For LGBTI Americans, the Obama years were a revolution.
President Obama repealed blatantly discriminatory measures and oversaw new laws and policies that expanded opportunity for LGBTIs in unprecedented ways.
And so, on the eve of Barack Obama’s 56th birthday, we look back at his big achievements. As authors of the new book, LGBTQ Stats, we wanted to present the big numbers and facts.
We’ve also dug out some of his most inspiring LGBTI moments on video.
He gave LGBTI people in the military rights, to strengthen America
100,000 men and women were discharged from the military – in most cases, dishonorably – for alleged homosexuality between 1943 and 1993.
The armed forces discharged another 13,000 service members under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy for being ‘openly’ LGB. The policy went into effect in 1993. Barack Obama repealed it in 2010.
Watch Obama’s 2010 speech repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. He explains he was scrapping the policy because doing so ‘will strengthen our national security.’
Next, Obama followed up in 2011 with a policy giving honorable discharges to any veteran who was kicked out of the forces on the grounds of homosexuality. And 80% of people who made a request under that policy had it granted.
And in 2015 Obama nominated openly gay man Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army. No senators on the Armed Services Committee asked Eric Fanning about his sexual orientation or objected to having an openly gay Army Secretary. Fanning became the nation’s first openly gay Secretary of the Army in 2016.
An estimated 15,000 transgender troops are currently in the military, following the Pentagon’s 2016 repeal of its ban on transgender service members. President Donald Trump has now threatened those trans service members, saying he won’t allow them to serve.
He honored black gay civil rights hero Bayard Rustin
Rustin was a leading advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. He brought Gandhi’s vision of non-violent protest from India to the US. And he was a key organiser, at the heart of the most important civil rights events for decades.
But because of his sexuality he was pushed to the shadows.
Obama said of Bayard Rustin: ‘For decades this great leader was denied his rightful place in history because he was gay.’
And he gave him a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
He embraced same-sex marriage
25 US jurisdictions recognized some sort of domestic partnership for same-sex couples as of 1993. Now all 50 US states recognize full marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.
In 2011, Obama declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and directed the Department of Justice to stop defending the law.
Then in 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to announce his support for equal marriage.
Obama reached 150 million Twitter users on 26 June 2013 – the day the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. He tweeted: ‘Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove.’
The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of same-sex marriage 2015. The justices cited gay and lesbian couples’ right to ‘equal dignity in the eyes of the law’ in their landmark Obergefell decision.
Obama made this speech after the Supreme Court issued its Obergefell decision. In it he said ‘America should be very proud’ of the same-sex marriage campaigners:
The night of that decision, he lit up the White House in the rainbow flag.
He was the first president to talk about bisexuals in a State of the Union Address
When Obama talked about bisexuals in the 2015 State of the Union, he became the first president to do so.
He said America should protect LGBTI rights.
And he explained: ‘We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.’
Watch it here:
He recognized LGBTI astronaut hero Sally Ride
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was a role model for women and, in her later years, a role model for the LGBTI community.
As Obama said: ‘Sally didn’t just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, she blasted through it.’
Ride died in 2012. But watch this video, from 2013, when Obama presented her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He bought LGBTIs into his government
The Obama administration appointed over 300 openly LGBTI professionals to full-time and advisory positions in the executive branch.
That’s more than all known LGBTI appointments of other presidential administrations combined.
‘If we want to be the global leader in combatting HIV AIDS, we need to act like it’
In 1987 the US banned HIV-positive people from traveling or immigrating to the United States.
In 2009, President Obama lifted this restriction. He stated it was ‘rooted in fear rather than fact.’ Watch that speech here:
He helped America change
24% of Americans said they personally knew someone who is lesbian or gay in 1985.
88% of Americans knew a gay or lesbian person as of 2015.
President Obama gave protection to trans students
Obama issued a guidance document confirming Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education, protects trans students. Donald Trump revoked these guidelines shortly after taking office.
In this 2016 video, Obama explained the guidance he gave to schools on bathroom use by trans students. He said he wanted to ‘create an environment of dignity and kindness for these kids.’
That’s not all he did for trans rights. He was also the first President to appoint an openly-trans staff member to the White House.
He made Stonewall Inn the first national monument to LGBTI rights
Obama designated the Stonewall Inn in New York as a national monument in 2016. It’s the first time a president has created a national park or monument because of its link to the LGBTI community.
Watch Obama’s speech about Stonewall Inn here. He describes the bar as ‘Hallowed ground where our history was written.’
Obama honored gay rights hero Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk recruited us to stand up for LGBTI rights. He became the most prominent gay politician in the United States. And he became the first openly gay elected official in California history when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 1978.
But fellow politician Dan White shot him dead that same year, on 27 November.
Obama said: ‘His voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people. His message of hope could not ever be silenced.’
Watch him award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Milk (starts 8.09):
He stood up for gay rights when he met the President of Kenya
On a visit to Kenya in 2015, Obama equated legalized discrimination of gays to legalized racism in America.
He said: ‘And when a government gets in a habit of people treating people differently, those habits can spread. As an African-American, I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law.’
Kenyan leaders hadn’t wanted him to talk about it. And it was the last thing President Uhuru Kenyatta wanted to discuss. He said it was a ‘non issue’. But that didn’t stop Obama.
‘Each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere stood up for us’
In his final State of the Union, Obama called on the nation to think of themselves as Americans first, bound together. And he praised the everyday acts of courage which give him hope:
‘It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is. And the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.
‘That’s the country we love. Clear eyed, big hearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful for our future.’
You can watch it here:
David Deschamps and Bennett Singer are the husband-and-husband team behind the LGBTQ Stats site. Their new book, LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers, is published by The New Press. Find some of the most surprising and quirky gay, trans and more stats here.