By Rev. David E. Weekley
My spouse and I enthusiastically and proudly watched the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on January twenty-first, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As we listened we were amazed to hear the word “gay” and a reference to the Stonewall riots included in the President’s speech. We waited hopefully for another word and another community within the TLGBQIA alphabet to be included: transgender. That word was never spoken. Retired Congressman Barney Frank did mention transgender later in the festivities, but my spouse and I longed to hear our President include us as he spoke about the equality of all Americans, and the right of all citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
At one point in the festivities my spouse tweeted two transgender acquaintances we knew were somewhere in the honored crowd and asked simply if they had any comment about this omission. Only one responded, and she did so curtly. She said it did not matter if the word transgender was spoken or not, she felt her family was included in the “gay” reference. Well, she is a transwoman and a lesbian, so I understood her opinion. I also know many transgender friends and colleagues did feel themselves included in the President’s remarks regarding “gay” and Stonewall. I too, believe it is a large step forward. But, it was a remark tweeted by a gay transman on the thread of our acquaintance, that disturbed me most about the whole incident. One person said, “This is unwarranted bitching.” Really? I do not think so. In the first place, it was not bitching at all; it was a question. In the second place, transgender people deserve and need to be affirmed and named by this President and administration.
I do not know the person who made this comment. I do not know what letter of the TLGBQIA population describes him, if any. What I do know is that I remember and participated in raging protests and marches with the gay and lesbian community for decades over similar frustrations about exclusion and discrimination. I have preached inclusivity in every church I ever served. I have marched in Pride parades, phone-banked for Marriage Equality, and protested and testified during legislative sessions in more than one state house. I listened to friends lament the secret support of other administrations, who hired gay and lesbian staff under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It was not enough for them, either. This time around, I am grateful my gay and lesbian friends have a President willing to claim them by name, out loud, and proud.
Do not misunderstand me. I fully support President Obama. My spouse and I campaigned for his election for both terms. We voted for him, encouraged others to vote for him; we donated to the Democratic Party numerous times during this election campaign although we are both currently unemployed, living on our savings, and could not really afford it. I understand this President has hired transgender staff and is supportive. When I sent him a copy of my book I received a personal letter of thanks for the gift. I also know this President has done more for TLGBQIA people than any previous administration. I agree with a colleague who said to me, “He is the best friend we have ever had in the White House.” I believe this is true. And this is my point. Friends are proud to name one another. Friends stand-up for each other, defend one another, and protect each other from harm. While I well understand the consequences of political fall-out from being too progressive, too inclusive, and too far ahead of our current culture; I still do not feel good about the word “transgender” being left out. This is not “unwarranted bitching:” this is grief.