President Barack Obama made history on January 21 by saying the words “lesbian,’” “bisexual’” and “transgender” in the State of the Union. This is the first time in history that a President has said these words in this speech.
The President made the recognitions as he pushed for protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. He said he was pushing for LGBT rights because “as Americans, we respect human dignity.” In his speech, President Obama also called attention to gay marriage. He called it a “civil right” and “a story of freedom across our country.” His words had added significance given that the Supreme Court recently announced that it would rule in the spring whether gay marriage bans were constitutional.
Attorney at Law David Perecman joined a number of people who saw the President’s address as a praiseworthy acknowledgment of lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as a legitimate part of the national community. An article in TIME (1.21.15) focused on the President’s use of the word transgender.
Author and MSNBC host Janet Mock told TIME, “By speaking our community’s name, the President pushes us all to recognize the existence and validity of trans people as Americans worthy of protection and our nation’s resources.”
Currently, transgender people are more likely to experience harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination; to lose their jobs; and to live in poverty, according to a study undertaken by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. A 2010 survey found that 41 percent of transgender people who responded said they had tried to kill themselves, reported The Columbus Dispatch (1.26.15). Leelah Alcorn is a recent, tragic example of how hard it can be to be a young transgender person in America.
Advocates for transgender people seek equality.
As TIME pointed out, transgender people have long had to jump through more hoops then other people to prove they are who they say they are. Frequently, documents and testimony are needed to get medical treatment or to play on sports teams or to change the gender on their driver’s licenses. “Constantly proving one’s status is not something that many Americans are forced to do on a daily basis,” said TIME.
In 2011 there were estimated 700,000 individuals identifying as transgender in the United States, reported the Williams Institute, a national think tank at the UCLA School of Law.
Here is the full context of Obama’s comment: As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer. During his Presidency, Obama has done much to push LGBT-friendly policies forward. In 2014, he signed an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. His attorney general, Eric Holder, carried out the administration’s directive to no longer defend the “ Defense of Marriage Act,” on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Recently he instructed the Department of Justice to argue that discrimination against transgender people qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The TIME article cited is “Why It’s a Big Deal That Obama Said ‘Transgender.””