ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports: ABBA's "Dancing Queen" filled the East Room, as more than 200 prominent gays and lesbians gathered for the first ever celebration of Pride month at the White House. The President and First Lady entered to thunderous applause. President Obama told the group he is committed to equality for their community.
"This struggle continues today, for even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot and will not put aside issues of basic equality," he said, "We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love."
Many gay and lesbians believe the President has been slow to act on major issues like the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, and the Defense of Marriage Act. The President asked the group to focus on what has been accomplished so far.
"I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that," he said, "But I say this: We have made progress. And we will make more."
The President spoke about his recently signed memorandum, guaranteeing benefits to same sex partners of federal workers. While those include benefits like relocation and emergency evacuation - health care, retirement and survivor benefits are left out.
"There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop," Mr. Obama said. Among those, the President said, the Defense of Marriage Act. Mr. Obama also said he has called on Congress to a domestic partners law, which would guarantee a range of benefits, most notably healthcare, to same sex couples. The President also vowed to pass a hate crimes bill that would include protections for gays and lesbians, and said the bill will be named for Matthew Shepard. The gay University of Wyoming student, whose parents were in the audience today, was tortured and killed near Laramie in 1998. His attackers were not charged with a hate crime. The President also said he is committed to ending the ban on entry to the U.S. based on HIV status.
As to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the President said he believes the policy works against America's national security.
"My administration is already working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on how we'll go about ending this policy, which will require an act of Congress," he said. "I've asked the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal."
Still, the President said government can only do so much. "Even as we take these steps, we must recognize that real progress depends not only on the laws we change, but, as I said before, on the hearts we open," he said.
He ended his speech with a promise to champion their cause in the days to come.
"I want you to know that, in this task, I will not only be your friend; I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a president who fights with you and for you," he said.