During the Inauguration, Meghan Stabler, a transwoman and a member of the Board of Directors for the Human Rights Campaign, was standing on the northwest side of the Capitol steps with a bunch of gay and lesbian people. "We were all waiting for the word gay to come up, and then we heard Stonewall and a few of us had tears in our eyes," Stabler said on Tuesday, her voice breaking up again recalling the moment. "Then we heard gay," she added, "and we just lost it."
Stratton Pollitzer, who works with a gay rights group in Florida, cried during the president's speech Monday, too. But his most thrilling moment came the night before, at a candlelight reception at the White House which he attended with his husband of 17 years, when he shook hands with Vice President Joe Biden and thanked him for "being out front on marriage equality."
"Biden flashed that big smile of his and said, 'It's the civil rights issue of my day. I won't stand by,'" Pollitzer recounted. He summed up the feeling that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have expressed since President Obama's groundbreaking inaugural address: "This is just a moment of pure euphoria."
Four years ago, many gay rights advocates were hopeful -- but far from certain -- that Obama would help their movement. The inauguration itself was bittersweet; Proposition 8, a measure that banned gay marriage, had just passed in California, and Obama selected an evangelical pastor who supported the ban to give his inaugural invocation. But over the course of his first term, Obama has done more for gay rights than any other president, and after Monday, he is now the first to use the word gay in a presidential inauguration speech.
"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," the president said.
Even more astounding to some listening was Obama's mention of Stonewall -- a New York City bar where a series of riots took place in the late 60s and that is widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement -- in the same breath as Selma, the Alabama town thought to be the birthplace of the black rights movement, and Seneca Falls, the upstate New York town that hosted one of the first women's rights conventions.
"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 forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall," Obama said.
Marc Solomon, the National Campaign Director for Freedom To Marry, a D.C.-based gay rights organization, said he was still "pinching himself" on Friday. "Not that our movement should need legitimizing, but I thought that that was the most powerful legitimation that we could have ever dreamed of, on this historic day," he said. Solomon also noted the proximity of all nine of the Supreme Court judges, expected to rule on same-sex marriage this summer, to the president.
"What could be more powerful?" Solomon asked.
Diego Sanchez, who worked for the former congressman Barney Frank as the first openly transgender congressional legislative staffer, celebrated his 56th birthday, watching from the seats on the south side of the Capitol. Sanchez grew up in Augusta, Ga. He was 11 years old when, after Dr. Martin Luther King's death, rioters filled the streets and the city was put on curfew. "It was so scary," he wrote in an email, "I didn't know if things would ever be ok, for so many reasons."
"And then on my 56th birthday," Sanchez wrote, "a big part of 'I have a dream' was made real, again."
Although the word transgender was never mentioned directly, Sanchez and Stabler both said that they felt included and touched by the president's words.
"Some people will complain that gay is not inclusive of trans people, but it really is," Stabler said. "And the president's words matter because it signals that it's okay to say this, it moves the conversation from uniqueness towards normality."
Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of the Family Equality Council, a national gay rights group, took her 10-year-old son, Tom. After cheering during the speech, he turned to her and said, "'It was totally worth getting up at 5:30 in the morning for,'" she recalled, laughing, and then quickly grew serious. It was important for her son, in part, she said, because "People don't get taught gay history in school."
"So to hear the president reference such a monumental part of our history," she said, "it just shows how far we have truly come."