President Obama delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night and, like the inauguration speech for his second term, it laid out a broad agenda with a focus on social justice.
The address did include one overt reference to gay people in a nod to same-sex partner benefits for military personnel. "We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal treatment for their families- gay and straight," Obama said. This message of equal benefits for service members was also highlighted by the presence of Tracey Hepner, co-founder
of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, who sat with first lady Michelle Obama during the speech. Hepner works for the Department of Homeland Security as a master behavior detection officer and is the wife of the military's first openly gay or lesbian general, Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith.
Another reference to the LGBT community could be found at the beginning of the address, where the President called for economic growth for the middle class and an easing of the barriers they face. "It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth," Obama said. "It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country- the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, or who you love
This seemed to be a call for employment protections for LGBT Americans, yet it was unclear if it was a reference to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) or an proposed executive order that would ban discrimination against LGBT employees from government contractors, both of which have been in the news recently.
But beyond the explicit mentions of the LGBT community, the State of the Union once again carried a broader, inclusive message of social justice-- all of which directly affects our community and its allies. The President laid out a clear and progressive vision for education reform, gun control, voting rights, poverty, equal pay for equal work, and much more. The list of social justice issues was massive. This broad agenda once again folded LGBT equality into a larger picture of the American dream, much like Obama did when he referenced the Stonewall Riots with Selma and Seneca Falls in his second inauguration speech
It is our job as advocates and activists for LGBT equality to always want more-- more mentions of our issues, more definitive answers, more legislation, and more action. We should always put pressure on our leaders, from the President to Congress, to fix the inequity within our system. But we also have to support and advocate for the larger social justice movement that affects everyone in our community as well. That was the agenda that was put forward last night from our President.
"Our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others," Obama said in the closing of his speech. It is a strong statement that rings true as we move forward in our fight and lend our voices to other communities in need of the equality and freedom we seek.
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