As we look forward to the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President on January 20, the GLBT community has many reasons to celebrate the day with a sense of optimism. After eight years of a Republican administration that has been hostile to our concerns, we now have a president-elect who clearly includes us in his vision for a new America.
In June 2007, then-candidate Obama wrote: “While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”
What can our community expect from an Obama administration? The Presidential Transition Team has listed the following issues that will be focused on: expanding hate crimes statutes; fight workplace discrimination; support full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples; oppose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage; repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; expand adoption rights; promote AIDS prevention; and empower women to prevent HIV/AIDS.
In addition, it’s going to be very important who the new President nominates to replace retiring members of the Supreme Court, and Barack Obama has stated that he will choose judges who have “the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.”
Glancing back to his campaign, let’s remember that Obama participated in the HRC/Logo Presidential Candidate Forum. His campaign had a presence at more than 60 Gay Pride events across the nation, including a meeting with leaders of Houston’s GLBT community at Baba Yega Restaurant in Montrose.
The co-chair of the campaign’s 50-state voter registration program was lesbian musician Melissa Etheridge. The co-chairs of the campaign’s gay finance operations were Kevin Jennings, founder of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Joan Garry, a former Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) executive director.
Brian Bond, once the gay outreach director for the Democratic National Committee, moved to Chicago to become the Obama campaign’s director of constituencies. Gay author Tobias Wolff chaired Obama’s national gay policy committee. Dave Noble, a former employee of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLFT), served as the director of LGBT voter mobilization.
Barack Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, was always openly gay and visible. Hildebrand recently reflected how “Barack believed long ago that addressing issues important to LGBT voters in every major speech he gives could have a more positive impact than speaking to a predominantly gay audience in a hotel ballroom. From his presidential announcement speech in February 2007 to addressing African-American ministers at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Day, Barack has shown this commitment over and over again.”
During his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, and also during his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama mentioned our community. Joe Solmonese, HRC director, believes that Obama made the remarks on gay rights in an attempt to bring the issues to the attention of middle America. “He was speaking probably less to our community and instead trying to find common ground with the people we need to move.”
The Obama-Biden transition team assured prospective employees that the administration will not discriminate against LGBT workers. “The inclusion of gender identity is a bold departure from the past—and it sends a clear message,” said Christopher Anders, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel.
Last June, Michelle Obama, our nation’s next First Lady, spoke to community supporters, saying: “We are all only here because of those who marched and bled and died, from Selma to Stonewall, in the pursuit of a more perfect union. Barack believes that we must fight for the world as it should be.”
Now it’s time for our community to take a deep breath and just celebrate. Get misty-eyed when the first African-American President takes the oath of office. Feel stirred as he delivers his Inaugural speech. Gush over how beautiful the new First Lady and the First Daughters are as they review the parade. Thrill at the sight of an elegantly gowned Michelle and her tuxedoed husband dancing in the spotlight of the Inaugural Ball.
Each of us, first of all, is an American, and we have the same concerns as the rest of our nation. Can we fix our horrible economic mess that has devastated this country and affected nearly every other country as well? Can we regain our national status as a good and honorable country and people? Can we be The Good Guys again and create true peace, prosperity, and hope?
As long as we’re realizing new hope for our own community, let’s reach out to the rest of the communities, the states, the countries, and the world, celebrating the audacity of hope together. While we’re audaciously hoping for “our own kind” to achieve new heights, let’s be audacious enough to recognize that all of us—the Family of Man—are on the same journey. We can be proudly gay… and once again, we can be proudly American.
Brandon Wolf founded the online group, Houston Activist Network (Han-Net), which is now LoneStarActivists.