In 2011, I remember walking into the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, where the words “Respect. Empower. Include. Win.” were written in huge letters across one wall. Those words had guided President Obama’s first four years in office. They were what we had worked toward every day. And for me, they will also define his legacy of fighting for equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
After eight years of President Obama’s leadership, we live in a country that is more equal, just and inclusive. We have federal protections against hate crimes. Our nation now embraces LGBTQ service members. The White House was lit with rainbow colors when the Supreme Court delivered marriage equality to all 50 states, with the help of President Obama’s two Supreme Court appointees. His administration helped erase the stain of the “Defense of Marriage Act” that had discriminated against same-sex couples from federal law. President Obama designated the site of the Stonewall Uprising as a national monument and fought to protect LGBTQ workers. He made LGBTQ human rights a pillar of U.S. foreign policy and gave refuge to those fleeing violence.
His leadership went beyond policy. He welcomed the first openly transgender White House intern, Sarah McBride, and the first openly transgender White House staffer, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan. He gave LGBTQ youth an ally in the most powerful office in the land.
Now, it’s up to us to protect this legacy. In a few short days, our champion in the Oval Office will be replaced with a president, aides and Cabinet nominees who have threatened to roll back equality for millions of LGBTQ people and families.
Take Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, who voted against federal hate crimes legislation and opposed repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Or Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Congressman Tom Price, who opposes the Affordable Care Act, a law that has helped countless LGBTQ people access crucial health care. Or his vice president, a believer in so-called “conversion therapy” who was willing to tank Indiana’s economy to pass license-to-discriminate legislation. Or Trump’s Senior Counselor and Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who founded a white nationalist news organization best known for trafficking in anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic and anti-Semitic views. Trump has also vowed to nominate ‘the next Scalia’ to the U.S. Supreme Court, threatening to undo and block progress toward equality through the courts.
We are at a crucial moment in time. Despite all that we have achieved over the last eight years, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services in 31 states. Until we pass the Equality Act, the basic rights of millions of people will change every time they cross a state border. And we will continue to face hundreds of state bills attempting to write discrimination into law. In Texas, Kentucky and Virginia, we have already seen lawmakers unveil bills similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB2 law, despite the outcry and damage that hateful legislation caused.
For eight years, President Obama put the full weight of his administration behind the LGBTQ community. Now we must step up — not just to secure his legacy, but to secure our own. Advocates and allies have a tough road ahead and we can’t afford to let up for a moment.
“Respect. Empower. Include. Win.” As we bid farewell to President Obama’s time in the White House, let’s not forget how far these values can take us.
Olivia Alair Dalton is senior vice president of communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign. Previously, she served as a spokesperson for the Obama administration and both of President Obama’s campaigns.