“We the people declare today that the most evident of truth 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; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
And with those words, President Obama, in his second inaugural address on Monday afternoon, did what so many of us have waited four years to hear him do: He openly linked the struggle of gay Americans for equality to those of other minority groups throughout our nation’s history. The president of the United States — an African-American man — finally said it. Gay rights are civil rights.
The mention of Stonewall in conjunction with Seneca Falls and Selma – locations that hold sacred meaning in the fight for equality in the women’s and black communities — sent a ripple across social media, as the president invoked the name of the Greenwich Village, New York City inn where, in June of 1969, police (the “Public Morals Squad”) raided the bar one time too many, and the predominantly gay clientele finally fought back. The rebellion that ensued is considered to be the seminal event in the history of the gay rights movement.
Calling the president’s address “a huge, huge win for gay rights across the country,” activist and Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacey Lentz, was ecstatic. “We’re not just a bar. We’re the Stonewall,” she said. “It’s like owning Rosa Parks’ bus. We don’t own the movement, but we own the bus.” She also expressed appreciation for the president’s recognition of the magnitude of the fight for gay rights. “This is where it started, and to have that history acknowledged in the civil rights context, that’s the thing too,” she observed. “We’ve always said gay rights is civil rights, and I think he summed that up today perfectly.”
“To say in the same phrase: Seneca Falls, Selma, Alabama, and Stonewall, just blew me away, legitimizing everything that we’ve striven for for the past 40 years in the gay rights movement,” enthused Stonewall patron Beth Greenberg. “What can I say? Amazing.”
In what most agree was the most progressive speech of his presidency, Obama did not shy away from issues near and dear to liberal hearts; indeed, he hit them all. Climate change. Gun violence. Voter suppression. Equal pay. Immigration. Education. Poverty. Infrastructure. Diplomacy. Health care. The preservation of our social safety net. And, in what could only be described as music to the ears of liberals everywhere, the full equality of all human beings under the law:
“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.”
Whether this was an opening salvo to herald what we can expect from the president’s second term of course remains to be seen. But for now, the gay community and its allies are rejoicing in having heard it at all — especially in an address of such significance. And the president is well aware that in putting it out there on that grand a scale comes with profound responsibility. He no doubt expects his feet to be held to the fire on this issue… and he can rest assured that his expectations will be met.
Photo: The White House