“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.”
– President Barack H. Obama
Inauguration Address, January 21, 2013
Monday’s historic inauguration address by President Obama was the culmination of two and a half decades of work in the equality movement and it was emotional.
I have been an advocate for LGBT equality for 25 years now and have celebrated moments of success and acceptance along the way, all the while praying for the day when our lives and realities would become the new normal – praying for the day when our great movement for equality would reach historic heights. We have sure come a long way.
It was Jimmy Carter’s administration that first met with gay rights activists in the 1970s. And he opposed the infamous Briggs Amendment, a ballot measure that would have banned LGBT people and their supporters from serving as public school teachers in California. Californians ultimately rejected that shameful piece of legislation with the support of Harvey Milk, but the public support from President Carter signaled to voters that this issue was important—that equality was important.
In 1987, Jesse Jackson Jr. addressed the LGBT March on Washington, saying: “Today I stand with you. Election time you stand with me. Together we will make a difference.” While running to secure his party’s nomination, Reverend Jackson recognized the enormous power of inclusion and acceptance. A few years later I met with Reverend Jackson who continued to be an unwavering ally of LGBT equality.
In 1992, we elected a President who ran on a platform of putting people first, including LGBT Americans. Bill Clinton was very public in his alliance with LGBT leaders and organizations. He was the first president to appear at a Human Rights Campaign Fundraiser. But those years were fraught with hurtful legislation masked as “compromise.” In 1993, President Clinton signed the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy which was supposed to be a first step to full gay military integration but led to an increase in dismissals. Three years later, in 1996, President Clinton signed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal recognition of marriage to same-sex couples.
But, he also proclaimed June 2000 as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, saying in his official proclamation, “I hope that in this new millennium we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and tolerance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.”
"The message is clear. The momentum is ours. Equality is within our grasp."
Over the years we have seen outright homophobia and fear from the White House, and we have seen honest gestures of friendship. We have seen missteps and leaps forward, all taking us to a cold January day – Inauguration Day 2013, in Washington, D.C.
As we celebrated the inauguration and honored the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, we heard from our president that love is love, and that LGBT Americans cannot, should not, and will not be denied that basic dignity. President Obama included our Stonewall Riots in the pantheon of Seneca and Selma and honored the brave legacy of our forebrothers and foresisters in this long and painful march toward equality.
“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.”
President Obama reached out, and with a few words changed everything.
The message is clear. The momentum is ours. Equality is within our grasp. For all of us – older folks who have really seen just about everything, to our young people who are just beginning to understand who they are – our president has named us and has recognized our great struggle. He has acknowledged and embraced our reality as intrinsic to the American experience. His words gave hope and reassurance to our allies, families and friends. And he sent a message to those who would oppose us.
As Dr. King said long ago, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice…”
It is my great hope that we will take this moment and extend our hand to those who are conflicted and talk to those who need a reason to move towards equality. I pledge to reach out to those folks who aren’t yet there with us and to have conversations with those good, well-meaning people who are also on a journey, who want to do what is good and right, and who could stand with us.
In Iowa we have seen a cultural transformation since marriage equality has become law. Polling shows that more and more people support equality here in the state and across the country. As more LGBT people use their faces and their voices and their stories to counter misinformation and stereotypes, we gain support. As it becomes clear that we are neighbors and colleagues and family members, it is harder to brand us as ‘the other.’
Because of what President Obama did on Inauguration Day, I think we will see a seismic shift on a national level. The President of the United States embraced LGBT Americans in a profound and public manner. Nothing will ever be the same again.