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LGBT Community Rallies Behind Obama's Inaugural Address

Francesca Martens |
January 26, 2013 | 10:04 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the 2013 Inauguration. (Flickr/ Glyn Lowe Photoworks)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the 2013 Inauguration. (Flickr/ Glyn Lowe Photoworks)
On his second Inauguration day on January 21,2013, President Barack Obama accumulated many 'first' designations: he became the first U.S. President to mention the word 'gay' in his speech; he was the first president to have a gay, Hispanic poet recite a poem during the ceremony, and he was the first to equate gay rights with women's suffrage and the black civil rights movement through his joint mention of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.

"We the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our fore bearers through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."

Seneca Falls was the site of the first women's suffrage convention in 1848; Selma was the host of the 1965 voting marches led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, footage of which showed peaceful marchers being so brutalized by Alabama police, that it spurred Pres. Lyndon B Johnson to draft a bill that would become the Voting Rights Act; Stonewall was the Greenwich Village bar where police rioting sparked violent demonstrations that marked the start of the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights (1969).

President Obama's mention of the gay community was a bold and symbolic move, one which elevated the call for gay rights from the agenda of an activist group to a human rights issue that the entire country should work to righten:

"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."

Arya Valizadeh, an LA wine-shop owner who flew into Washington D.C. to attend President Obama's Inauguration, was moved to tears upon hearing the President's acknowledgement and support of the gay rights' movement.

"Very few people in the past cared about us," Valizadeh said, "and for the President to acknowledge our struggle in his Inauguration speech before the entire country is a huge step. It made me, as a gay man, feel appreciated as a human being."

Valizadeh remembered fondly the eruption of applause that immediately followed Pres. Obama's mention of gay rights and the feelings of hope and fraternity the speech roused in the crowd made him feel as though at that moment, "people of all backgrounds came together behind us . . . to support the gay cause, it was one of the most powerful moments in my life."

Patricia Stockley, a Lesbian and educational consultant watched the speech from her West Hollywood home and upon hearing Obamas' mention of the gay community, she and her partner of four years, Sophie, felt exhilarated and thankful.

"It was totally unexpected for him to have made such a bold statement, and it made it clear to me that the President is clearly behind our struggle and supports us unlike any President before him, it was amazing." Stockley was grinning as she spoke. "After his speech, Sophie and I were on such a high that we started calling and texting as many friends as we could . . . everyone was just as overjoyed as we were."

While most of the gay community rejoiced for the show of support, some were split because of the President's choice to address gay rights rather than more pressing issues like the economy.

"As a gay man, obviously I support gay marriage and equal rights," said a USC student who asked to remain anonymous. "Social change is very important, and Obama's plans is great for that, and I'm glad he's with us, but I think addressing the economy rather than social change would have been a better approach for his Inauguration speech."

Obama's speech was heavy on social issues and did not directly touch up on the economy. Apart from his support for gay rights, he restated his faith for social programs, and his belief in strengthening and growing the middle class as well as shrinking the income gap between men and women:

"People understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and the growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders a rising middle class. . .Medicare, and Medicaid,and Social Security . . . do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. . . our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts."

The President's choice to focus on social issues rather than economic ones has been decried by the conservative sectors:

"The era of Liberalism is back," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell according to The Huffington Post."His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past. If the president pursued that kind of agenda, obviously it's not designed to bring us together, and certainly not designed to deal with the transcendent issue of our era, which is deficits and debt."

Echoing McConnell, the anonymous USC student, a conservative, went on to say,"social issues are not going to get us out of debt. As leader of this country, he should be focusing on the severe financial crisis our nation is undergoing. I wouldn't vote for a President simply because he supports my social group."

Read the full transcript of President Obama's 2013 Inauguration speech here.

Reach Executive Producer Francesca Martens here. Follow her here.




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