The annual Pride reception held at the White House on Monday revealed a sense that many leaders of the LGBT movement are satisfied with the progress of the last six years.
Guests mingled in the East Room of the White House as they munched on hors d’oeuvres — cookies, salads and sandwiches — served on silver platters on tables adorned with bouquets of pink and purple flowers. The guests consisted of LGBT advocates as well as openly gay Obama administration officials and lawmakers.
During his 13-minute remarks, Obama reiterated the checklist of LGBT accomplishments under his administration.
“And this tremendous progress we’ve made as a society is thanks to those of you who fought the good fight, and to Americans across the country who marched and came out and organized to secure the rights of others,” Obama said. “So I want to thank all of you for making the United States a more just and compassionate place.”
Although Obama has hosted Pride receptions at the White House in June during each of his six years in office, this year is perhaps the first time the event has taken place without frustration from the LGBT community.
His first Pride reception in 2009 took place amid anger over a recently filed legal brief that not only defended the Defense of Marriage Act, but invoked incest. In 2010, the question was whether Obama would succeed in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and in 2011, LGBT advocates were urging him to complete his evolution on marriage equality. Last year’s reception took place amid consternation that hadn’t signed an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
But each of those complaints has been rectified. Earlier this month, the White House announced Obama has directed his staff to prepare the LGBT executive order for non-discrimination — a plan that Obama touted during his remarks as he re-upped his call for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“We’ve still got a little more work to do,” Obama said. “I’ve repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Right now, there are more states that let same-sex couples get married than there are states who prohibit discrimination against their LGBT workers.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, who was among the loudest voices calling for the LGBT federal contractor executive order, attended the reception and had kind words for Obama.
“The president gave tremendous remarks, acknowledging all of the progress that we’ve made over the past years, and also calling on all of us to push for more change, and more progress,” Almeida said. “We should do that with his upcoming executive order and we should do that with a continued push for federal workplace protections through Congress.”
Obama also touted one accomplishment under his administration that doesn’t always make headlines: his appointment of openly gay judges to the federal bench.
As Obama said during his speech, only one openly gay person served on the federal bench prior to his administration, but that number has now jumped to 11. According to the White House, three openly gay federal judges who were confirmed during his administration — Todd Hughes, Nitza Quinones Alejandro and Judith Levy — were present during the reception.
Despite the reflection on past accomplishments, some news was made. In addition to the federal contractor executive order, Obama said for the first time he’s instructed his staff to prepare a second executive order to make clear discrimination against transgender federal employees is prohibited — a move that would build on a non-discrimination memorandum he previously signed in 2009.
Almeida said this second action would be an important move to build off protections made in Obama’s first year in office and would serve as a companion to the federal contractor executive order.
“It’s critically important to have those transgender protections rise to the level of executive order,” Almeida said. “Before they were just sort of administrative interpretation, and I think it’s hugely important and the president deserves our praise for taking transgender protections so seriously.”
The highlight of Obama’s speech was anecdotes of experiences he’s had with gay people over the course of his life, such as with Jim Darby and Patrick Bova, who recently married in Illinois after 51 years together.
Obama had special words for one of the attendees — his college professor when he was a freshman at Occidental College, Lawrence Goldyn.
“Lawrence was not shy,” Obama said. “And I took a class from him, and because he was one of the young professors, we became really good friends. But also, he was the first openly gay person that I knew who was unapologetic, who stood his ground. If somebody gave him guff, he’d give them guff right back, and was I think part of a generation that really fought so many battles that ultimately came into fruition later.”
To be sure, LGBT advocates are pushing for more. Not mentioned during his remarks was an item that has recently gained heightened attention and one that has been left for the Pentagon to fulfill: openly transgender service in the U.S. military. And the timing and exact content of the executive orders — such as whether they’ll include a religious exemption — remains unknown.
“You guys have shown what can happen when people of good will organize and stand up for what’s right,” Obama said.”And we’ve got to make sure that that’s not applied just one place, in one circumstance, in one time. That’s part of the journey that makes America the greatest country on Earth.”