From revered gay UC Riverside professor and brilliant classical composer Byron Adams to Spectrum L.A. gay blog editor Stevie St. John, prominent Los Angeles-area lifelong fighters for equality were stunned by President Obama's surprise inaugural promise to bring full, unprecedented human rights to gay men and women.
Adams, 57, declared: “For most in the LGBT community, President Obama will be revered as our Great Emancipator.”
On a bittersweet note that will ring true for many older gays, some of whom lived in the closet — and in fear — for years, Adams adds: “I frankly don't know how I will behave if given equal rights — I have been oppressed for over a half-century and know no other life.”
If you missed it, the President said:
“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.”
Many think Barack Obama is intending to push Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act signed by former President Bill Clinton and allow gays the same right to marry that everyone has.
Bill Rosendahl, city councilmember in District 11 representing L.A.'s Westside, who has been fighting cancer at home, emailed L.A. Weekly to say, “I was ecstatic about the way President Obama presented his remarks on gay rights. His argument was impressive — and I was delighted that he put the Stonewall riots next to the Selma march on his list of key civil-rights turning points.”
Stevie St. John, former communications manager for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and editor of Spectrum L.A. (a brand-new Los Angeles Gay Blog) believes the President's comments move the nation a step closer to true equal rights.
“Like opinion polls that show increasing support for the freedom to marry, President Obama's historically inclusive inauguration speech is a sign of how quickly the movement for LGBT equality is moving forward,” says St.John.
Rosendahl adds that, “The President has come a long way on his position and I am optimistic that everyone in this country will soon enjoy their basic civil and human rights.”
Byron Adams has been part of the fight for equal rights for over 40 years and now resides in West Hollywood.
Professor Adams asks: “What will it be like, not having to negotiate, consider, and constantly fight back? I now suppose that I may find out within my lifetime — not totally, of course, but in great part, as the fight against prejudice and hatred is an unending one — and that is astonishing and thrilling as well as disconcerting.”
St. John adds that, “Though there are numerous ways LGBT people are still not treated equally by the law or by society, a growing number of Americans are fully accepting and embracing us as their co-workers, neighbors, as their daughters and sons, as their mothers and fathers, as their grandchildren and as their grandparents.”
Robert Gamboa, a West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory board member, was lucky enough to march with Lesbian and Gay Band Association in the 57th Inaugural Parade this year. He was in the audience in Washington during the inauguration speech.
Gamboa tells L.A. Weekly:
“I'm here in Washington DC with my LGBT band. I can't even tell you, the goosebumps when he spoke of Stonewall.. it wasn't just a casual mention.There was a celebration beyond celebration amongst us, we were crying, jumping up and down, it was a moment of brilliance.
“When the president and vice president are cheering you on for being who you are, it's simply a priceless moment! As a City Official for West Hollywood, as an American, but especially as a gay man, I couldn't be happier at today's experience as we begin this fast journey towards equality!”
The steps towards equality are forming fast, yet it could be years before DOMA is repealed.
As he was sworn into office for his final term as president, Obama used two bibles, one that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, the other to Martin Luther King Jr. He even wore a tuxedo with long tails — like Lincoln used to wear.
He used the words, “We the people,” repeatedly to an ecstatic American flag-toting crowd. His speech touched on many issues but none were as heavily noted as his position on equal rights for all.
Beyond the dramatic patriotic flair and use of historic bibles, Obama spoke of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 by gays in New York alongside the Selma march for black equality in 1965. The mention of Stonewall and what followed has caused quite a stir among gays.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Professor Adams summed it up like this: “I'm 57 years old and grew up in the Deep South surrounded by prejudice, fear and hatred. As a gay man I endured the 1980s and the horrors of the worst of the AIDS epidemic.
“I have struggled all of my life against bigotry of all kinds,” Adams recalls. “I never thought I would hear a president of the United States say anything so moving, so emancipating, so magnificent as: 'Surely the love we can commit to another must be equal as well' — much less in an inaugural address.”