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Leah McElrath Headshot

Why Nobel Laureate President Obama's Speech to the Gays Matters

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At first, I thought there was nothing new in President Obama's speech about lesbian and gay civil rights, but then I thought again.

Like many activists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, I noticed that the speech President Obama gave at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner was substantially equivalent to the speech he gave at the White House gathering commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall protests. Which, if one was hoping for something new or newsworthy, was a bit disappointing.

Then my partner and I took a taxi home. Our taxi driver asked us how the speech went, which led to a further conversation. Our taxi driver was a man from a country in Africa called Eritrea. He talked at some length about how happy he and others in his country were about President Obama's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and how meaningful our country's electing President Obama was to the world outside of the United States. He talked about how America was hated during the years of the Bush administration and its war-mongering unilateralism -- and how, now, people feel free to love and look up to America once again.

President Obama is the President of the United States, yes. But he is also an important symbol to the world of a renewed hope and of the promises of the ideals upon which America was founded those many years ago. The decision by the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama was a reflection and reinforcement of the reality of what he and our nation, once again, represent to the world. Hope. Equality. Peace. Progress.

As much as we continue to endure the harms created by the inequalities we face here in the United States, our freedoms and protections are indeed immense compared to many in other nations. Imagine what the knowledge of President Obama's support for civil equality for LGBT people will mean to those lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in countries like Eritrea. Imagine the impact of his unequivocal support for our community on the content of international human rights dialogue. In other words, imagine the impact of this speech on the world, not just on Americans.

Taken in that context, Nobel Laureate President Obama's speech committing himself to the achievement of full civil equality for LGBT people and full and equal protection and recognition under the law of our relationships and our families is indeed new. And newsworthy.

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