Chelsea Clinton says gay rights have made progress; Magic, Cookie Johnson honored

In a Dec. 9, 2013, file photo Chelsea Clinton speaks during a CGI Clinton Global Initiative Latin America event at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, file)
In a Dec. 9, 2013, file photo Chelsea Clinton speaks during a CGI Clinton Global Initiative Latin America event at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, file)

Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton said Sunday that the gay-rights cause made “incredible progress” on political and legal fronts in 2013, but progress should not be mistaken for success.

Clinton called lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues “the unfinished business of the 21st century” in an address at a national conference in Las Vegas where actress Ellen Page came out as gay days earlier in an emotional speech that’s stirred a social media outpouring.

Clinton urged a crowd of 600 professionals who work with children to become more sensitive to the needs of LGBT youth, saying the deck is stacked against them because of bullying, rejection and other harassment.

“I’ve often been asked why issues of equality are so important to me. Frankly, I don’t know why they ask that question,” Clinton said. “This is about the premise and promise of our country. (It’s) always marching forward to a more perfect union. I was raised in a family where inertia is not an option.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s inaugural conference, which was designed to promote the safety and welfare of LGBT youth, honored Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie, former ‘N Sync singer Lance Bass and writer Robin McHaelen for their support of gay rights.

The Johnsons’ son, E.J., who accepted the award on their behalf, praised his parents for giving him unconditional love after he revealed that he was gay.

During the three-day conference that ended Sunday, Betty DeGeneres, mother of Ellen DeGeneres, stressed the importance of parents in giving support to LGBT children, and Candace Gingrich, the openly gay half-sister of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, served as a moderator for a panel discussion about LGBT youth issues.

On Friday, Page, 26, whose role as a pregnant teenager in the 2007 film “Juno” won the hearts of moviegoers and earned her an Oscar nomination, came out as gay at the conference, saying, “I feel a personal obligation and social responsibility” and that she was “tired of lying by omission.”

Clinton praised both Page and Jason Collins, the NBA player who announced he was gay after last season.

“Now others have followed his (Collins’) courageous example, and I hope later on this year, we’ll be cheering for the first openly gay player in the NFL,” Clinton said, referring to Missouri All-American Michael Sam, who came out this month.

She noted how 17 states and Washington, D.C., recognize same-sex marriage and how the U.S. Justice Department recently instructed all of its employees to give lawful same-sex marriages sweeping equal protection under the law in every program it administers.

“With all the incredible progress we had in 2013, it’s easy to think progress marks success,” she said. “We certainly shouldn’t take anything away from the historic victories in 2013 … But we should not mistake progress for success. We need to continue to push for progress in communities, states and the country.”

The conference, which was held in partnership with the National Education Association and American Counseling Association, drew teachers, counselors, coaches, social workers, health professionals and others who work with children.

A report issued in conjunction with the conference focused on youth who identify themselves as transgender or express their gender in nonconventional ways. It found that such youth feel even more marginalized and challenged at school and require more attention, said Ellen Kahn of the Human Rights Campaign.

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