Presidential inaugurations are often filled with pomp, circumstance, cheering crowds and moments to remember, but rarely do they so perfectly illustrate a dramatic shift in our country's understanding and acceptance of cultural changes. The second inauguration of President Barack Obama did just that. While many news outlets are rightly praising the historic, first-ever inclusion of the word "gay" in an inaugural address by a U.S. president, the speech's inclusion of LGBT people in the larger struggle for American equality is perhaps the bigger, and less discussed, historic moment.
To be sure, having our president call for full equality for gay Americans in what is one of the biggest and most viewed speeches of his presidency is monumental. "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," Obama said to cheering crowds. He made this statement not only before the entire nation but mere feet from the Supreme Court justices who will be deciding two historic legal cases regarding marriage equality this term: California's Prop 8 case and a challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But more important than the meaningful (and not-to-be-downplayed) nod to gays and lesbians was Obama's more far-reaching inclusion of the struggle for LGBT equality in the broader civil rights history of the United States. "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." With this thundering line President Obama gave recognition to the commonality of our civil rights struggles, from women's suffrage to African-American civil rights to LGBT equality. He took the story of the LGBT community's fight for equality and folded it completely into the fabric of what America really means.
This inclusion goes beyond simple words. For the first black president, on both his second inauguration and the federal holiday recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to so completely embrace the LGBT rights struggle as part of our common experience is to turn the page on the idea of "gay rights as special rights" that so many opponents of equality use, instead embracing the idea of a shared American quest for civil rights and justice under the law.
There are moments in history when a speech can transcend words and actually become action, and that is precisely what weaving the story of the Stonewall riots (which birthed the modern LGBT rights movement) into the American experience of "becoming a more perfect union" did. The fight for LGBT equality is no longer the story of a small group seeking its rights; it has become part of the American story of civil rights and freedom.
This fuller integration and recognition of LGBT Americans was apparent not only in Obama's historic words but in the choices of who would speak and participate in the inauguration itself. The first openly gay inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, delivered his poem "One Today." The Rev. Luis Leon of St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. delivered the benediction and made reference to gay Americans in his prayer. (He replaced Rev. Louie Giglio, who withdrew from the ceremony when an anti-gay sermon he'd delivered in the mid 1990s surfaced.) Even Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown was made by openly gay designer Jason Wu.
As the president said, our journey is not complete. But what we witnessed on inauguration day was a dramatic shift, and a long-fought-for victory for inclusion and recognition. Our fight -- the decades-long fight of LGBT people for the right to fully live the American dream -- is truly an American endeavor that we all must take part in.
The spirit of Stonewall was alive and well at the inauguration -- and it lives on to carry us forward in the fights ahead.
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