There can be no doubt that President Barack Obama has improved the lives of LGBT Americans more than any president in history. As with any movement for sweeping social change, our opponents have put up roadblocks along the way, but the president has been an unwavering ally who has delivered on promises both great and small. Much more remains to be done, which is why ensuring that President Obama is able to continue the forward momentum toward equality for another term must be a top priority of our community.
On LGBT issues, President Obama’s signature achievement has been passage of the law to repeal the odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that cost our nation thousands of patriotic Americans willing to put their lives on the line. The president stood up before the country in his State of the Union address and promised he would work with Congress to end DADT. And he delivered. Behind the scenes and in public, he worked with advocates to put together all of the pieces — not the least of which was getting senior military leadership to be repeal’s biggest champions.
It was also President Obama who signed the first federal law explicitly protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And when the president read the story of Janice Langbehn, who along with her children was shut out of the emergency room as her partner lay dying of a brain aneurysm, he put his administration into action. Mandating that every hospital receiving Medicaid or Medicare funds adopt new visitation policies, the president’s directive means that nearly every hospital in the country is a significant step closer to treating our families as equals.
Running in 2008, the president promised change from the George W. Bush administration, and on so many issues, change is certainly what we got. There is no more stark a contrast than President Bush’s advocacy for a constitutional amendment to discriminate against same-sex couples versus President Obama’s refusal to defend federal marriage discrimination in court. Calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and arguing that any attempt to discriminate on the basis sexual orientation must clear a high bar of judicial scrutiny will be remembered as a major turning point in the history of legal equality for LGBT people.
On other issues, President Obama has continued to put fairness ahead of the exclusion too often felt from the Bush administration. On the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Bush administration threatened to veto the bill if it were ever passed, calling it “inconsistent with the right to the free exercise of religion” and somehow in conflict with DOMA. Senior officials in the Obama administration instead testified in favor of ENDA on Capitol Hill.
We’ve seen so many other advancements that don’t always make the biggest headlines. The administration added gender identity to the equal employment opportunity policy governing all federal jobs. Married same-sex couples are now able to use their marriage licenses as evidence of a name change for passports, and there are more reasonable standards for changing a gender marker on passports as well. In the area of health, the president launched a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and Health and Human Services has efforts to target populations most at risk, including gay and bisexual men and transgender people. This administration also requires that abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs be inclusive of and nonstigmatizing toward LGBT youth.
With all of our success, much remains to be done, which is why the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Our endorsement now will allow HRC along with our community and our allies to fully mobilize around what will be a difficult but critically important campaign. One need not look further than the records of the other candidates for a wake-up call about how important this election will be to LGBT people. As the fight for equality moves forward, President Obama is marching with us, while the alternatives would stop us in our tracks.
It’s a long time between now and November 2012, but the president has and continues to stand up for our community. We owe it to ourselves and our future to stand up with him again, starting now.