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Protecting Progress: Obama’s LGBT Legacy Must Continue

President Obama's focus has turned to protecting his legacy -- and that includes his work for LGBT rights

Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Christopher Dilts/Obama for America.

Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Christopher Dilts/Obama for America.

“I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election,” President Barack Obama boomed. His tone was serious, his often jovial features furrowed in a stern glare.

During his keynote address to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation last week, Obama demanded that the African American community help protect everything he has accomplished in the nation’s highest office. This wasn’t folksy Obama, or charming Obama. This was a president facing the real possibility that everything he’d worked towards would be for nothing next January. “You want to give me a good send-off, go vote,” he ordered the audience.

For the nation’s first African-American president, the 2016 election cycle has become about much more than merely passing the torch to Hillary Clinton (or watching, crestfallen, as Trump snuffs it out). In eight years often overshadowed by partisan roadblocking, the rise of extremism, the Syrian crisis, and more mass shootings (and the resulting gun control debates) than anyone would care to think about, it’s important to remember how much President Obama has achieved: The Affordable Care Act (forever known as Obamacare), dragging the nation out of recession, winning an historic second term, acknowledging and combatting climate change, reducing military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, and countless advances for the LGBT community.

His legacy, the groundwork Obama has laid, is what he’s now keen to protect — at all costs — from Donald Trump. “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” he told the audience. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot.”

And it’s not just the African-American community that has a lot at stake in this election, though the troubling rise of white nationalism and outright racism should give everyone pause for thought. The continued advancement of LGBT rights — a key feature of Obama’s presidency — is also on the ballot.

Tuesday, Sept. 20, marked five years since the lifting of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which forced military personnel to remain closeted or face discharge. It’s been over three years since DOMA, which mandated that marriage was between one man and one woman, was ruled unconstitutional. And it’s now fifteen months since marriage equality became the law of the land. These are all hallmarks of Obama’s presidency, and, lest we forget, he was the first sitting president to voice his support for same-sex marriage — even if it took some prompting from Vice President Joe Biden.

It’s a commitment to progress that continues even as Obama enters his last few months as commander-in-chief. Right now, his administration is fighting for protections against LGBT discrimination, suing states that try to restrict bathroom access for transgender people, and trying to make life a little easier for transgender students who want to use a changing facility that matches their gender identity.

Clinton is the candidate most upfront about continuing that legacy. Her campaign website contains lengthy proposals for tackling HIV/AIDS, for protecting LGBT rights, for upgrading the service records of LGBT veterans dismissed from the military due to their sexual orientation, for ending the practice of “conversion therapy,” for passing the Equality Act, and for promoting LGBT rights around the world. Trump’s campaign website has not one word regarding LGBT people. His party’s platform actively disavows them.

On the campaign trail, Trump made history as the first Republican nominee to say “LGBTQ” during the Republican National Convention. He called himself a “friend” to the community. He promised to protect LGBTQ people from Islamic extremism. But he opposes marriage equality, he has seemingly wavered on his previous support for trans bathroom access, and his campaign team and advisers are a who’s who of anti-LGBT activists, politicians, and media personalities.

When it comes to continuing President Obama’s legacy, Hillary Clinton is eager to intimate that she is the only choice this election cycle.

“We need ideas, not insults, real plans to help struggling Americans in communities that have been left out and left behind, not prejudice and paranoia,” she told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. “We can’t let Barack Obama’s legacy fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t understand that, whose dangerous and divisive vision for our country will drag us backwards.”

In a speech Monday, she told a crowd of millennials at Temple University that she was best equipped to advance equality for LGBT people. Indeed, Clinton intimated that even with all that’s been achieved under Obama, no LGBT voter should be satisfied with the status quo.

“You aren’t and you shouldn’t be satisfied with the progress we’ve made,” Clinton said. “You should keep wanting to right wrongs and fight for justice and dignity for all.”

As President Obama stood before the Congressional Black Caucus, compelling the African-American community to realize that their vote matters — now, more than ever before — his words rang true for any wavering LGBT voters, too. After extolling the various things at stake in this election, he drew a clear contrast between Clinton and her opponent.

“There is one candidate who will advance those things. And there’s another candidate whose defining principle, the central theme of his candidacy is opposition to all that we’ve done,” he said, adding, “Hope is on the ballot. And fear is on the ballot, too.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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