Attorney General Eric Holder drew raucous applause when he affirmed that the Department of Justice and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lawyers and activists share a “common cause.”
In speaking to a gathering of LGBT lawyers in the ballroom of a Washington hotel on Thursday evening, Holder praised “the strength of your passion” in the fight for equality.
“This is not starting out like one of my congressional hearings,” he said after walking to the podium to shouts and cheers. He was, of course, joking about his appearances before the House oversight committee leading up to the House vote that held him in contempt of Congress.
Holder recounted the ways that the Justice Department and the Obama administration have fought to advance the LGBT cause, including fighting the Defense of Marriage Act, repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy and pushing to hire gay lawyers.
“As an American, I am deeply proud to stand with you and celebrate the remarkable, once unimaginable progress that — particularly over the last three-and-a-half years — your leadership and coordinated efforts have helped to bring about.”
The short speech, while never mentioning the 2012 campaign itself, portrayed the administration as walking in lockstep with LGBT activists who are pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage, non-discrimination in the workplace and a crackdown on alleged hate crimes and bullying against gay people.
“Thanks to the work of tireless advocates and attorneys in and far beyond this room, our nation has made great strides on the road to LGBT equality and the unfinished struggle to secure and protect the civil rights of all Americans,” he said. “For President Obama, for me, and for our colleagues at every level of the Obama administration, this work has long been a top priority.”
After over three years of riding the fence, Obama affirmed his support for same-sex marriage in a May interview with ABC News.
“No one understands the importance of creating such an [inclusive work] environment or has advocated more passionately on behalf of the LGBT community than my boss, President Obama,” Holder said to cheers.
Holder also pressured Congress in the speech, saying that his department has been pushing the legislative branch for a nondiscrimination workplace law to include gays. He also questioned Republican opposition to updating the Violence Against Women Act so that the law’s nondiscrimination provisions cover sexual orientation.
“Why this is something that we are fighting about is beyond me,” Holder said. “This is something that needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”
National LGBT Bar Association Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz introduced Holder, saying, “Attorney General Holder’s tenure at the Department of Justice has included some of the most significant work on behalf of the LGBT community to ever come out of that cabinet agency.”
Along with criticizing the failed Operation Fast and Furious, congressional Republicans have attacked Holder for what they see as an effort to politicize the Justice Department — the highest law agency in the nation.
“With the benefit of your partnership and the strength of your passion, I know that we can — and I’m confident that we will — continue the work that has become both our shared priority and our common cause,” Holder closed.
“And I look forward to all we will surely accomplish together.”