From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall: The President Speaks Out for LGBT Rights
“From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.” These are words I’d expect to hear in my sociology classes in college, explicating the interconnected nature of inequality and discrimination in society. They are words that might be unsurprising to hear at a place like the RAC, where our work in the struggle for the rights of women, minorities and the LGBT community have all grown out of the same theological tenet: That we are all created in the image of God. But to hear it from the President, in his inaugural address – that was truly historic.
On Monday, President Obama added to the list of milestones in the long march toward LGBT equality when he became the first president to demand equality for the LGBT community in an inaugural address. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” the President said. “For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.” Less than a year after publically endorsing his personal support of same-sex marriage for the first time, President Obama gave marriage equality resounding support in perhaps the most important speech of the coming four years.
But, at least to me, it was a sentence earlier in the President’s speech that showed the strongest support for LGBT rights, “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.” (All the President needed to do was add the words b’tselem elohim and he could have been writing for RACblog). By invoking the 1969 riots after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, widely considered the spark of the modern LGBT rights movement, the President’s vision went beyond simple state-recognition for same-sex marriages and toward the struggle for full equality and human dignity for the LGBT community.
While the inaugural address was a powerful statement of principle, the policies and strategies that will follow it remain unclear. Will the President choose to take executive action to ensure the protection of LGBT workers on federal contracts? Will he push congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to expand that protection to all LGBT workers? Will he stand up for the rights of LGBT students too-often bullied and discriminated in school? How will his administration navigate the coming months as the Supreme Court hears challenges to DOMA and Proposition 8 and several new states take up marriage equality initiatives?
We at the Religious Action Center welcomed President Obama’s words on Monday, and hope that we can count on him as an ally as we continue our longstanding engagement in this work.
Image courtesy of AP