Obama inauguration emphasizes strength of diversity

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President Barack Obama, left, and Vice President Joe Biden listen as poet Richard Blanco delivers the inaugural poem on the west front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21. Blanco, a gay Cuban-American, is the first out poet ever to deliver the poem in a tradition that was begun by President John F. Kennedy, who tapped poet Robert Frost for the job. -Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Barack Obama, grayer and wiser than on his Inauguration Day four years ago, began his second term calling for “we, the people” to be guided by the star that led Americans from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.

In the inaugural address he delivered on Jan. 21 on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, the president began with a quote from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We, the people, he said, are on “a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.”

The quest for equality, the president continued, “guided ...  all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

Now, Obama said, comes the “task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

And the journey, the president continued, is not complete “until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity – until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”

Responding to the president’s words on Twitter, gay American Nate Green, 21, tweeted, “Way to go, bro,” from the inaugural celebration on the National Mall.

Another gay American on the Mall, 67-year-old Veronica Toress, cried as the president spoke. “I never thought I’d hear those words in an inaugural speech. Never. I didn’t think the day would come,” she said.

Toress cried again when inaugural poet Richard Blanco, the gay son of Cuban exiles who eventually settled in Miami, recited “One Today.”

Blanco, the first openly gay and first Latino inaugural poet, as well as the youngest to hold the honor, began his poem, “One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,/peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth/across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies./One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story/told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.”

After the Capitol ceremony and a luncheon, dozens of groups, including the national Lesbian and Gay Band Association, joined in the inaugural parade, a tradition that began with the local militias that accompanied George Washington from his Virginia home to New York, where his inauguration was held in 1789.

Later, there was the inaugural ball, which former Air Force Sgt. David Hall, discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” attended. Hall served as one of eight citizen co-chairs of the inauguration. He also attended the swearing-in ceremony, rode in the parade and helped with the Day of Service events on Jan. 19.

“This is certainly the honor of a lifetime,” said Hall, who works for Outserve-SLDN, an LGBT civil rights group focused on equality in the military.

Absent from the celebration was the Atlanta pastor who the inaugural committee had invited to deliver the benediction at the swearing-in. The Rev. Louie Giglio withdrew from the program as controversy brewed over his selection. Giglio, in the 1990s, delivered at least one sermon in which he said, the “only way out of a homosexual lifestyle ... is through the healing power of Jesus,” and, “We’ve got to say to the homosexuals, the same thing that I say to you and that you would say to me … it’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change.”

Protests prompted his pullout. The inaugural committee announced that organizers were unaware of “Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural.”

Instead, the Rev. Luis Leon, an Episcopal priest at the “church of the presidents” and a native of Cuba, gave the benediction. He prayed, “With the blessing of your blessing we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor.”

The swearing-in ceremonies began at about 11:30 a.m. with the U.S. Marine Band, performances by the chorus at PS 22 from Staten Island, N.Y., and the Lee University Festival Choir from Cleveland, Tenn.; welcoming remarks by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; the invocation by civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams; music by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir; Vice President Joe Biden taking his oath; music by James Taylor; Obama taking his oath; the inaugural address; music by Kelly Clarkson, the poem by Blanco; the benediction by Leon and the national anthem sung by Beyoncé.