I am always delighted to share this stage with my most trusted adviser of all -- my wife Tipper. I join you in celebrating the courageous and compassionate work she does to heal those suffering from AIDS and HIV; to raise awareness of AIDS; to fight for basic fairness and opportunity in the government, and in all of our lives. Tipper -- thank you for letting me bask in your reflected glory.
Let me say to all of you: I am proud to be here tonight.
I want to begin by congratulating HRC for your leadership -- your tireless commitment to equality and fairness -- and your stunning success.
In 1996, HRC was active in nearly two hundred races across the country -- and 84 percent of your candidates won. Elizabeth -- you and I may have something to talk about a bit later on.
I come before you with a simple message: that the cause we celebrate tonight is not some narrow, special interest. It is really the cause that has defined this nation since its founding: to deepen the meaning of fundamental fairness, to make real the promise of our self-government, to build a good and just society on this bedrock principle: equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none.
If you believe in the basic dignity of every American -- if you live by our laws and live up to your responsibilities -- then you can share in the full promise of the greatest nation on this earth. And that means all of you.
That is a purpose we did not fully understand when we counted each slave as three-fifths of a person. Or when innocent and loyal Japanese-Americans were imprisoned at the outset of World War II. Or when gays and lesbians were effectively barred from holding jobs in their own federal government. We've come a long way, America.
And when some, in recent months, have launched unprecedented attacks on the very idea of fair treatment -- trying to punish and scapegoat people just because of their sexual orientation -- I have been amazed, and outraged. For this I believe with all my heart: if we cannot conquer the forces of hatred and division that still exist in our society, we can never redeem the American dream.
That is why President Clinton and I are so determined to appoint the best-qualified people to senior positions in our government -- whether or not they are gay or lesbian.
That is why we ended, by Executive Order, policies that discriminated against gays and lesbians in our civilian federal workforce. And never forget this: we are one of the most successful administrations in history not in spite of that diversity -- but because of it!
And we want our country to push back the forces of hatred and discrimination, as we have always done when we are at our best. The story of America is the story of an ever-widening circle of human dignity and expanding opportunity.
It is the story of a free people determined to unleash the full potential of the human spirit. We have always been a bright and shining light to the world. Against all the opposition of the forces of hate -- against those who are limited by their surrender to discrimination -- we are determined to stand for justice.
Now the United States Senate should join us in that crusade, and confirm Jim Hormel as the next Ambassador to Luxembourg. We know he's qualified. We know he's a good and decent man. So let's give him the up-or-down vote that he deserves.
And it is an outrage that today, in 1998, in 40 states of our union, it is 100 percent legal to fire a hard-working employee just because they are gay or lesbian. That is profoundly wrong. Everyone deserves the basic freedom from discrimination.
So I say to Congress: let's give everyone who is willing to work for it a fair and equal chance to succeed. Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law.
You all remember how hard it was to get 49 votes in the Senate two years ago. So I'll make you a deal: help me get that one last vote, and then I'll go down to the Capitol and personally exercise that little-known, but extremely significant provision of our Constitution that says: every time I vote, we win.
I am proud of your commitment to fight the terrible scourge of HIV and AIDS -- a commitment your government shares today. Too often, in the beginning, you stood nearly alone against the most crushing epidemic of this century. But you have led and inspired us all to action.
I am proud that we have increased AIDS research at the NIH by 50 percent; tripled Ryan White funds; and increased drug assistance for people with AIDS by 450 percent. We are united in the fight for research, care, and prevention. And we will not stop until all who need it have access to the treatment they need. We will not rest until we have a vaccine -- and a cure.
I am also proud that we appointed Sandy Thurman, the outstanding director of our Office of National AIDS Policy. Sandy makes a difference because she speaks the truth -- unvarnished. And that's exactly what we need.
We haven't always agreed on everything, and I can't promise we always will. But I can promise an open door and an open mind -- the kind of frank, honest dialogue that can help us learn from one another, and move forward together.
And let me say this: we know our progress so far would have been impossible without our President, Bill Clinton. He believes, deep in his heart, the words he spoke to you one year ago, when he became the first President in history to address a gay and lesbian audience: "If we're ever going to build One America, then all Americans...have got to be a part of it."
We still have a long way to go on our journey, to be sure. We still see too much evidence of intolerance -- in ugly words and awful violence; in the public outrage of bombed buildings, and the private pain of a teenager's suicide. Despite all the progress we have made in civil rights and in human rights, too often, the shadows of division still darken the American spirit.
Last year, here in Washington, D.C., three men accosted a gay man in a park, forced him at gunpoint to go under a bridge, and beat him viciously while using anti-gay epithets.
Just five days ago in Brooklyn, a lesbian leaving a restaurant was chased by three men, who yelled obscenities at her, then slashed her with a knife. [pause]
These shameful acts of violence wound not just the individuals involved -- they wound the American spirit. If we allow even a small number of Americans to harbor and act upon malice and intolerance, we all feel the bitter sting of injustice.
Let us send a clear message to those would commit crimes of hate: it is wrong, it is illegal, and we will punish you with the full force of our laws.
I believe we also need stronger laws. Crimes of hate against all people -- including gays and lesbians -- should carry a punishment that is swift and severe. So I say to Congress: take a stand against crimes of hate. Pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. People across the world see in America the reflection of their own great potential -- and they always will, as long as we give all our citizens, whatever their background or sexual orientation, the freedom to achieve their own greatness.
We learned in school about the "lowest common denominator"; America is about the highest common denominator.
That's why your work is so critical. We need more education and awareness. We need more intelligent advocacy. We need more energy and action in all our communities. We need to fight discrimination person by person, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. We've got to keep working, until every person in this room -- and every person in this nation -- has a full and equal chance to reach for their dreams.
That is a lofty goal -- but if we are to live together in peace and dignity, how can we hope for anything less?
Mark my words -- we'll get there. But we've got a lot of hard work to do. And I pledge to you: I intend to be a part of it.
Let's seize the promise of the future. We don't have a moment to waste -- because we don't have a person to waste. Thank you -- and keep up the good work.