THE BLOG

Obama's Challenge to the LGBT Community

06/20/2014 04:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Lost in all the online coverage of President Obama's speech at the DNC LGBT Gala this week in New York -- with his powerful words on the AIDS crisis and his announcement that he would sign an executive order barring federal contractors from firing us, which garnered a standing ovation -- was a challenge to our community that few noticed. Whether the event's wealthy LGBT donors cheered loudly as Obama ended his speech simply because of its inclusive-sounding words and great cadence or because they actually agreed with the challenge and change those words mean for our community's work, only time will tell.

Obama ended his speech with a challenge to our community to expand its agenda into a broadly progressive one, looking beyond our own fight for equality to the issues that continue to hold back far too many Americans -- social-justice issues like poverty, racial and gender discrimination, immigration, and health care. It's as if he'd just read Urvashi Vaid's Irresistible Revolution, with its frustration at our narrow focus on marriage equality. Vaid has often seemed like a lonely voice among our LGBT leaders as she's yearned for a more substantive agenda with race, class, and gender at its foundation, knowing that it would produce greater and more meaningful change for a larger number of people.

Are we ready to take up this challenge? Will our donors keep writing checks in response to appeals that aren't solely focused on marriage? Can we become the community that finally ends AIDS for white gay men and black straight women alike? Can we lead on issues like youth homelessness and a living wage for all workers?

I wonder. I hope.

This is a country where -- no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you came up, or what your last name is, or who you love -- if you work hard and you take responsibility, you should be able to make it. That's the story of America. That's the story of this movement: people who stand up, and come out, and march, and organize, and fight to expand the rights we enjoy and extend them to other people; people who work against the odds to build a nation in which nobody is a second-class citizen, [where] everybody is free to be who they are, and ... you're judged based on: Are you kind, and competent, and work hard, and treat each other with respect, and are a team player, and look after your community, and care [for] and love and cherish your kids? That's how we're supposed to be judged.

That's the fight that brought all of us here today. That's what made it possible for me to stand up here as your president. It's what gave many people in this room the freedom to live their lives freely. It's what should inspire us to keep working to make sure all our children grow up in an America where differences are respected and even celebrated, and where love is love.

And it is also why those of us who, in the past, might have not always enjoyed the full liberty that this amazing country of ours has to offer [have] got to be thinking about others who are still struggling. That's why this community has to be just as concerned about poor kids, regardless of sexual orientation.

That's why this community should be fighting for workers who aren't getting paid a minimum wage that's high enough.

That's why this community has to show compassion for the illegal immigrant who is contributing to our society and just wants a chance to move out of the shadows.

That's why this community should be concerned about equal pay for equal work, straight or gay.

That's why this community has to be concerned about the remaining vestiges of racial discrimination.

If you've experienced being on the outside, you've got to be one to bring more folks in, even once you are inside. That's our task. That's our job. That's why we're here tonight.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless America.