President Obama Makes History On The Cover Of OUT Magazine
Photography by Ryan Pfluger in the White House Library on October 5, 2015.
President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, made history yet again when he was named Out magazine’s Ally of the Year and featured on the cover of the December 2015 issue. President Obama, said the editors, “came to office on a wave of euphoria, appeared to lose momentum halfway through, and has since rallied, helping us secure marriage equality, among other landmark initiatives that are transforming our place in America.”
Caitlyn Jenner was named Newsmaker of the Year, among others honored inside the issue. (SLIDESHOW | Out100 2015)
This is the first time a sitting president has been photographed for the cover of an LGBT title, a historic moment in itself, and a statement on how much his administration has done to advance a singularly volatile issue that tarnished the reputations of both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. It might have tarnished this president, too, but for his late-hour conversion in 2012, which set the stage for the extraordinary succession of events that led to this year’s Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, making it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to wed. Many things led up to that decision—“decades of our brothers and sisters fighting for recognition and equality” as the president notes—but once his administration decided to join that fight it created what people like to call a “transformative” moment. It helped tip the balance, and it put our elected leader on the right side of justice.
Wrote Editor-in-chief, Aaron Hicklin and the Editors of OUT: “Yes, there’s work to be done — we are still waiting for Congress to pass comprehensive federal LGBT protections, for a start — but whichever way you look at it, this president and his administration have ushered extraordinary change into the lives of LGBT Americans. For someone who at first seemed coy, even awkward, on the subject, President Obama’s evolution on marriage equality has been something to behold. He came to office reiterating that marriage was an institution reserved for a man and a woman, and continued to hold that line throughout most of his first term, even while advancing other important legislation, including the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Other signal achievements included an order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, passage of the first federal LGBT law in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, encouraging the end to a ban on transgender military service, and the ongoing effort to create a more diverse judiciary. His nomination of Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army, if successful, will make him the first openly gay head of a military branch.”
Yet even as polls suggested that a growing majority of Americans supported same-sex unions, many of us were losing faith that the president would join their ranks. His public conversion, when it came on May 9, 2012, telegraphed just how far the country had moved, and was one that had the encouragement of two important women in his life: the first lady and his senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett. It took a few more years for the president to agree that marriage equality was a constitutional matter, rather than one left up to the states, but by November 2012, Americans were electing the nation’s first pro-gay marriage president. It was an extraordinary contrast to eight years earlier, when President Bush exploited fears of gay marriage to help secure a second term.
From that moment, the wind has been in our sails. Obama’s re-election was followed by two Supreme Court decisions in June 2013: United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which led to the annulling of California’s Proposition 8. In March this year, as the Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges, lawyers for the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, likening them to prohibitions on interracial marriage.
When he was sworn in on January 20, 2009, there were two states where same-sex marriage was legal. Today it is a right nationwide. Many share credit for what has transpired, but there’s no question that without the active engagement of the 44th president of the United States, who has made securing the rights of LGBT Americans a fundamental part of his legacy, we’d still be working to fulfill that dream. On this issue, among many others, he is truly a great American.”
President Barack Obama in the White House Library on October 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Ryan Pfluger for OUT Magazine (www.out.com)
This introduction was followed by an interview with President Obama with Hicklin at The White House (See transcript below.)
Aaron Hicklin: Mr. President, who was the first person you met who you knew was gay?
President Barack Obama: I’m not sure who the first openly gay person I met was, but Dr. Lawrence Goldyn, one of my college professors, is a man who stands out to me. I took his class freshman year at Occidental. I was probably 18 years old — Lawrence was one of the younger professors — and we became good friends. He went out of his way to advise lesbian, gay, and transgender students at Occidental, and keep in mind, this was 1978. That took a lot of courage, a lot of confidence in who you are and what you stand for. I got to recognize Lawrence last year at our Pride Month reception at the White House, and thank him for influencing the way I think about so many of these issues.
When was the moment that you realized that LGBT equality would be a key focus for your administration?
This really goes back to when I was a kid, because my mom instilled in me the strong belief that every person is of equal worth. At the same time, growing up as a black guy with a funny name, I was often reminded of exactly what it felt like to be on the outside. One of the reasons I got involved in politics was to help deliver on our promise that we’re all created equal, and that no one should be excluded from the American dream just because of who they are. That’s why, in the Senate, I supported repealing DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act]. It’s why, when I ran for president the first time, I publicly asked for the support of the LGBT community, and promised that we could bring about real change for LGBT Americans.
Watching Sasha and Malia grow up, are you conscious of a generational difference in their attitudes to homosexuality versus the generation(s) before them?
Absolutely. To Malia and Sasha and their friends, discrimination in any form against anyone doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t dawn on them that friends who are gay or friends’ parents who are same-sex couples should be treated differently than anyone else. That’s powerful. My sense is that a lot of parents across the country aren’t going to want to sit around the dinner table and try to justify to their kids why a gay teacher or a transgender best friend isn’t quite as equal as someone else. That’s also why it’s so important to end harmful practices like conversion therapy for young people and allow them to be who they are. The next generation is spurring change not just for future generations, but for my generation, too. As president, and as a dad, that makes me proud. It makes me hopeful. Continue reading