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July 31, 2014
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Justin. What a great conference. I am thrilled to be here. This organization that you and Chance founded has made such a difference in making sure that LGBT people have their rightful place at the economic table. You are the LGBT community’s business voice, and it is a great one!
Last week was a pretty good week wasn’t it?
It started off on Monday with President Obama signing the Executive Order that makes clear that Federal employees and Federal contractors can come to work each and every day without fear of discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Chance and Justin, I know you were at the White House for the signing of that Executive order.
And the week ended with the release of OPM’s update of the Title V non-discrimination regulations. These regulations make crystal clear that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination, and is against the law. With this update, employees who believe they have suffered discrimination because of their gender identity can go to the EEOC and pursue a sex discrimination claim under Title VII.
The Executive Order and the non-discrimination regulations are just a sampling of the progress the Administration has made in fulfilling the President’s vision that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead, regardless of who you are or who you love.
I think about how far we’ve come. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. We ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court ruled in Windsor that the Federal government must recognize the legal marriages of same sex couples. The President signed historic hate crimes legislation into law. The Affordable Care Act expanded access to health coverage and in the process we addressed LGBT health care disparities.
NCLCC has been a partner with the White House in so many of these efforts. Your support, your encouragement, and frankly you muscle, have been key to us getting over the finish line in many of these initiatives.
I also want to applaud your $4 million partnership with USAID. This creates a way to use the common language of business to break down barriers when it comes to economically empowering the LGBT community, particularly internationally.
In a minute I’ll talk a little more about the role OPM has played in some of the groundbreaking milestones the Administration has achieved.
But this conversation is about more than policy fixes and court decisions and legislation. What we are witnessing is a sea change in the way the United States of America treats Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans.
This is personal. You know this year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Well, what we have done under this President is the civil rights accomplishment of this generation.
I was sitting with some of my staff last Friday and looking back at the week’s events. And I asked them to think about what the gains of the past few years have meant to people who just want to be able to come to work each and every day and do the best job they can for the American people.
These efforts have made it easier. For people who have had to live in the shadows, who have lived in fear that this aspect of their life would work against them, these accomplishments matter so much. I have to tell you. There was not a dry eye around that conference room table. Mine included.
As I said, OPM has had a pivotal role in helping to translate especially the Windsor decision into tangible benefits for our LGBT employees. I am so proud that within days of that decision being handed down, we were there. We were there to open up the doors of health benefits, of retirement benefits, of life insurance benefits to individuals and also to same-sex couples. Winsor allowed us to recognize the families of the LGBT community. It allows our sisters and brothers in this community to come to work knowing that they can take care of their families in exactly the same way that the person working in the cubicle next to them has always been able to. OPM employees took that responsibility seriously and felt it so personally because it is their job to look after the benefits for our Federal family.
These changes also mean that LGBT employees can take advantage of the kinds of workplace flexibilities that make Federal service so attractive. If LGBT employees need to use the Family and Medical Leave Act to take care of an ailing spouse, they can. Same-sex spouses are now entitled to the same benefits as different-sex spouses. I know we have more work to do. As the President said in his proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride Month: “We celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.”
Some people have asked how many people have really been affected by these actions. First of all, we don’t track the number of LGBT people we have working for us in the Federal government. But more importantly, think about this. While all of these accomplishments have been important from a civil rights and human rights aspect, they also make good business and economic sense.
Think about the number of people who never even would have considered working for the Federal government when they couldn’t get benefits for their spouse. As long as DOMA was a reality, the Federal government was not competitive when it came to some of the brightest, most innovative and inspired people of our time. That’s no longer true. The Federal government is a different employer than we were a year ago.
One of my highest priorities as the President’s chief recruiter is to make sure we are hiring and retaining the absolute best talent we can to serve the American people. We need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their skills and their ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job or not getting promoted due to discrimination.
The President believes, I believe, and the American people believe, that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in the workforce. With your continued help, together we will build on the progress we have made. And we will have more good weeks to celebrate.
Have a wonderful rest of your conference. Thank you.
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