On Friday, at the White House’s LGBT Pride Month Reception, Obama publicly rededicated his positive feelings about the LGBT community, and took the opportunity to remind us of the strides that the White House has made this year in terms of helping queer people live more safely and equally. Obama first officially proclaimed June LGBT Pride Month in 2009, marking it as a moment to “commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.”
In his remarks on Friday, he acknowledged that mission isn’t yet accomplished, but pointed out that quite a few milestones have been achieved. DADT has been repealed, the Matthew Shepard Act has been passed to prosecute hate crimes, hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid have to treat LGBT patients equally and allow their partners access to them, and gender identity is included in non-discrimination policies for employees of the federal government. Section 3 of DOMA has been declared unconstitutional, and the President has publicly announced his personal support of marriage equality. Things look very different in a lot of ways in 2012 than they did in 2009.
Of course, there’s plenty that’s not mentioned in this speech. In conceding that life still isn’t perfect for LGBT Americans, Obama acknowledged the need for a fully inclusive version of ENDA, and referenced the White House’s ongoing efforts to combat bullying. He didn’t mention violence against trans women of color, for instance, or the rampant homelessness that affects the trans and queer communities, especially for young people. But he did say:
Now, I’ve said before that I would never counsel patience; that it wasn’t right to tell you to be patient any more than it was right for others to tell women to be patient a century ago, or African Americans to be patient a half century ago. After decades of inaction and indifference, you have every reason and right to push, loudly and forcefully, for equality.
Which seems like something many have been waiting for a long time to hear. Nicholas Benton, a gay man who’s worked previously as a journalistic correspondent in the White House, writes that for the first time in his career, the White House is finally a place he feels welcome in. He believes that while he knew his dreams of being President were dashed by the fact that he was an out gay man, “there is no doubt in [his] mind now that there is some LGBT youngster in our land right now who will grow up to become president of the United States some day.” Obama’s speech also managed to scandalize Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org, who wrote that the President “mocked” DOMA because he called it the “so-called Defense of Marriage Act.” So clearly, he’s doing something right.
On the whole, the real work of supporting the LGBT community isn’t done at a reception; it’s done on a daily basis, listening to the real needs of the community and doing whatever it takes to get them met, regardless of what the religious right thinks. Obama is trying to communicate his willingness to do that, in the time we have until November, and depending on how the election goes, for four years after that. It’s up to each of us to decide whether his track record is a good indicator of that — whether it’s true when Obama says “And as long as I have the privilege of being your President, I promise you, you won’t just have a friend in the White House, you will have a fellow advocate.”