Address by Melvin Boozer, Candidate for the Democratic Nomination for Vice President of the United StatesDemocratic National Convention, New York City, 1980
Mr. Chairman, I rise in grateful appreciation of more than 400 delegates at this convention who gladly signed the petition to place my name in nomination, and in appreciation of those who wanted to sign but were not able to, and for the 77 women and men in the lesbian and gay caucus who have worked day and night to circulate the petition.
I rise in proud recognition of the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Mr. Marion Barry, and the entire delegation of the District of Columbia who have supported me and encouraged me in this effort.
I rise in thankful recognition of the citizens of the District of Columbia who voted for me to come here knowing that I am gay, and who continue to labor and live in a city which has no voice in determining how it shall be taxed and which has no power to effect the decisions which affect the quality of our lives.
And finally, Mr. Chairman and members of the convention, I rise in anguished recognition of more than 20 million Americans who love this country and who long to serve this country in the same freedom that others take for granted, 20 million lesbian and gay Americans whose lives are blighted by a veil of ignorance and misunderstanding.
For more than 200 years a majority of Americans waited to be admitted to the institutions of our nation on an equal footing. This struggle has led us successfully through the abolition of slavery, the movement for universal sufferage, the civil rights movement, the continuing movements to include the elderly, the physically challenged, and the economically disadvantaged. And now the same vision which has guided the first two centuries of our existence compels us to pass the Equal Rights Amendment so that women and men can share equally in that vision and in our continuing struggle to make that vision a reality for all Americans.
But this same struggle which has animated our greatest leaders and our most loyal citizens is far from over. Mr. Chairman, members of the convention, today across our land more than 20 million Americans hide in the twilight of fear and oppression. Lesbians and gay men throughout this country are daily forced to choose between a life of service and labor to their communities without identity, or an identity which would deprive them of any opportunity to serve and work at all.
Mr. Chairman, we have come to the Democratic Party, as others have come before us, to appeal to the vision of equal justice, the belief in fair play, and the sense of compassion which are the bedrock upon which the greatness of our nation is founded.
We believe that now more than ever fairness, equal justice and compassion are under attack by the forces of the extreme right, but we also believe that the ideals embedded in our Constitution by the founders of our republic are alive and well in the Democratic Party.
Mr. Chairman, we come from towns and cities where our friends are jailed and beaten on the slightest pretext. We come from churches which have been burned to the ground because they admit us to worship. We come from families which have been torn apart because we have lost our jobs, and we have lost our good names which have been slandered by false accusations, myths, and lies.
Mr. Chairman, the leadership of the Democratic Party has called upon us to be responsive to the plight of all oppressed groups. Governor Brown has declared that lesbians and gay men have a right to a job without reprisals and a right to serve in the highest capacities of civil government.
Representative Dellums of California has affirmed that lesbians and gay men are entitled to the same rights as all other Americans. Senator Kennedy has declared that it is the responsibility of government to protect the rights of all American citizens, including lesbians and gay men. And President Carter, before he became President, declared that lesbians and gay citizens should not be subjected to arbitrary discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
Members of the convention, we are pleased that the charter of our party now bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We are pleased that the charter and the platform ban discrimination. Yet, today the suffering continues across our land by those who are willing to hold us up as scapegoats to the extreme right for all the ills which beset our society.
But why should so many men and women continue to suffer from arbitrary discrimination? Why must we be denied a fair chance to participate in the American life which we have contributed to as much as anyone else? Why must we be subjected to harassment and intimidation and ridicule when the Constitution of this great nation has already provided that all citizens shall enjoy the equal protection of the law?
Members of the Democratic Convention, there can be no justification, no defense for social injustice. The Constitution does not make exception. We who have waited patiently to be admitted to the vision of the Constitution know the consequences of prejudice. WE have felt the sting of ignorance, and we have come to the Democratic Party seeking new hope which this party has always represented.
Over and over again the Democratic Party has insisted that in our society there can be no haven for discrimination. Is this not the same party which has championed the cause of every minority which has come before us? Is this not the same party which has sought to include women on an equal footing? Is this not the same party which has led the battle for civil rights for black Americans?
Would you ask me how I'd dare to compare the civil rights struggle with the struggle for lesbian and gay rights? I can compare, and I do compare them. I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none.
Bigotry is bigotry. I have been booed before. Discrimination is discrimination. It hurts just as much. It dishonors our way of life just as much, and it betrays a common lack of understanding, fairness and compassion.
I know I am an American. I know not because of my birth certificate, but because when Old Glory is unfurled and the Anthem is played, my heart is warmed and my eyes are watered. I love this country as much as anyone in this hall. I am thankful in my prayers for the privilege of being a citizen of this nation.
I believe that there is no power on this earth that can defeat the American people as long as we remain true to the values which have made us great.
Equal justice, fair play and compassion are the true sources of our greatness. I shudder to contemplate how we waste the energy and devotion of more than 20 million lesbian and gay Americans who remain shackled by degradation and isolation. And I am astonished by the longing and pleading of my gay brothers and sisters whose faith in this Party, in this country, and the democratic process has not been defeated, and will not be defeated by the falsehoods and fears of all those who would oppress us.
Like them, I have faith in this nation and in its people, and in this Party. I believe that when the American people have heard the facts, when they have seen us as we truly are, then they will insist that we not be abandoned to the prejudices and the caprices of the ignorant.
So, my fellow Democrats, I appeal to you to search your hearts and minds and recall that you, too, have wanted the right to work as long as you could do so competently; and you, too, have sought the right to live and seek your own happiness, as long as you did not interfere with the right of other people to do the same. And I beg you to recall that most of you in this hall who now take those same rights for granted have had to struggle to overcome suspicion and fear and prejudice in order to achieve them.
So now, we, too, appeal to you to acknowledge for ourselves the same rights, and together to continue the struggle to expand the vision so that no American can ever again be subjected to abuse and harassment.
And so, my fellow Democrats, in keeping with the faith which has made this nation great, in keeping with the promise of the American vision, and in keeping with the belief that we are all equal Americans, I respectfully withdraw my nomination.
[Note: When Melvin Boozer gave this address to the Democratic National Convention in 1980, he was President of what was then known as the Gay Activists Alliance of Washington, DC. His nominating speech for Vice President was made by Bill Krause, and the seconding speech was made by Ginny Apuzzo.]
Blacklight Interview with Melvin Boozer
See also: Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, Out for Good, 1999, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, p. 418-420.