The official start of President Obama’s second term was cause for excitement on Monday at the Human Rights Campaign’s “Out for Equality” inaugural ball.
A jubilant crowd of about 1,500 donned tuxedos and designer duds after Obama was sworn into office by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts and the inaugural parade. They braved the cold night to gather at D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, which sported a rainbow flag above its front entrance.
Entertainment included Audra McDonald, a five-time Tony Award winner, and Will Swenson, a Tony nominated actor known for his roles in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “Hair.” Ending the celebration was gay icon Cyndi Lauper, a longtime HRC supporter, who closed the night with a rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” also made an appearance.
A number of high-profile pro-LGBT figures made appearances. At one point the stage featured Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.,) the leader on anti-bullying legislation in the Senate; New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, whose recent election assured the preservation of marriage equality in her state; and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising Democratic star considering a bid to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate.
But the political star who received the most attention during the ball was lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who called for a toast to Obama in response to LGBT references in his inaugural address after Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin introduced her on stage.
“I was so struck in the passage about going from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall — all of us working so hard to advance true equality, but all woven into the small fabric of our American story,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin declined to take questions from the Washington Blade after her remarks.
As he shook hands with supporters, Booker took a question from the Blade about the prospects of legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey. The Democratic legislature last year passed marriage legislation, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it.
“It’s still not a matter of not if, but when,” Booker said. “But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be pushing and working for it every single day. So, hopefully we can still override the governor’s veto, or frankly, in the next election in November, bring in a governor who shares the values of the majority of the state of New Jersey that will stand up for marriage equality.”
But the buzz during the party was the inaugural speech Obama delivered a few hours earlier in which he twice included the LGBT community by including the 1969 Stonewall riots in his speech.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he also said.
It was the first time a U.S. president had ever addressed the LGBT community in an inaugural address.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the newly seated gay U.S. House member, was among those who praised Obama’s speech and said he “became emotional” listening to the president deliver his remarks on LGBT rights.
“I’ve never been more proud of an American president,” Maloney said. “I thought about my kids and I brought my kids who are African American to watch the president because I wanted them to understand that anyone can do anything in this country, but I never imagined that they would also get a lesson on how we’re all equal regardless not just of race, but sexual orientation and to receive that lesson from the president was beautiful and remarkable.”
Gay Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf also had high praise for Obama’s decision to include LGBT references in his inaugural address, calling it “historic.”
“It was surprising, I guess,” Elmendorf said. “We know where he is, but at an inaugural event, nobody has ever said ‘gay’ at an inaugural. Nobody has ever done such a good job of making the case about how the gay rights movement, sort of follows from the women’s rights movement and civil rights movement and put it all together. There were not a lot of dry eyes among the gays watching that speech.”
Corey Johnson, a gay New York City Council candidate, echoed that sentiment.
“I was pleased when Stonewall was put in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma and I thought that could have been enough, but then to go on and explicitly talk about equal rights for LGBT Americans for the first time ever in an inaugural address I thought was unexpected, yet incredibly welcomed, so I was very moved actually,” Johnson said.