“Welcome to your house.” With those simple words, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama received an audience of LGBT advocates at the 2009 White House Pride reception. Those of us lucky enough to be in the room were standing on the shoulders of generations of LGBT people who protested and picketed outside the White House and were never welcomed inside.
And we weren’t just welcomed; there were bartenders serving Cosmos and Madonna dance music blared in the East Wing. We were promised change, but this was more than any of us had bargained for.
Fast forward eight years and Obama indeed proved to be our fierce advocate, upending decades of Democratic Party lip service to our issues and finally delivering real change. From “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to a full embrace of marriage equality, Obama went further on LGBT rights than even some activists expected. Who could have imagined the White House lit up in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling? Even now, that image remains gasp inducing.
This special issue of the Blade is a sendoff and thank you to President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and all those tireless staffers who made this change possible. The cover image sums up the way the Obamas made many of us feel over the past eight years — downright giddy at times. Journalists aren’t supposed to thank the subjects of their coverage, but once in a rare while there’s room for an exception and this is it. Make no mistake: the credit for much of what’s changed on LGBT acceptance goes to Obama. Not to the DNC or to previous Democratic presidents. Not to the media or to gay-friendly celebrities. The bully pulpit is powerful and when Obama used it to endorse marriage equality prior to the 2012 election, the dam burst and suddenly is was OK — cool even — to support the cause that terrified so many other Democrats.
For a glimpse at what was achieved these past eight years, check out the timeline of LGBT progress in this issue compiled by our White House reporter Chris Johnson. It’s not just about marriage, but a host of policy statements, federal guidance, Justice Department briefs and more that helped shift the culture and bring us to where we are today.
No one is perfect and Obama has his flaws. His administration proved opaque and Obama himself insular, in stark contrast to his campaign promises of transparency. In eight years, Obama never made time for an interview with the Blade, even though our reporters are in the White House and State Department each day and part of the pool rotation. Whistleblowers were targeted for retribution. Obama’s Syria policy will likely go down as the biggest stain on his presidency.
But on so much else — the economic recovery, job creation, restoring America’s reputation around the world, LGBT equality — Obama surpassed expectations. Top adviser Valerie Jarrett told the Blade in an exclusive interview this week that she’s confident the culture has come far enough on LGBT rights that President-elect Trump’s administration won’t be able to roll back the advances we’ve seen. I wish I shared her assessment. Given the myriad bigots about to populate the White House, led by Steve Bannon, the LGBT community is in for a rough ride and setbacks await.
But we know how to fight and we’ll take our places back outside the White House fence. Thanks to President Obama, we have an impressive string of victories to protect. Thank you, Mr. President.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].