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Scout, Ph.D.

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Obama First Invited Me to the White House for LGBT Advocacy 19 Years Ago; Today I Return

Posted: 06/15/2012 4:43 pm

Today I have the great fortune to be invited to the Pride Reception at the White House. The last time Obama invited me to a ceremonial event at the White House, it was 1993. Today's LGBT Pride Reception is poignant for me because while the Obamas won't even know my name, I feel like I'm returning to say hello to old friends, allies in fighting for truly intersectional social justice since we were all young.

Spring 1993 in Washington, D.C., is a vivid memory for me. That was the spring when approximately 800,000 LGBT people gathered for our largest civil-rights march to date. I was deeply honored to be elected one of the four national co-chairs of the event, a truly grassroots march led by what I think is still the largest LGBT coalition in history. The march platform was nearly a book; we wanted -- no, we needed -- so many changes. What was one of our biggest concerns? Overturning Bowers v. Hardwick. Luckily, a whole generation of our leaders has now grown up without even knowing the name of that famous Supreme Court case, the marker that homosexuality wasn't just stigmatized but outlawed in some states.

In spring 1993 the first statewide LGBT-civil-rights bill was just about to be passed in Minnesota, which I still find amazing, because the word "transgender" was so recently coined. I remember how Leslie Feinberg, Martine Rothblatt, and other advocates came to us to teach the march leaders about this new term "transgender." And I remember the enlightenment as several women finished one such presentation by pointing to me and saying, "And you're one." Yes, I was. I am. It was mind-blowing then, and it still is now.

Right now I'm thinking about a few weeks before that amazing march. In the middle of the flurry of preparations, which had me regularly sleeping on the floor behind my desk, I received an invitation to the White House. A group named Public Allies was honoring diverse youth civic leaders in a Rose Garden ceremony.

In those days being LGBT was rarely a type of diversity anyone valued; it was much more often hidden. But the leadership of this brand-new organization felt that LGBT diversity was important, as well, so they chose a young queer/trans-identified activist from Chicago who was a full-time volunteer leader of the coming civil-rights march to be among their honorees: me.

I was thrilled. Despite the sweltering heat, I made sure to don my activist uniform, a leather jacket boldly declaring queer pride with a foot-wide pink sticker on the back.

It took me until the most recent presidential election to realize who that leadership was, exactly: The executive director of Public Allies was Michelle Obama, and her husband was a founding board member.

Nineteen years have passed since our First Lady invited me to the White House. Public Allies is still doing excellent work building new leaders and reminding us of the value of leaving no young adult behind. I still feel gratitude for that early recognition by them, because, frankly, this national co-chair's relative youth was rarely seen as an asset.

What a long and wonderful journey I've been on in these years. I'm no longer protesting in front of CDC to get women added to the AIDS definition; I'm Dr. Scout, who leads the Network for LGBT Health Equity at The Fenway Institute. Now I'm providing expertise to federal and state health officials on how to routinely include LGBT people and urging them to please do it better, for example by counting us in the Census.

Michelle and Barack? She inspires our youth to healthier living; he has become the leader of the free world. It is inconceivable and so very wonderful.

I'm still just as thrilled to be going to the White House. If I'm lucky enough, I hope to shake both of their hands. Much has changed since we saw each other last, and, oh, the stories we could tell. Mostly, it is a great comfort to know we're each still trying our hardest to make this a more just world for all.

 

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