Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Senator Kennedy

On October 3, 1996 Senator Ted Kennedy gave the keynote address at the Pride Agenda’s Fall Dinner in New York City. He was a surprise stand-in for Senior Adviser to the President George Stephanopoulos, who at the last minute was unable to fly up from Washington, D.C.

Senator Kennedy got a standing ovation that night from the 1100 people in the Grand Hyatt Ballroom when he walked on stage, and he received thunderous applause many times throughout his speech.

The Senator’s appearance in 1996 came at a terribly disappointing time for the LGBT community. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) had shockingly gone down in the U.S. Senate by just one vote on September 10. That same day, in a second slam to LGBT Americans, the Senate passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A few days later on September 21, President Clinton announced his decision to sign DOMA into law. Senator Kennedy led the unsuccessful fight on the floor to pass ENDA and he condemned the passage of DOMA.

Senator Kennedy gave us hope that night in the ballroom, just as he had so many times before.

When few politicians from either political party would say the word “AIDS” in the 1980s, Senator Kennedy did. He was not embarrassed to stand with us in fighting AIDS when just about every other politician was at best afraid to say anything and at worst just plain happy we were dying. And he was more than just words – he was action. From his post on the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee he made sure government started providing funding for research, treatment and prevention.

Senator Kennedy told us that night he’d never stop fighting for us and he never did. And he told us to never give up and we never will. While support for our issues is broader today than it was in the 80’s and the 90’s, we’ve obviously still got a lot of work to do.

Thank you Senator Kennedy for making our lives better in so many measurable ways. Thank you for playing such a critical role in putting America on a path that will, with continued hard work, win us our equality.

There is hope and it now resides in us.

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