Metro Weekly

Barack Obama “ashamed” he used anti-gay slurs as a teenager

The former president also discussed his lesbian great aunt in new memoir A Promised Land.

Barack Obama, president, lgbtq, slur, gay, anti-gay, joe biden, donald trump

Former President Barack Obama campaigning for President-elect Joe Biden — Photo by Chuck Kennedy / Biden for President

Former President Barack Obama has admitted that he used anti-LGBTQ slurs when he was a teenager.

Writing in his new memoir A Promised Land, Obama wrote that he was “ashamed” of his use of slurs such as “fag.”

The LGBTQ ally said that going to college made him aware of the discrimination faced by LGBTQ people, by “opening my heart to the human dimensions of issues that I’d once thought of in mainly abstract terms.”

The former president also revealed that his own great aunt was lesbian and would try to hide her relationship from family members.

“I grew up in the 70s, a time when LGBTQ life was far less visible to those outside the community,” Obama writes, “so that [Obama’s grandmother] Toot’s sister (and one of my favorite relatives), Aunt Arlene, felt obliged to introduce her partner of 20 years as ‘my close friend Marge’ whenever she visited us in Hawaii.”

Margaret Arlene Payne died in 2014, aged 87, with her obituary noting that she was survived by family, including then-President Obama, and her “friend Margery Duffy.”

A Promised Land is the first time that Obama has publicly spoken about his aunt’s sexuality.

In the memoir, published Wednesday, Obama also expands on the anti-gay language he used during his childhood.

“Like many teenage boys in those years, my friends and I sometimes threw around words like ‘fag’ or ‘gay’ at each other as casual put-downs — callow attempts to fortify our masculinity and hide our insecurities,” he writes.

“Once I got to college and became friends with fellow students and professors who were openly gay, though, I realized the overt discrimination and hate they were subject to,” Obama continues. “as well as the loneliness and self-doubt that the dominant culture imposed on them. I felt ashamed of my past behavior — and learned to do better.”

Obama also referenced his focus on LGBTQ rights during his two terms in office, including repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay servicemembers, publicly supporting same-sex marriage while running for reelection in 2012, and banning federal contractors from discriminating against against LGBTQ people.

“Alongside abortion, guns, and just about anything to do with race, the issues of LGBTQ rights and immigration had occupied center stage in America’s culture wars for decades,” he writes, “in part because they raised the most basic question in our democracy — namely, who do we consider a true member of the American family, deserving of the same rights, respect, and concern that we expect for ourselves?”

Obama continues: “I believed in defining that family broadly — it included gay people as well as straight, and it included immigrant families that had put down roots and raised kids here, even if they hadn’t come through the front door. How could I believe otherwise, when some of the same arguments for their exclusion had so often been used to exclude those who looked like me?”

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

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