For the LGBT community, many of our greatest battles are still ahead -- the fight for the Equality Act, ending the epidemic of violence against transgender Americans, improving HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and stopping the onslaught of anti-LGBT state bills and municipal ordinances we are seeing from coast to coast.
But over the last 7 years, we have also made great progress, thanks to the champion for LGBT equality Americans elected to the White House -- twice. In his final, historic State of the Union address, President Obama reflected on some of the gains we've made as well as some of the challenges we continue to face.
Here are five highlights from his address:
1. White House Guest List Included Members of LGBT Community
On the heels of a historic year for LGBT equality, Jim Obergefell, one of the many courageous plaintiffs who helped win nationwide marriage equality last June, was seated in First Lady Michelle Obama's box at the State of the Union address. He was joined by Ryan Reyes, whose boyfriend, Larry ‘Daniel’ Kaufman, was killed in the San Bernardino shooting last month. Kaufman was widely remembered as a hero for his role in helping others to safety as the violence broke out.
HRC President Chad Griffin also attended as guest of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who has been a leader on LGBT equality in the U.S. Senate -- and last July he was an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act.
2. Celebrated Marriage Equality Victory
President Obama, who came out for marriage equality in 2012, spoke of the watershed moment at the Supreme Court last June -- and the long struggle that led to that moment, saying, “Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery and innovation, our diversity and commitment to the rule of law – these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come,” Obama said in his speech. “In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible…how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.”
Echoing that once again, he ended the speech on a note of "unconditional love":
“Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” Obama concluded. “That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.”
3. Recommitted to Ending HIV & AIDS Epidemic
While the Obama Administration has taken action to combat the HIV & AIDS epidemic, he committed to taking new action to continue the fight:
“Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV & AIDS...Something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year,” he said.
4. Spoke directly to LGBT Americans
“I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far,” he explained. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.”
5. Focused on LGBTQ Youth and Families
In his closing, President Obama sent a positive message on the importance of LGBT-inclusive and accepting families.
“It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught,” he said.