(Editor’s note: On the eve of the week the U.S. Supreme court is expected to rule on the Masterpiece Cakeshop marriage equality vs ‘religious liberty’ case and the constitutionality of President Trump’s Muslim Ban, out Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside County, promised to stand up and speak out for all those facing discrimination. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks accepting the Amplify Equality Award from Equality California in San Francisco Saturday night, May 12. – Karen Ocamb)
I’m proud to accept the Amplify Equality Award tonight. Though in truth, I feel that this is an award that should be presented to all of you. Because it is organizations like Equality California that have helped make LGBTQ voices heard on issues of civil rights and equality that go beyond our own community.
I am, of course, the first openly gay person to be elected to Congress from California. And, as I like to remind my friends from San Francisco, I was elected from the Inland Empire — from Riverside County.
When I ran for Congress in 2012, I told the voters of my district that the person who represents Riverside in the House must be one of the strongest advocates for the environment. Because having lived in the IE [Inland Empire] during the years when dirty air posed significant health risks, we know why clean air is important.
I feel the same way about the LGBTQ community and broader civil rights issues.
Ten years ago today, a same-sex couple could not marry in California, or in 48 other states. There were only two openly LGBT members of Congress. And LGBTQ patriots could not serve in our armed forces.
Today, marriage is a right throughout America. Seven openly LGBTQ Americans serve in Congress. And whether President Trump likes it or not, gay, lesbian, bisexual and, yes, transgender Americans proudly wear the uniform of our country.
LGBTQ people have seen just how quickly progress can come in America. But we also know that this progress can be hard, and sometimes fleeting. As people who have suffered persecution and discrimination, we understand that a true dedication to equality means fighting for the rights of other communities just as hard as we fight for our own.
That is why I am just as outspoken in defense of DREAMers as I am the rights of LGBTQ Americans. That is why I will fight just as hard against the President’s Muslim Ban as I will in favor of allowing transgender Americans to continue serving in the military.
Because a nation where people who may not share our religion or nationality can lose their rights is a nation where we can lose ours.
My family learned this lesson the hard way in World War II, when xenophobia and racism forced thousands of Americans of Japanese descent, including my parents and grandparents, into internment camps. Some of our veterans have learned this lesson more recently when, after risking their lives for the United States, they have been deported from this country simply because they weren’t born here.
LGBTQ Americans have seen firsthand the harm that discrimination can do. Too many in our community still face deep challenges, and please know that my out Congressional colleagues and I will never stop fighting for a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill. The Equality Act, sponsored by my friend David Cicilline of Rhode Island, is currently being blocked by the Republican majority in Congress. But with your help, the next House of Representatives will pass a bill that permanently enshrines our rights into law.
We can fight to pass the Equality Act and still make our voices heard when our friends and neighbors are attacked for who they are, where they are from, or how they pray.
Each of us is so fortunate to be in this room tonight. I am only here because my family overcame their internment, and the loss of wealth and the loss of dignity that came from it, and still believed in this nation enough to rebuild and persevere. We are only here because so many LGBTQ leaders, who are no longer with us, took those first brave steps down the path to equality.
And so I accept this award not as a recognition of anything that I have achieved, but as a challenge that I will strive to meet. A challenge to use my position to amplify the voices of those calling out for justice. A challenge to take the perseverance and bravery of the leaders who came before me and amplify it out to everyone still struggling for the rights and respect we all deserve.
To find out more about Rep. Mark Takano, visit his congressional website.