The day after President Obama reiterated his pledge to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in his State of the Union address, he traveled to the University of Tampa in Florida for a town hall meeting. He took six questions from the crowd, including one from Hector Flores, a senior performing arts and communication major, who went last and asked the president about equality for same-sex couples, including marriage.
Flores, a 21-year-old native of Jersey City, New Jersey, talked to Advocate.com about asking the question, and what he thought of the president's answer.
Advocate.com: How did you feel about the State of the Union speech? Hector Flores: I watched it several times. A lot of the reforms had to do with the financial deficit that we're facing and other valid issues, but I wanted to have clarification that gays are also in the groups to be taken care of.
Are you involved with gay rights activities on campus? I am involved somewhat. We have an organization here at the University of Tampa. I go their events when I can. I am also in a fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, an honor society, Alpha Psi Omega, and I am a resident advisor. That's how I found out about the event.
How long did you have to prepare for the president's visit? I received an email, probably two days before, saying that because I was a campus leader, I had a ticket to go see Obama, and asking me whether I wanted to accept it. Of course, I wanted to go.
Was your question pre-screened? No, I asked it spontaneously. It was only revealed that we would be able to ask questions just before the whole thing had started. And even then there were thousands of people in the room and I thought I'd never be picked. But luckily, I caught his eye and my friends were pointing at me. Did you know immediately what you wanted to ask? Yes. One of the things I feel my demographic is really missing out on is all the benefits we are not receiving. So I put the emphasis on marriage because of all the benefits we are missing because we cannot legally marry. I hope to live the American Dream, to get married and have a family one day.
Were you nervous? I was extremely nervous. In my profession as an actor, they say, "Fake it 'til you make it." That's what I was trying to do. My legs were shaking and my heart was pounding. I think the fact that I was around many of my peers and people of my own age helped. They realize the struggle that's going on now.
How did you think the president would respond? I honestly had no idea. I figured he would speak as a politician and kind of brush it off and give me no answer. I was glad to hear that he feels that law-abiding citizens should share the same rights. So when he talked about changing things for federal jobs, and leading by example, I though that was a good step. It was small step, but it was a step in the right direction.
Were you satisfied with his answer? Not fully satisfied. Yes, for the positive aspects I just mentioned. No, because he didn't hit marriage head on. But everyone needs to understand that he is one branch of three in our government. It's up to everyone in our community to talk to our leaders, to get out there, and show that we're not going anywhere. This is not just an Obama decision.
I feel there are people out there bashing on him for not answering the question on gay marriage, but I feel that he is already setting things in motion for change. Thought it may not be everything that we want, it is a small step toward change and nothing drastic is going to happen overnight.