Well, that settles it: CBS’s Bob Schieffer must be straight.
Not that I spent time thinking about his sexual orientation before but that’s the first thing that popped in my mind when the legendary newsman, in critiquing President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, said, “There were no real memorable lines.”
Maybe not for straight people, but there were not a whole lot of gay people who will forget this:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” That was the first time the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community was mentioned in an inaugural address.
I’d say that passage was pretty memorable.
And while we’ve all heard this president mention the rights of gays in speeches before, what was unique about the inauguration, what really moved me and a lot of people engaged in this particular struggle—was this:
“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 forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
Seneca Falls refers to the first women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. His mention of Selma was a nod to the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
After years of being harassed by police, even arrested for dressing differently or simply walking down the street, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn finally had enough. So after another humiliating raid at a Greenwich Village bar by the name of Stonewall Inn, they fought back. That was June 28, 1969. That moment is credited with being the single most important event in the gay rights movement.
The community came together.
Groups were formed.
Significant cultural change had begun.
In mentioning Stonewall, with not only the nation, but the world watching, Obama gave more than a passing acknowledgment to a group of people who were instrumental to his reelection.
He stopped, looked us in the eyes, and said: I see you.
Maybe if you’ve never had to worry about not being promoted “if someone found out”; maybe if you’ve never had to switch pronouns or leave your better half at home for fear of being fired; maybe if you’ve never had to worry about health insurance for your children or pay extra taxes because your state doesn’t recognize your family; maybe if you’ve never sat in a church and had a preacher tell you that your family isn’t a family at all, that your loving relationship is wrong, that who you are is inherently wrong, then I could see how someone could view the president’s speech as lacking in memorable lines.
But the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses recently offered the wife of an Army lieutenant colonel an invitation to join the group as a “special guest”—not as a spouse—for one reason: sexual orientation.
So despite being legally married, despite a 15-year relationship, despite the overturning of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the blatant discrimination and bullying of LGBT people continues.
So the mentioning of Stonewall did not pass by everyone’s ears unnoticed. In fact, as I made my way from the frozen lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol, past the parade route and eventually to one of the evening’s balls, it was clear to me that the passage in Obama’s speech was more than a memorable line.
It was a rallying cry.
That’s not to say the work is done, but rather Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Del Martin, and the countless souls who have since moved on, did not fight for this notion of full equality in vain.
It took 44 presidents, 57 inaugurations, and 224 years before the LGBT community was mentioned in an inauguration speech—but the community was finally mentioned.
That seems pretty memorable to me.
At the beginning of the ceremony, Sen. Chuck Schumer drew our attention to the construction of the Capitol, particularly the Statue of Freedom that stands at the top of the dome. He pointed out it was a freed slave, Phillip Reed, who helped to cast the bronze statue, which was placed there December 2, 1863, not even a year after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
To hear that story on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as the nation’s first black president was being sworn in for a second time, was a reminder to all of us that at times equality can feel like a slow train coming…but we cannot grow weary because it is coming.
LZ Granderson was named Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary.