by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE – A couple of years ago, Rev. Henry Brinker of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Imlay City, Mich. couldn’t even come out as a gay clergyman. But on Tuesday, he celebrated his freedom to be out with the inauguration of the first black president – and the first with the most promise ever for the advancement of LGBT rights.
“All are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness,” President Barack Obama said in his inaugural speech. It was a statement that drew loud cheers from the crowd of around 50 people gathered at Affirmations on Tuesday, where they watched Obama be sworn in and the ceremonies that were held.
The crowed boo’d Rick Warren when he gave his speech, but cheered for Aretha Franklin – and her expectedly outrageous wardrobe – as she stepped on stage in Washington, D.C. to perform. But they cheered loudest, with chants of “Obama! Obama!” when the 44th president was sworn in.
“I felt proud to be a gay man,” Brinker, who lives in Washington, Mich., said of watching Obama’s speech. “I felt proud to be part of entering into a new era. I’m just overwhelmed with pride. I never thought we’d see an African-American president, let alone someone who is going to fight for the rights of gay people.”
The mood at Affirmations was one of excitement and hope, and many said they came out to be with friends and the community instead of simply watching from home.
Narvie Fair, who is straight, came out to the center to celebrate with friends. “We were impressed when Tysha Rodriguez (of Affirmations) called us and gave us a tour of the place,” Narvie Fair, 59, of Warren said of the building. “I just never knew a place like this existed.”
Fair worked for the Obama campaign at the event, selling Obama T-shirts and light-up baseball hats.
Others worked selling books for Affirmations’ Black History Month celebration, or selling hot dogs and popcorn to hungry viewers.
And some just came to watch.
“I feel awesome,” said Lawrence Pennyman, 34, of Waterford. “I’ve been up all night.”
“I wanted to be with friends from my community, particularly at this historic moment when we have a president who I believe is going to work for civil rights for all people,” Brinker added.
Trent, 39, of Detroit, also reflected on what Obama’s presidency will mean for both LGBT people and the country as a whole. “I think it’s going to bring about change (for gays),” he mused. “…Obama brings a fresh breath of air to the government. Even in his speech, he said it’s not a big government or a small government; it’s a government that works. …he’s going to make the government work.”