Barack Obama’s State of the Union address highlighted the progress made on LGBT rights in the United States during his time as President.
In 2015, the president was even the first ever to reference transgender Americans in an address, and his final SOTU speech continued this legacy, paying tribute to the victories of the LGBT rights movement. Obama spoke of marriage equality and included lesbian astronaut Sally Ride in his shortlist of American historical legends and said that the US was on track to ending the “scourge” of HIV and AIDs.
Sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama’s personal box during her husband’s speech was Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark supreme court case that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Alongside him was Ryan Reyes, boyfriend of murdered Larry ‘Daniel’ Kaufman, a victim in the San Bernardino shooting. They watched the President call for their fellow Americans to appreciate and celebrate the nation’s diversity and “commitment to the rule of law”, saying:
“I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far,” he explained. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.”
Referencing America’s unique strengths, he said: “It’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible… how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.”
Lorri Jean, chief executive officer of the USA’s largest LGBT community and health center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, called it “Obama at his best.”
“I can remember hearing Presidents give speeches that included a line or two that was more historic or that moved me more strongly,” she said, “like when [President Bill] Clinton mentioned gay and lesbian people from the capitol steps in Arkansas the night he first won the Presidential election. Or, in last year’s State of the Union, when Obama mentioned transgender people. But I do not remember any previous State of the Union address that has seemed as aspirational and optimistic–that represented the kind of clear-eyed leadership that our nation so desperately needs.
“From an LGBT perspective, I was happy to hear him highlight the fact that ending HIV/AIDS is within our grasp. I liked that he mentioned Sally Ride. And, I was really touched by his use of a coming out metaphor as an example that epitomizes what makes America great. Plus, I loved his concept of unarmed truth and unconditional love having the final word. Anytime that happens, our community benefits.”