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Each year, OUT Magazine honors 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who have made our world a more just and equal place. And on Wednesday, I had the privilege of accepting OUT’s “Ally of the Year” award on behalf of President Obama. We also celebrated the other 99 people who have changed our society for the better through art, politics, culture, sports, and advocacy.
Since President Obama’s election seven years ago, he and his Administration have partnered with many on our journey toward a more perfect union, insuring equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Increasingly, our progress is part of a larger, global movement for LGBT equality that counts the United States as one of its leaders.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The same year, he also lifted the 22-year HIV/AIDS travel ban.
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act became law and less than a month later, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum extending hospital visitation rights for LGBT Americans. And at the end of that year, the President eagerly signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” into law, remarking after ending the policy’s 17-year existence: “This is done.”
In 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) took the position that a central provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional and would no longer defend it in court.
In 2012, the President hosted the first International AIDS Conference in more than a generation and became the first sitting President to publicly support marriage equality.
In 2013, the Supreme Court agreed with the Administration’s position on DOMA and struck down a key part of that law.
In 2014, the President signed an executive order barring employment discrimination against LGBT individuals by federal contractors and subcontractors.
In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court delivered a momentous victory by recognizing a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry – making marriage equality the law of the land – a position the President and Justice Department vigorously supported. We joyously celebrated the victory by lighting up the White House in rainbow colors. With our belief that love means love, there is now no such thing as same sex marriage; just marriage. And on Tuesday, the President was proud to announce his support for the Equality Act, a historic bill that would ensure comprehensive civil rights protections for millions of LGBT Americans.
Of course, none of these advances would have been possible without the efforts of the brave individuals recognized at the OUT 100 Gala and the many more who have worked to change hearts, minds, and laws in favor of equality here and around the world. My dear friend Evan Wolfson, the former Executive Director of Freedom to Marry whom I met early in the President’s first term when marriage equality was the law in only four states, was honored for his decades of pursuing marriage equality litigation and advocacy that helped pave the way for this year’s Obergefell decision. Edie Windsor, whom I first met the day the Supreme Court argued Windsor and without whom marriage equality would not have been possible, was also honored. As was Abby Wambach, the recently retired captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, who after winning the World Cup, shared a kiss with her wife.
As hard as President Obama and his Administration have worked to expand opportunity and make this a more equal country, these accomplishments would not have been possible without the advocates, allies, activists, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things, to change our culture every single day. In addition to using their voices and platforms to foster dialogue, understanding, and legislative change, these honorees have also helped shape, for the better, how the LGBT community is perceived around the world – and how LGBT people see themselves. At the Out 100 event, with tears streaming down his face, a young man told me that seeing the President on the cover of Out Magazine gave him the courage to come out to his mother earlier that day.
In the American tradition of perfecting our union, they have followed in the footsteps of civil rights champions from generations past. As the President said in his second inaugural address, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides is still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
After a fun evening that capped an exciting seven years, I was also reminded of the President’s words following the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in June: “Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.” It was an honor to help celebrate those who continuously strive to make the world a safer, more accepting and equal place for us all, and it is with excitement that we all rededicated ourselves to the important work that lies ahead.