President Obama extended his outreach to gay Americans Saturday night, saying he supported equal social status — and equal legal rights — for gays, and that his anti-bullying program is intended to help teens who consider themselves gay to “know that we love them and care about them, and they’re not by themselves.”
“Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society,” Obama said to a crowd of up to 3,000 people gathered at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the most prominent group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights.
In 2008, Obama won 53 percent of the national vote. Gay Americans, the Human Rights Campaign claims, contributed a critical 3 points to that total.
”We must stand with those who have a history of standing with us and that includes Barack Obama,” Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Right Campaign, said at the dinner. “No president has done more to improve the lives of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people than Barack Obama.”
During his speech, Obama reiterated his support of legal rights for gays, including his support for a law allowing gays to serve openly in the military. He denounced the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and pending ballot initiatives in North Carolina and Minnesota intended to limit the legal definition of marriage.
Obama also touted his anti-bullying campaign as sign of his support for gay teens. “Together, we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re gay or transgender — who may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different,” Obama said at the dinner. “We’ve got to make sure they know that there are adults they can talk to; that they are never alone; that there is a whole world waiting for them … That’s why we held a summit at the White House on bullying. That’s why we’re going to continue to focus on this issue,” he said. (RELATED: Christian group: Christie’s position against gay bullying could turn off social conservatives)
Obama’s focus on issues advocated by gays and lesbians isn’t only electoral. It is part of a far-reaching effort by progressive legislators and advocates to win equal social status, and legal rights, for gays, lesbians and transgender people in a society where many laws and cultural expectations have evolved to harmonize the competing needs and interests of heterosexual men, women and children.
The effort has precipitated numerous disputes, including disputes over the purpose of marriage, the place of openly gay people in culture and in the military and, increasingly, the role of the federal government in policing schoolyard disputes between teenagers around the country.
Some conservative groups oppose the progressives’ goals, including the new focus on teens. “[We’ve] seen a 100-year conflict with the progressive movement … which has sought to undermine parents,” said Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project, a social-conservative group. “The [administration’s] bullying campaign is dangerous because it gets towards the affirmation of [homosexual] conduct, while ostensibly offering a safeguard for children from instances of verbal or physical bullying,” he said. This campaign has been carried by supportive teachers into many classrooms, despite parents’ wishes, he said.
In March, President Obama invited 150 advocates and officials to a White House summit on bullying. “We’re going to prevent bullying and create an environment where every single one of our children can thrive,” the president said.
Since then, officials have emphasized federal intervention in local school districts to shield gay and lesbian teens from bullying. The campaign has included federal legal investigations, at least one grant to a gay advocacy group, plus new legal directives that justify lawsuits against school districts where gay and lesbian teens are injured, marginalized or insulted. Gay teens comprise roughly 2 percent of the nation’s population of 30 million teens.
But the nation’s successful ideals require that families and communities counter unfair treatment of all kids, regardless of their characteristics, say the conservative opponents of such policies. “The focus should be on the behavior of the bullies, not on the characteristics of the victim,” Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, told The Daily Caller in September.
In his Saturday speech to his supporters in the gay movement, many of whom felt socially persecuted in their teen years, Obama stepped up the bully-related pitch. “This isn’t just ‘kids being kids,’” he said to applause from the many attendees. “It’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s never acceptable. And I want all those kids to know that the president and the first lady is standing right by them every inch of the way. I want them to know that we love them and care about them, and they’re not by themselves. That’s what I want them to know.”