s always a jinx as a former trial lawyer to predict what a court is going to do — so I’m not predicting, Mary. But let me put it this way, if the Court does the right thing, this is going to be as consequential — and Mary is going to be as remembered — as Brown versus School Board and Thurgood Marshall. It’s that fundamental.

Like I said I got started in the Civil Rights Movement. The first case in separate but equal challenge that went to the Supreme Court was Gebhart v. Belton. It was a Delaware case. There were three cases — Delaware, Kansas. And the first African American made a member of the Delaware bar — I had the great honor of, as a young public defender, after leaving a white-shoe law firm because my city was in flames after Dr. King was killed — Louis L. Redding. And I got to know him. He was one of the lawyers in that case. And he helped change my life, just knowing him. Mary, there are going to be young lawyers who are going to say the same thing about you. And it is such — it will be such a well-deserved place in history you’ll have.

And Robbie Kaplan. You took Edie Windsor’s case for dignity and justice all the way to the Supreme Court, and you won.

And Jon Stryker, whose Arcus Foundation extends hope and support for organizations fighting for social justice in every part of the world. I was recently in Africa. And you may remember I got — I didn’t get in trouble because the President supported me, I made it clear that the policies Uganda has, the policy that exists in Africa, it’s just absolutely unacceptable if they want our help. 

And as I’m proud to say, as my former intern Evan Wolfson, the architect of the Freedom to Marry campaign. He was a kid when he worked for me. I don’t know where you’re sitting, old buddy, but thanks for the public education. I appreciate it.

And because of you, all of you, I am extraordinarily optimistic. When I spoke in that clip you just saw on “Meet the Press” back on May 6, 2012, as Scott said, there were six states with marriage equality. Now there are 37; 224 million Americans now live where same-sex marriage is legal.

It didn’t happen because of me, it happened because of you, and your unrelenting determination to uphold the basic human rights of all Americans. This is a human rights issue. Because of all of you, we’re changing things in the boardrooms, in the chambers of commerce, civic associations, schools, and government at every level.

We’re changing the conversation in this country — literally changing the conversation in this country. Eleven years ago, discrimination against same-sex couples was considered really good politics. Think about it, just 11 years ago, 11 states passed marriage bans on the same ballot that re-elected George W. Bush. I’m not blaming him. I don’t mean that. No, I really don’t. But in that election — in that election — affirmatively passing bans because it was good politics.

Even some of our friends on the other side of the aisle they don’t find it so appropriate these days. No, think about it. Think about how it’s changed because they’re not at all reluctant to — some occasionally — demagogue these issues. But think of the silence that’s going on among some of our — the candidates running for President. I never thought I’d say silence is an improvement, but that’s a great improvement from that team. 

So you’ve changed the basic politics of this nation because of all of what you’ve done. Now, many of you — and by the way, the thing that’s unusual about this group — if you’ll speak in the Human Rights Campaign. I’ve had the great honor of speaking to the Human Rights Campaign in Los Angeles, and in Washington, and thousands upon thousands of people, but you’re a different group — all extremely important. And I’ve said this to you before, my friend Mel from Philadelphia — you’re all very exceptionally successful people. You’re powerful people. And you’ve changed an aspect of this debate that didn’t exist before and public pressure alone would not change it. You’ve actually changed the way boardrooms respond. Many in the business community have been leading the charge against discriminatory laws. You brought business off the sidelines, into the statehouses, advocating for the rights of their employers and customers. You’ve made it good business. Think about it. You’ve made it good business. You could not have done with all your leadership and power — the men and women in this room — have done that 10 years ago. I know you tried in Philly. No, I’m not joking. But it’s changed. You changed it.

You have the power to influence and reach a different audience than the grassroots community, which is essential. You have the reach to impact on attitudes, the statements and practices of major businesses.

Here in Texas, the way the business community came together to make a difference in Plano was amazing. Amazing. Really. 

But we’ve got to do more. I know you know it. This is preaching to the choir, as they say. You have to awaken the American people to the realities in their midst. They’re not bad folks. They’re decent, basically good people. Because they’re with us.

When I got banged around for, as the President, “getting out over my skis” — I’m a better skier than the rest of them.  I can ski. I’m a good skier.  And by the way, he embraced it when I saw him Monday after “Meet the Press.” I walked into the Oval, and he just started laughing. He said, you told me. You told me you weren’t going to change your brand or wear funny hats. I love you for it. He really did. I mean he just totally embraced it. Not everybody was as happy I might add.

But, for example, think about this right now — and by the way, I made a bet then. I made a bet inside the White House that by the end of the week, the polls would show the American people were with me. I believed it. I never doubted it, and they were — even then it was 53, 54 percent right off the bat.

But right now, think about this — we’re trying to fight for ENDA — it’s been an ongoing struggle — but right now the polls show nine out of 10 Americans think that it’s illegal anywhere in America to fire someone just for being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Nine out of 10 Americans think that is already illegal. They think that. But in many places in this country, as you all well know, it is not illegal at all.

It shocks the conscience, that at this moment in American history, in 28 states including right here, by the way, where 7 percent of the LGBT population resides — in Texas, over 600,000 people — Americans are denied the basic dignity of work because of who they are or who they love. We’ve got to pass federal non-discrimination legislation.

And there’s a lot more we need to do. But first of all we have to do, and you’re able to do it — and I keep talking about it, but you’re more important — and I mean that sincerely — we got to let American people know what the law is. Nine out of 10 think, in effect, that ENDA is already law. They don’t know ENDA from SENDA. Nor should they. They’re busting their neck just to put meat and potatoes on a plate, send their kids to school, and live in a safe neighborhood.

So there’s still a lot of people who need our protection. I know you know this. We live in a country where 15,000 LGBT youth are homeless, largely because their families wouldn’t accept who they were.

Nearly one in five transgender people have been homeless at some point in their lives –- kicked out or refused housing because of their identity. And in our schools, the LGBT students are twice as likely to be pushed or kicked, or mocked, laughed at, seen as different. I know this new generation, the younger generation my kids don’t think anything of marriage, et cetera. They’re with us. But these kids are still banged around by a minority in the schools.

And by the way, when the President and I separately — we didn’t talk to each other — both came out, against the unconscionable practice of conversion therapy, you know how many emails I got within 24 hours — how many responses? Seven hundred and ninety thousand. Folks, the American people are with us. The momentum is with us. This is no time to let up. I know you’re not. I meant what I said in the video and I’ll say it again: As long as I have a breath in me, I will not be satisfied till every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, is afforded the dignity, and the freedom, and the equality that my father spoke of so clearly.

And I’m going to keep on saying that until every one of them are really — it sounds corny afforded the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — the most basic, fundamental need is to not be legally, practically or politically rejected. Happiness in that sense is within the reach of every American, regardless of what state they live in, who they are or who they love.

I need you. My children and grandchildren need you. We need you. So keep it up. My Grandpop Ambrose Finnegan used to have an expression. Every time I’d walk out of his house, he’d yell, Joey, keep the faith. And my Grandmom would yell — this is the God’s truth, up in Scranton, my Grandma would yell, no, Joey, spread. Spread it, folks. Keep spreading it.

Thank you for all you do for all of us. I love you. Thank you very, very, very, very much. God bless you and may God protect our troops.

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