Barack Obama Says Progress Happens When 'We Stand Up, Speak Out and Demand Change' in Stonewall Day Speech

The former president joined Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Cynthia Erivo, Kesha, Katy Perry and more to deliver virtual remarks celebrating LGBTQ rights on Stonewall Day

Barack Obama pride month
Former President Barack Obama . Photo: Logo

In a virtual speech celebrating Stonewall Day, former President Barack Obama said "the struggle and triumph for LGBTQ rights show how protests and politics go hand-in-hand."

On Friday, Obama joined Taylor Swift, Ellen DeGeneres, Demi Lovato, Kesha, Katy Perry, and more stars in delivering virtual speeches and performances to show support for Pride Live's third annual Stonewall Day celebration.

Launched by Pride Live in 2018, Stonewall Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and helps raise awareness for the fight in LGBTQ equality.

"Because of the movement they sparked and the decades of work that followed, marriage equality became the law of the land five years ago and just this month the Supreme Court ruled that employers can no longer discriminate against LGBTQ workers," Obama said, noting the third annual celebration comes a week after the Supreme Court granted LGBTQ people federal protection against workplace discrimination.

"All that progress is worth celebrating and reflecting on," Obama, 58, continued. "The struggle and triumph for LGBTQ rights show how protests and politics go hand in hand, how we’ve got to both shine a light on injustice and translate those aspirations into specific laws and institutional practices.”

Obama noted that it's been nearly 51 years since the Stonewall Riots in 1969 when nearly a week of protests against LGBTQ discrimination sparked after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in the city. This year, Stonewall Day falls on the fifth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court which granted same-sex couples marriage equality.

Friday's event was hosted by trans advocate and model Geena Rocero, who told PEOPLE this week that it was an "honor" to be hosting the event. "Working with Pride Live, we will ensure that Stonewall Day and its messages of community and resiliency reach LGBTQ people all over the world, especially LGBTQ people of color," Rocero said.

This year's Stonewall Day celebration also comes amid the global COVID-19 pandemic and sweeping protests around the world, against racial injustice and police brutality, following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

"COVID-19, and the recent events that have placed a national and global spotlight on the need for fair and equal treatment for all people, has impacted so many around the world and the LGBTQ+ community has not been immune," Dr. Yvette C. Burton, the president of the Pride Live board of directors, said in a statement ahead of the event.

During his speech on Friday, Obama encouraged others to see the tangible impact protests have on politics. "Whether we’re fighting to protect a patient from discrimination in the healthcare system, or to combat violence against the LGBTQ community, particularly trans women of color, or to link arms with the causes of racial and social justice that have been sweeping the country, I hope you know that your voice can make an enormous difference," he said.

Supreme court gay trans rights
Protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

Obama also pointed to the work of LGBTQ activists like Edie Windsor, Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin for inspiration and motivation. "I hope you all understand what Edie Windsor and Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin all knew: that progress doesn’t happen on its own. It happens because we stand up, speak out, and demand change," Obama said. "That’s what America has always been about."

The former president encouraged listeners to "keep on protesting peacefully and safely, whether that’s in your home, on social media, or out in the streets," and motivated viewers to register to vote ahead of the 2020 election, which will take place Nov. 3 between incumbent President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Biden, the vice president under Obama for consecutive terms, also delivered a speech as part of Friday's virtual celebration. "Against the backdrop of the pandemic and historic protests against systematic injustice and racism, we are reminded of those courageous individuals who first marched decades ago and it’s renewed our hope," Biden said, alongside his wife Dr. Jill Biden, who also spoke.

"The fight is far from over," Biden said, before assuring, "America once again will be the beacon of hope for LGBTQ people, here at home and throughout the world."

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