Column: Obama’s Legacy for LGBTQ Families

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As President Barack Obama ends eight years in office, let’s reflect on what he and his administration have done to advance understanding of and equality for LGBTQ parents and our children.

In 2008, the year of Obama’s first presidential campaign, supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which would ban marriage equality, were vocal in trying to scare people with visions of “homosexuality” being taught to children in schools. Indeed, this had been an anti-LGBTQ tactic for years. The Obama campaign didn’t hesitate, however, to place people with experience specific to children and schools among the leaders of Obama Pride, his LGBTQ outreach group.

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One of its five national co-chairs was Marsha Botzer, who (in addition to other roles) was board co-chair of the Safe Schools Coalition, a Washington state organization that supports LGBTQ youth. And one of the two heads of the group’s Finance Committee was Kevin Jennings, founder and now-former executive director of GLSEN, which champions LGBTQ issues in K-12 education. Jennings was also co-founder of the very first gay-straight alliance and later became assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education.

Although it took Obama longer than many would have liked to “evolve” on marriage equality, once he did, he said same-sex parents and our children were a key reason for his position. In a 2012 email to supporters, he explained, “What I’ve come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens. Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn’t dawn on them that their friends’ parents should be treated differently. So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.”

And when 10-year-old Sophia Bailey Klugh wrote to the President in 2012, asking: "If you were me and had two dads that loved each other, and kids at school teased you about it, what would you do?" Obama responded in part (per her dad Jonathan Bailey’s Facebook post of the letter), “In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another.”

When Obama signed the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in 2010 and it went into effect in 2011, life got better for military LGBTQ parents and their children. They no longer had to hide their family ties and forego much of the support and resources offered to military families—especially critical when a parent was deployed. Since last year, transgender people, too, can serve as who they really are—a relief for military trans parents and their families as well.

The Obama administration also helped address bullying, including anti-LGBTQ bullying. Such bullying can harm LGBTQ youth, those perceived to be, and those of all identities with LGBTQ parents. In 2011, Obama convened the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, lending presidential visibility to efforts begun by several federal departments in the preceding years. Now there have been five such summits, including an LGBT Youth Summit and a meeting with transgender students, among others.

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of sexual orientation or gender identity, or because of preexisting conditions, including pregnancy, fertility issues, and HIV status. It also states that being transgender is no longer considered a pre-existing condition. When Obamacare passed in 2010, five years before federal marriage equality, Family Equality Council noted that fewer families with LGBTQ parents have health insurance than those in the general population “because many employers do not offer coverage for same-sex partners or their children…. Thanks to the ACA, many more children with parents who are LGBT will be able to access the coverage that they need.”

Obama in 2010 also became the first president to mention families with two moms and two dads in his Mother’s and Father’s Day proclamations. (He included them, too, in his earlier proclamation for the lesser-known observance of September, 28, 2009, as Family Day.) Parents of all sexual orientations and gender identities were also explicitly mentioned in several of his National Foster Care Month and National Adoption Month proclamations—reminding people of our existence and importance in providing loving homes for children.

This is not an exhaustive list of all President Obama has done to improve the lives of LGBTQ parents and our children. Many of his administration’s actions helped LGBTQ people broadly speaking, among them those with kids. In addition to those mentioned already, they include the expansion of benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees; prohibiting federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; support of global LGBTQ human rights; and clarifying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also bans discrimination based on gender identity.

One might have expected that Obama, who was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, had a natural sympathy for non-traditional families. His legacy proves that right. Whether it lasts is now up to us.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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