LGBT rights supporters are hoping that President Obama will mention trans visibility and the Equality Act during his final State of the Union address next week.
The remarks, which will mark the final State of the Union address for Obama as his administration comes to a close, will begin at 9 p.m. on Tuesday and be delivered before a joint session of Congress.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, said her organization wishes Obama well in his final State of the Union and hopes he builds on the progress under his administration to enumerate the difficulties faced by transgender people in his remarks.
“In his speech and at this time in our nation’s history, we need the president to help remind all of us of our core values of dignity and mutual respect — in what is a fiercely divisive political climate,” Carey said. “A climate that has included an unprecedented deluge of hate speech against LGBTQ people, Muslims, undocumented immigrants and other groups. Hateful words that can lead to hateful actions such as the appalling levels of violence against, and the murder of, transgender people.”
Other legislative endeavors Carey said she would like to hear Obama push are criminal justice reform, closing the gaps in income inequality and federal comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.
“And as the most LGBTQ-friendly president of all time, we hope he will express the vital importance of the Equality Act to extend more freedom, justice and equality to all LGBTQ people,” Carey said.
Obama has often taken the opportunity of his State of the Union address to talk about his commitment to LGBT rights. Last year, for the first time ever, Obama invoked the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in remarks before a joint session of Congress.
Stephen Peters, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization would like Obama to build on his remarks last year for greater trans inclusion in the speech and a call to pass the Equality Act.
“We would love to see him build on that by raising awareness and visibility of the many challenges facing the transgender community right now,” Peters said. “There are also numerous other challenges that remain that we would love to hear the president address, including the need to pass the Equality Act for full federal LGBT equality, HIV/AIDS funding, the current Department of Defense review of the outdated regulations preventing transgender service members from serving authentically, and a host of other areas.”
Peters added, “There is no doubt that President Obama’s legacy of progress for the LGBT community is unmatched in history, and we are hopeful he’ll continue to build on that progress during his last year in office.”
On Thursday, the Equality Federation, a coalition of state LGBT groups, called on supporters to sign an online letter encouraging Obama to include LGBT issues in his State of the Union address amid expectations “religious freedom” bills compromising LGBT rights will move in state legislatures this year.
“As the community faces hundreds of bills across the country meant to limit our access to housing, job protections, safe schools for our youth, and to target our transgender family members, your public support is as important now as it has ever been,” the letter says.
The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the content of the State of the Union or any LGBT inclusion in his remarks.
In the aftermath of Obama’s executive actions to enhance gun safety, much of his State of the Union address will likely consist of the president urging Congress to take further action. Given Republican opposition to his actions, such legislative activity seems unlikely.
Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization wants to see Obama reach out to Republicans, such as by enumerating radical Islamic extremism as a threat.
“Log Cabin Republicans is hopeful that President Obama will use his final State of the Union address to find common ground with the Republican majorities in Congress, emphasize to Democrats in the House and Senate the need for reasonable religious accommodations if any form of LGBT non-discrimination legislation has hopes of passing, and finally call out the immediate existential threat facing the LGBT community abroad and our greater Western culture for what it is: Radical Islamic extremism,” Angelo said.
Delivering the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address immediately after the president is South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
On expectations for Haley’s remarks, Angelo said, “Having met Nikki Haley when she was campaigning for governor of South Carolina, and knowing her appreciation of the work of Log Cabin Republicans, I’m expecting a common-sense conservative message containing a vision for all Americans that contrasts with what will almost assuredly be a polarizing State of the Union address from the president.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was more general in her wish list for the State of the Union, although trans visibility did make the list.
“The State of the Union address is primarily an opportunity for the president to speak symbolically,” Keisling said. “Many of the areas the president will be discussing are extremely significant for trans people. We would hope to see the president recognize that by including trans people when discussing these issues.”