Thank You, President ObamaTop Highlights, Feature Story, Section 4A Thursday, January 5th, 2017
Obama’s Legacy: Changing LGBT Lives Worldwide
As the Barack Obama administration comes to an end, the LGBT community owes our president a huge debt of gratitude. I was the National Co-Chair of the Obama LGBT Leadership Council for the 2008 campaign. Many in the LGBT political glitterati were shocked I was not supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton but I thought Obama was the right person at the right time.
I am often considered a one issue voter, meaning I vote for the person who is going to advance LGBT rights the most. As many of you know, Michelle Robinson Obama and I attended the same high school. My mother and stepfather worked with the Obamas during their time as community organizers on the South Side of Chicago. I had a connection with the future First Family and more importantly felt that they would advance LGBT equality more than any other candidate during the 2008 campaign. I have been absolutely proven correct.
In 2008, there were many who thought Hillary was the right choice, good, bad or indifferent; I thought I had some insight into who the Obamas truly were. Michelle Obama went to Whitney Young High School where openly LGBT students were present as early as 1974. Our high school was an extremely progressive institution that let students pursue their dreams, as well as sexual orientations without fear of reprisal. While there was a major scandal during the first Obama campaign concerning his church and the Rev. Wright, I knew that his church was LGBT affirming. You would have thought otherwise considering the vitriol implied by many in the Hillary campaign and the LGBT press. They jumped to the conclusion, incorrectly, that Wright must have been a homophobe. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Wright’s church welcomed LGBT people and performed “commitment ceremonies,” the highest form of same-sex relationship recognition at the time.
As many begin to consider President Obama’s legacy, I am stunned by the tone deaf mainstream media who seem to never mention LGBT rights. President Obama’s legacy will parallel that of President Truman. No matter when Truman is mentioned, invariably it is said that he integrated the armed forces which led to the integration of America. President Obama will forever be linked to the advancement of civil equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, as well as worldwide.
It is amazing what President Obama has done in a short eight years for you and our community. Read ‘em and weep (tears of joy):
Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Dec. 22, 2010, President Obama repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the law that prevented LGB people from serving openly in the military. Most Congressional Democrats and a handful of Republicans passed the bipartisan legislation. The new law was finally enacted Sept. 20, 2011 and as they say, the rest is history. History that puts in full view the discriminatory policy and its supporters. Since the DADT repeal, the American military has continued to be the best force in the world. This year, transgender people were allowed to serve openly in the military. Bravo to the military for a successful equality implementation that allows all LGB and T people to serve.
Hate Crime Prevention Act
The Matthew Shephard James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama in October of 2009. The act extended the definition of a hate crime to cover those acts based upon a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Of the 5,462 in the FBI’s last report from 2014, 20.4 percent of the cases involved sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Obama administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) collaborated with five other federal departments to establish a federal task force on bullying. As part of the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, the task force funded a video called It Gets Better to address LGBT youth who have been bullied and are at risk of depression or suicide.
The U.S. Department of Education hosted five summits on strategies for protecting students, including LGBT youth, from bullying and harassment. The program included an LGBT Youth Summit in 2011 and a meeting with transgender students in June 2015.
A Focus on LGBT Health
The Obama administration has led the way to normalize issues facing LGBT Americans with respect to health and health care. While some of the issues that President Obama advanced with respect to LGBT health made the national news, most were simply implemented without much fanfare.
Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits
In 2009, President Obama issued a directive on same-sex domestic partner benefits, opening the door for the State Department to extend the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of members of the Foreign Service. Subsequently, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) expanded federal benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees and allowed same-sex domestic partners to apply for long-term care insurance. This was all a precursor to the formal recognition of marriage equality.
Obamacare, which may be repealed under the Trump administration, ensured protections for LGBT people by guaranteeing that insurance companies could no longer turn someone away because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Obamacare also makes it easier for people living with HIV and AIDS to obtain Medicaid and private health insurance, as well as overcome barriers to care from qualified providers. Despite Trump’s threat to repeal Obamacare, the 2017 enrollment has hit a record 6.4 million Americans.
Conversion Therapy Ban
President Obama has also supported legislative efforts to ban the use of so-called “conversion therapy” against minors which tries to cure homosexuality. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a study condemning the practice. Oregon, California, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey and Washington, D.C have banned the practice.
Support for LGBT Elders
The Department of Health and Human Services funded the Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) to establish the first national resource center for older LGBT individuals. The center supports communities across the country as they aim to serve the estimated 1.5 to 4 million LGBT individuals who are 60 and older.
Ending the Government Defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
In 2011, President Obama announced with his attorney general that his administration would not defend DOMA’s provision that marriage was defined as a union between a man and a woman. Obama’s historic decision led the way to the eventual marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges.
In addition, after the United States v. Windsor decision, in which the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined a spouse as a member of the opposite sex as unconstitutional, President Obama instructed the Cabinet to review over 1,000 federal statutes and regulations to ensure the decision was implemented swiftly and smoothly by the federal government to recognize the rights of same-sex couples.
Ending Federal Contractor LGBT Discrimination
In July 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment “because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin,” establishing a standard to be replicated in the private sector.
President Obama’s variety of actions advancing LGBT and same-sex couple rights made a fertile environment for the Supreme Court to rule favorably on the issue of marriage equality. Obama’s actions allowed America and the Supreme Court to see the world would not end with LGBT equality on a number of fronts; same-sex health benefits, social security benefits and equality in the tax law. The Supreme Court marriage equality ruling may be hailed as Obama’s crowning LGBT civil rights achievement but kudos are due to the LGBT community for its advocacy efforts, as well as the Supreme Court for recognizing the humanity of love.
The Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to protect and promote the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans. These actions have included:
• Expanding the Civil Rights Act
The issuance of guidance from the Department of Justice that concluded that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses claims of discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.
• Eliminating Transgender Discrimination in the Federal Government
Agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management, the State Department, the Social Security Administration and Health and Human Services, took various actions to ensure that transgender Americans are treated fairly and without discrimination in the workplace and in the health care system.
• Protecting Transgender Youth
The release of joint guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to provide educators with the information to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination. Additionally, the Department of Education published Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices Guide for Supporting Transgender Students.
Recognizing LGBT History
May 28, 2014, the Department of the Interior announced a new National Park Service theme study to identify places and events associated with the civil rights struggle of LGBT Americans and ensure that the agency is telling a complete story of America’s heritage and history. For the first time in U.S. history, President Obama recognized nine LGBT places as national landmarks or historic places, most notably the Stonewall Inn which was named a national monument, the first to recognize the LGBT rights movement.
During his administration, President Obama has appointed more than 250 LGB and T people to help him serve the nation. Across all major departments of the federal government, President Obama has acknowledged the capabilities of LGBT people to serve, Over 40 appointees in the Executive Office of the President alone. To echo the words of Harvey Milk, “Every gay person must come out…Once (people) realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all.” President Obama made Milk’s words a reality in the US Government by appointing proudly open LGBT people.
The White House is the People’s House
During the Obama administration, everyone was welcome at the White House; the diversity of guests at White House events was unparalleled, including many LGBT Americans. President Obama hosted LGBT leaders at the White House each year in June for Pride Month, but also included the LGBT community in many other events like the holiday parties.
Advancing LGBT Rights Worldwide
President Obama issued a presidential memorandum that directed all Federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promotes and protects the human rights of LGBT persons.
In February 2015, the U.S. State Department appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons to lead and coordinate U.S. diplomatic efforts to advance LGBTI rights around the globe.
Finally, the State Department continues to grow the Global Equality Fund, a multi-sector public-private partnership to advance the human rights of LGBT persons globally. Since the Fund was launched in December 2011, it has allocated over $30 million to civil society organizations in 80 countries.
In this small space I could only cover a fraction of how President Obama has changed the lives of LGBT Americans in the United States and throughout the world. President Obama, rest assured this part of your legacy will be forever cherished by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Thank you, President Obama for proving that equality is just that, equal.
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