Op-ed: What a Difference Five Years Makes

After last night's White House Pride celebration, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights reflects on progress made in five years under the Obama administration.

BY Kate Kendell

July 01 2014 10:40 AM ET

Five years ago, on the weekend of my son Julian's 13th birthday, he and I went to the White House. President Obama was commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and I was lucky enough to be invited. The experience of being at the White House and seeing the president speak was enthralling for us. The room was packed with several hundred activists, elected officials, and numerous dignitaries.  

Despite the wattage, everyone there jockeyed to position Julian, the youngest person in the room, so that the president would see him first when he finished his speech. It worked.

The president locked eyes on Julian, thrust out his hand, clasped Julian's shoulder and said, "How ya doing little buddy?" For my teenage, bi-racial, African-American identified son, it was an electric moment.

Yesterday, June 30, due to the kismet of my longevity and pure luck, we got a replay. The Obama administration was commemorating LGBT Pride month. This time it was me, my partner of 21 years and wife of six years, Sandy, and the now 18-year-old Julian.

I have been to D.C. many times. I am never not awed by being here. I have been to the White House for an LGBT event exactly once before, five years ago. I can't imagine ever feeling jaded or nonplussed by the experience.

We joined the cue for the event yesterday afternoon and immediately saw many friends, colleagues and s/heroes. So many people who have done so much for so long to get us to this historic, celebratory moment.

Just before the event began, we had a brief chance to meet President Obama and the First Lady. Once again, the attention focused on Julian. Julian told the president that he was going to be student body co-president at his high school this coming year and that the president had been an inspiration to him. The president responded with a fist bump.

In his remarks at the event, President Obama talked about the many important accomplishments in the fight for LGBT justice, inclusion, and equality. He noted that we still had much work to do, even as we celebrated our historic progress.

He promised that soon he would be signing an executive order to prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT workers by companies that contract with the government. There were many applause lines. But what I appreciated the most was how the president concluded his remarks.

He challenged us to not leave anyone behind. He exhorted us to be there for everyone else left vulnerable or insecure because of bigotry or prejudice or injustice. He asked us to stay in the fight for the poor, the undocumented, for LGBT youth, and for LGBT people around the globe. Most importantly, our president made clear that what got us to this point was a recognition of our common humanity, and that our future challenge will be to eliminate prejudice wherever it exists and to celebrate and embrace difference and diversity.

As we walked out of the White House, Julian noted we were walking along the very same path we had exited five years earlier.  In that five years our community has made breathtaking gains. In that five years my son has become a man. And in that five years my son has seen his president stand up for him and his family.  I took Sandy's hand, she put her arm around Julian and we walked out into the muggy D.C. evening believing that anything was possible.

 

KATE KENDELL is executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rightsa national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of LGBT people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. 

Sandy Holmes, Julian, Kate Kendell and a couple familiar pooches during Monday's visit to the White House.

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