President Obama Speaks on Strengthening the Economy for the Middle Class in Chicago, including a mention about the importance of having “loving ... gay or straight parents” in society. (Video: The White House)
Has any president uttered the word ‘gay’ as much as President Barack Obama? It’s doubtful.
Much was made of his soaring rhetoric in his second inaugural speech, with words that have already attained legendary status in the LGBT community:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; ...
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. ... Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- (applause) -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. (Applause.)
But just in the past week, beginning with his State of the Union (SOTU) address last Tuesday, Obama has included ‘gay’ in his public remarks on three separate occasions, in three different ways.
In the first, on Tuesday, February 15, during his annual speech to both houses of Congress, he made a passing mention of gay people in regards to the military:
We will ensure equal treatment for all servicemembers, and equal benefits for their families -- gay and straight.
When Jeanne Manford learned that her son Morty had been badly beaten up at a gay rights demonstration, nobody would have faulted her for bringing him home, holding him close, just focusing on her child. This was back in 1972. There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol towards gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them. But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message: No matter who her son was -- no matter who he loved –- she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense. And in that simple act, she inspired a movement and gave rise to a national organization that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country. We lost Jeanne last month, but her legacy carries on, every day, in the countless lives that she touched.
Citing gay people in both the SOTU and Presidential Citizen’s Medal speeches makes good sense — gays in the military has been a hot-button issue and Manford’s recent passing and the incumbent award to her seem perfectly natural reasons for the president to talk about LGBT issues.
But Obama’s latest mention of gay people this past week might seem a little surprising. He was speaking on Friday afternoon at the Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois, about the economy and strengthening the middle class. Here’s remarks made by him as released by the White House (italics added):
There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood. (Applause.) Don’t get me wrong -- as the son of a single mom, who gave everything she had to raise me with the help of my grandparents, I turned out okay. (Applause and laughter.) But -- no, no, but I think it’s -- so we’ve got single moms out here, they’re heroic in what they’re doing and we are so proud of them. (Applause.) But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved. Loving, supportive parents -- and, by the way, that’s all kinds of parents -- that includes foster parents, and that includes grandparents, and extended families; it includes gay or straight parents. (Applause.)
Those parents supporting kids -- that’s the single most important thing. Unconditional love for your child -- that makes a difference.
Obama does not appear to be merely employing the ‘gay’ word as tokenism. With his steady and scattered inclusion of LGBT vocabulary in speeches that might not otherwise call for it, the president appears to be weaving LGBT people into the fabric of normal discourse.
More than in laws and policy, Obama’s use of language concerning LGBT citizens may turn out to be one of his greatest contributions to the LGBT rights movement.
In Obama’s terms, LGBT people are not just a special interest to be trotted out for the big moments. Rather, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people take their rightful place as full, active, normal citizens of this great country. They have the same economic, security and other concerns as everyone else. And they just want to be a treated like everyone else — with dignity and respect, no better, no worse. In the military, in society, and at home. Not separate, just part of, fully equal.
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