FAIRFAX, Va. — President Obama presented an LGBT-inclusive vision for the country Friday during a campaign rally in a battleground state that could help determine the outcome of the election.
In an event at George Mason University that focused mostly on his commitment to women’s issues, Obama ticked off a list of accomplishments over his first term that included repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ to make sure that nobody who wants to serve our country gets kicked out because of who they love,” Obama said, generating applause from the audience.
Obama made additional references to the gay community in the speech. The president twice mentioned “gays” in the concluding portion of his speech warning his audience that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would reverse gains already made.
“In 18 days, you can let them turn back the clock 50 years for immigrants, and gays, and women, or we can stand up and say we are a country in which everybody has a place,” Obama said. “A country where no matter where you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, abled, disabled — we have a place for everybody.”
The inclusion of gays in Obama’s remarks at the rally stand in contrast to a campaign season that has been virtually devoid of discussion of same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. The speech was more akin to the Democratic National Convention, where speakers emphasized LGBT-inclusiveness to pump up the crowd.
Among the estimated 9,000 people in attendance at the rally were members of the LGBT community who said they were delighted Obama made explicit references to them.
Broderick Greer, 22, a gay graduate student at the Virginia Theological Seminary, said Obama’s reference to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was exciting.
“Sometimes I forgot about the strides that we’ve made with LGBT rights in the last few years since he’s been president,” Greer said. “When I heard repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I screamed so loud that I hurt the lady’s ears in front of me. I think she was kind of upset.”
Greer said he’s already volunteered to work on behalf of the Obama campaign on the Saturday before Election Day knocking on doors in Alexandria, Va., to talk to potential supporters about the president.
Daniel Torin Roberts, 22, a gay recent graduate of George Mason University, also said he thought Obama’s inclusion of gays in his rally speech was important.
“You want to feel like you have a seat at the table, like he’s still thinking about you and everything he’s doing and it’s still a concern,” Roberts said. “He carries what we want with him, he knows what we want and he’s still fighting for us.”
But the most memorable part of the speech was Obama coining a new term to describe Romney’s pivot away from the conservative policies he articulated during the Republican primary: “Romnesia.”
“Now that we’re 18 days out from the election, Mr. ‘Severely Conservative’ wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year,” Obama said. “I mean, he’s changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping we’ve got to name this condition that he’s going through. I think it’s called ‘Romnesia.’”
Among the policy shifts that Obama has identified is Romney saying he’s for equal pay for women, but reluctant to say whether he would have supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, in addition to his shift during the first presidential debate when he said he doesn’t support tax cuts for the wealthy if they add to the deficit.
Obama concluded his riff about “Romnesia” by saying people shouldn’t worry if they find themselves coming down with similar symptoms because there’s good news: “Obamacare covers preexisting conditions.”
The 13 electoral votes in Virginia could be crucial in determining the outcome of the presidential election. As national polls continue to show a tight race, an American Research Group poll published on Oct. 16 found Romney and Obama virtually tied in the state, with Romney leading 48-47.
Prior to Obama’s speech, a number of prominent Obama supporters appeared on stage to hype Obama’s work on women’s issues and to criticize Romney for holding positions they believed were contrary to supporting women, such as his pledge to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion rights. Among the speakers were Terri Riley, an Obama campaign leader in Virginia; Nan Johnson, a local retired school counselor; and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Johnson had particularly harsh words for Romney’s widely lampooned comments during the debate earlier this week that he selected female appointees to serve in his administration after requesting “binders full of women” who had submitted resumes to women’s groups.
“He admitted that when he became governor of Massachusetts, he had no idea where to find a single qualified woman,” Johnson said. “He needed someone to give him resumes stuffed in some binders instead. If he was saying that as governor, I wonder what he did during his 25 years in the corporate world.”
Johnson continued to say that she was even more troubled by Romney’s remarks that if you want women in the workforce, some flexibility is necessary because those remarks sounded as if “a woman with a job is some kind of proposition that you debate in a board room.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) also appeared on stage and drew on the binder remarks, holding a binder before him and saying, “I’m from Massachusetts originally, and I found the binder full of women.” Then, shaking his head, Connolly said, “Not so much,” and said Romney had one of the worst records in modern history in appointing women to the courts.
“When people asked me why am I supporting President Obama, I have a pretty simple answer,” Connolly said. “Because I have a daughter.”