Activists Applaud Gay Rights Inclusion in Inaugural Address
LGBT activists welcomed President Barack Obama’s historic speech given Monday, Jan. 21, in which he became the first President ever to reference Stonewall and gay rights in an inaugural address. Many saw it as a civil rights watershed along with key moments in the struggles for blacks and women.
In his speech, Obama said, "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."
The president then asserted that the truth that all are created equal guides us today "just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."
Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, emphasized the president’s "moral arc" from Seneca Falls (home of the woman’s suffrage movement), to Selma (the black civil rights struggle) and then pointedly including Stonewall, the Greenwich Village bar where three nights of protest in 1969 ignited the modern gay rights movement.
Obama "rightly exalted the struggle for the freedom to marry as part of America’s moral commitment to equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," said Wolfson in a statement. "Freedom to Marry applauds our president and the moral leadership he has shown, the moral leadership we will continue to need until all Americans, all loving couples, all families, can share fully in the American promise we celebrate on Inauguration Day."
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, herself an Army veteran, praised Obama’s "clear and passionate declaration of the fundamental rights of LGBT Americans, and all Americans," said Robinson, who, in a statement, noted the work of his first term, "especially his leadership in the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’"
Robinson, however, went beyond encomiums to put the president on notice that the LGBT community, which has been very supportive both in terms votes and campaign money, will be watching to see if he delivers on his promises: "We expect great progress over the next four years on the very real inequalities that exist for our LGBT service members, veterans, and their families as we work together to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice."
The inauguration made LGBT history for more than the President’s address. Richard Blanco, the first openly gay (and Hispanic) poet laureate, followed in the storied footsteps of poets like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost when he delivered the inaugural poem. In it, Blanco pays homage to the American experience with vivid scenes about life growing up as a Cuban exile in New York City and Miami.
A gay-friendly Episcopal Latino priest, Luis Leon, delivered the Inaugural benediction. Leon serves at St. John’s Church in Washington, where the Obamas most frequently worship. The church is notable for being especially welcoming to LGBT supplicants. The church supports same-sex marriage and partnerships. Leon was one of the clerics most active in lobbying to get the District of Columbia to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.
The choice of Leon to give the inaugural benediction was especially notable considering the circumstances. Leon was quickly named as a replacement for the original cleric, Reverend Louie Giglio, a pastor in Atlanta. Giglio dropped out after bloggers discovered an anti-gay sermon delivered in the 1990s.
Note: The Associated Press contributed to this story.