Hillary Clinton laughs as she is introduced during her campaign stop at the Broward College – Hugh Adams Central Campus on October 2, 2015 in Davie, Florida.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images
By Philip Elliott
October 3, 2015

In one of the strongest statements ever from a presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton on Saturday pledged to defend gay and lesbian Americans against efforts to deny them of their rights.

Speaking to the nation’s largest gay rights group, the New York Democrat told an enthusiastic audience of activists, donors and operatives that, if elected President, she would link arms with them. The former Secretary of State’s remarks to the Human Rights Campaign were remarkable for their intensity and for their tone.

“Our work is not finished until every single person is treated with equal rights and dignity that they deserve, no matter how old they are, no matter where they live, whether it is New York or Wyoming or anywhere else,” Clinton said.

Clinton told her audience that a second Clinton presidency would be dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBT Americans and expanding them further. “I will fight to end discrimination wherever it occurs,” she said.

Clinton’s campaign at times has faced skepticism from this audience over her husband’s eight years as President. Specifically, Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as implemented the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that blocked gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Hillary Clinton has since spoken out against these measures.

Nodding to this summer’s Supreme Court ruling that granted gays and lesbians the right to marry, Clinton said progress had been made. “Every single American, no matter where you live, is free to marry whoever you love,” she said. But she then noted that same-sex couples still faced hurdles when it comes to adoption, employment and housing. For instance, a same-sex couple can legally wed in Texas, but can also be evicted from their apartment or fired from their jobs for being gay.

“There are still public officials who are doing everything in their power to interfere with your rights,” Clinton said in an apparent reference to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Clinton said the Davis case—and others like it—was discouraging for young LBGT Americans.

“We assure them that it gets better, but it can still be really hard to believe that, especially when you turn on the TV and you see a Republican candidate for President, literally standing in a courthouse door in Kentucky, calling for people to join him in resisting a Supreme Court ruling, celebrating a county clerk who is breaking a law by denying other Americans their Constitutional rights,” Clinton said. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who held a rally for Davis in September, was the target of that criticism.

More broadly, she said voters should consider Republicans’ promises to roll-back gay rights. “We’re going to face some ridiculousness from our friends in the GOP,” Clinton said. If elected, she said, a Republican would enact policies that “would threaten you and your families.”

Clinton acknowledged she was not always such a strong supporter of gay rights. During her 2008 bid for the White House, she was opposed to same-sex marriage. “You’ve helped to change a lot of minds, including mine,” Clinton said.

Clinton was slated to spend her evening in New York, where she was scheduled to appear on the season premier of Saturday Night Live. One of her potential rivals, Vice President Joe Biden, was slated to speak to a wide audience of gay activists at the 3,000-person Human Rights Campaign gala in Washington.

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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