BY Julie Bolcer
August 13 2008 12:00 AM ET
Four years ago,
few voters outside Illinois knew who Barack Obama was,
let alone imagined that a virtual newcomer like him could be
poised to become the nation’s first
African-American president. Yet, today, Obama’s
historic and swift ascent toward the ultimate political
prize now raises interest in another unprecedented
scenario: When -- and under what circumstances --
might an openly gay person move into the Oval Office?
Achtenberg, former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban
Development, who in 1993 became the first openly gay person
to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a cabinet-level
position, has never truly entertained the possibility
of a gay president -- until now. And the fact that
“I’m allowing myself to do so tells me that
something extraordinary had happened in the past few
years,” she says.
the perfect combination of trailblazing and unimaginably
fertile political and cultural circumstances to help get
Obama to where he is today. Certainly L. Douglas
Wilder of Virginia, who 18 years ago became the
country’s first elected African-American governor,
and public officials like former U.S. senator Carol
Moseley Braun and secretaries of state Colin Powell
and Condoleezza Rice helped lay the path. That many
people wanted Powell to run for the nation’s highest
office in 2000 also helped set the stage for an Obama
“You’ve got to demonstrate that you’re
a part of society and can work and perform just as
well as anybody else,” says Marisa Richmond, a
historian and the first openly transgender
African-American delegate to the Democratic National
Convention. “[Obama] has made his advances based on
the successes of others who’ve come before
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