Obama leaves lasting legacy, advances LGBT equality

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, returned this month to the heartland to say goodbye, confident his administration’s advances over the past eight years cannot be easily undone.

Barack Obama delivered a farewell address Jan. 10 at McCormick Place in Chicago, less than 5 miles from where he delivered his victory speech on Nov. 5, 2008.

Still, the departure was not the exit Obama wanted, as the president told Rolling Stone magazine in a lengthy interview the morning after Donald Trump’s win.

“I think Hillary Clinton would be a very fine president,” Obama told Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. “As I said on the campaign trail, a lot of the work we’ve done is only partially complete. And we need some continuity in order for us to maximize its benefits.”

Without question, continuity has been disrupted, but Obama is holding to an argument that there are a majority of voters in the United States with “a strong belief in a fair, just, equal, inclusive America,” and that the electorate did not take a huge turn to the right.

The president, in the weeks after the election, emphasized a majority of voters favor increasing the minimum wage, decriminalizing marijuana and achieving LGBTQ equality.

When WiG looked back at Obama’s eight years in the White House, his work to advance LGBT rights stood out — unmatched, unparalleled for a president — and unimaginable eight years ago.

A look at some of those accomplishments. President Obama:

  • Instructed the Justice Department not to defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.
  • Came out on network television in favor of same-sex marriage and celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing it by lighting the White House in rainbow colors.
  • Directed the Pentagon and worked with Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Armed Forces.
  • Directed the Pentagon to end the ban against transgender people serving in the military.
  • Issued an executive order protecting LGBT employees in the federal government — or under federal contract — from discrimination.
  • Signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which said insurance companies cannot discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, including HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
  • Reversed the 22-year-old policy banning people with HIV from traveling to the United States.
  • Signed into law the Matthew Shepard James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, giving the Justice Department the authority to investigate and prosecute bias crimes.
  • Signed into law a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that provided protections for LGBT people.
  • Endorsed the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations.
  • Took a stand against “conversion therapy” or “ex-gay” therapy, which is especially harmful for minors.
  • Appointed more than 250 LGBTQ people to advisory posts in the administration.

Obama also designated the Stonewall Inn in New York City — site of the 1969 riots considered the symbolic start of the modern LGBT civil rights movement — as a National Monument.

Announcing the designation last June, the president said, “Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us. That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”

The statement echoed a passage in Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park in 2008.

“In this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people,” he said.

“Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”