By Lisa Keen
While there was only one direct reference to anything gay in President Obama’s third State of the Union address, the speech and a large number of White House activities surrounding it was inclusive of gays.
President Obama’s opening remarks Jan. 24 held out the military as a good example of people working together, adding that service members “don’t obsess over their differences,” a comment that could certainly serve as a reference to how well the military has adapted to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays.
And his closing remarks returned to that theme.
“When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight,” said the president. “When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.”
Some media reports had speculated before the speech that President Obama might use the speech to call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act or to say that his personal attitude about same-sex marriage had evolved to one of support. There were no statements from the White House to substantiate those reports, but Human Rights Campaign media relations director Michael Cole-Schwartz acknowledged that HRC had been “in touch with the White House to express our desire to see LGBT people and issues included in the president’s speech.”
“Not only does the President have a record of accomplishment to tout,” said Cole-Schwartz, “including issues important to our community can also be a powerful tool toward further progress. We understand that there are many competing demands on a state of the union address and we hope our community will be given due consideration.”
Asked what, specifically, HRC wanted, Cole-Schwartz said, “We made the case for why several issues could and should be included in the address, particularly how the need for workplace protections for LGBT people dovetails with the President’s likely messages about jobs.”
In his first State of the Union address, President Obama called for repeal of the federal law barring openly gay people from serving in the military. And last year, just a month after signing into law the bill that repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the president used his State of the Union address to urge universities that had been barring military recruiters over the gay ban to start allowing recruiters back on campus.
This year, President Obama brought an indirect spotlight on gays in the military by inviting one openly gay service member to sit with the First Lady in her special gallery seats in the House chamber to watch the speech.
Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called the gesture “a clear victory in the fight to achieve full equality for service members.”
The service member was Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly lesbian intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. Also included among 28 guests was a second openly gay guest, Lorelei Kilker. Kilker, an environmental chemist, filed a lawsuit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission used to secure equal pay for women at a Colorado company.
Wallace, of McLean, Virginia, and Kilker of Brighton, Colorado, were guests at a reception at the White House and then traveled to the Capitol with the First Lady. Their partners watched the speech at the White House at a special event.
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce sent out a press release noting that its communications director, Laura Berry, would also be at the White House during the speech for a “social media watch party” that was to be followed by “a life Q & A with top Obama advisers.”
Log Cabin weighs in
The Republican Party had its response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, via Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. And Log Cabin Republican leader R. Clarke Cooper issued a press statement morning criticizing Democrats for “telling a thousand and one stories to distract the American voter, but even Queen Scheherazade couldn’t spin her way out of a thousand days without passing a budget.”
“American families, gay and straight, all know that the first step to regaining fiscal health is writing a budget that clearly sets out priorities and limits spending to what you can afford,” said Cooper. “Senate Democrats have engaged in an unprecedented dereliction of duty. There is nothing President Obama can say in the State of the Union address tonight to hide their failure from the American people. Just more words will not alleviate voters’ discontent. Log Cabin Republicans look forward to electing a Republican Senate majority this November that is ready to get down to business.”
White House officials also took time to answer questions related to the State of the Union via Twitter for the next several days. Last Thursday, it held “community-focused discussions with policy advisors,” including a specific time slot to address LGBT questions. That conversation was with White House Senior Policy Advisor Miriam Vogel and openly gay White House Associate Director for Public Engagement Gautam Raghavan. People posed questions on Twitter by using the hashtag #WHChat. People can follow the questions and answers on Twitter at #WHLive. And anyone who cannot follow the discussion live, can also access it at whitehouse.gov.
On Monday, President Obama also participated in a Google+Hangout event from the West Wing of the White House to answer questions that have been submitted. People wishing to propose a question can go to youtube.com/whitehouse.
For more details and a complete schedule of events, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/01/20/state-union-2012-we-want-hear-you.