There is no other U.S. president who can stand even close to the legacy of President Barack Obama on LGBT issues. In fact, you could stack all the LGBT gains accumulated from every president before Obama together and they wouldn’t come close to those made during his administration. No one column could simply list all his achievements on behalf of the LGBT community but there is one that most of our community, seems to be blind to: Thanks to President Obama, it became cool to support LGBT equality.
That might sound simple but turn back the clock just a little to Obama’s predecessor, who used our very lives and loves in an ugly re-election campaign, by urging Republican states to put antigay-marriage initiatives on state ballot. Remember that?
While President George W. Bush attacked our community almost daily, then-Sen. Obama was on the campaign trail speaking out for LGBT equality in almost every speech. Now he didn’t do that alone. His opponent in that race for the Democratic nomination was Hillary Clinton, and they both spoke out for our equality. That was a first. And once Obama won the nomination, he continued to speak out on our issues and raised them as he fought and defeated Sen. John McCain for the presidency.
Eight years ago where were we? As President Obama took office, we knew of few high-ranking out officials in the White House. There were no out LGBT people in the military. Few states had marriage equality, and trans issues were talked about in whispers, unfortunately even in the LGBT community.
As mentioned earlier in this column, it would take pages to list all of Obama’s LGBT achievements on behalf of our community, but one line in particular changed the world. It brought us from invisibility to standing as equals on the battle for our rights. And if the president could say it, so could almost anyone.
That line is very personal to me and I’ve written about it and had a chance to thank the president for it. Here I can now let out a secret. It’s not the line I wrote for the president to include as part of one of his LGBT Pride speeches, but I must admit that was certainly something this activist of almost 50 years now would never had suspected as an 18-year-old standing outside Stonewall. The line I’m referring to that changed America was delivered by President Obama during his second inaugural address:
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forbearers to Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”
And you must also admit lighting the White House in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality was pretty cool too.
For those “cool” things to happen, it took many years. To achieve them, many of us got hurt, were jailed and spoke up loudly at a time when it wasn’t cool to do so. As I’ve often said, my 50-year battle has been to fight LGBT invisibility. If the new administration tries to roll back any of our gains, maybe it’s time to show them how visible and creative we can be.
Now that will be cool.
Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at PhilaGayNews. His memoir AND THEN I DANCED is available online and at your favorite bookstore.