Obama doesn’t mention gays in Inaugural address, but LGBT community more visible than ever in D.C.

Posted on 22 Jan 2009 at 7:40pm
By Lisa Keen Keen News Service


Associated Press The Rev. Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church in California, gives the invocation as President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, left, bow their heads during swearing-in ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Warren, whose selection had angered many in the LGBT community, asked for "civility in our attitudes even when we differ."

Calling for an end to "petty grievances" and "worn out dogmas," President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Jan. 20 addressed a vast global audience, taking the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States and the first person of color to lead the nation from the highest office in the land.

There was no specific mention of the LGBT community in his inaugural address, though Obama continuously did include such mentions throughout his campaign and even in the addresses leading up to inauguration.

Instead, there were many broadly worded references that could be interpreted to apply to any number of conflicts facing Americans.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," said Obama, early in his address. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

"The time has come," said Obama, "to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

While there was nothing gay-specific in the inaugural program, there was considerable attention given to the invocation and benediction. That’s because Obama invited evangelist Rick Warren to deliver the invocation and Warren had made a name for himself by supporting the anti-gay marriage ballot measure in California last year.

Warren did an interview during the Proposition 8 campaign saying he "absolutely" considers same-sex marriage as "equivalent" to pedophilia and incest.

Warren’s invocation asked for forgiveness for Americans "when we fight each other" and "civility in our attitudes even when we differ."

Civil rights activist Joseph Lowery, who delivered the benediction, prayed that Americans learn to turn "to each other, and not on each other." Lowery is known to be very supportive of equal rights for gays.

He said recently, in an interview with MSNBC, that he "never said I support gay marriage." But he added, "I support gay rights, and I support civil unions," and he said he opposes putting "into law any discriminatory action against people because of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation."

In his benediction, closing the inauguration, Lowery prayed: "In the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance."

Controversy of the cloth
Religious clergy got considerable attention throughout the inaugural weekend, thanks to the Warren controversy.

Many news reports heralded the inclusion of openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to deliver the invocation for an inaugural concert on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial Sunday, Jan. 18. But viewers tuning in to watch that concert Sunday never saw Robinson’s invocation.

When inquiries were made as to why such a prominently anticipated moment was left out of the broadcast, the broadcasting company for the event — HBO — pointed the finger at the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Eventually, an Inaugural Committee spokesperson acknowledged that the committee itself had directed HBO not to broadcast Robinson’s invocation.

According to Politico.com, Committee Communications Director Josh Earnest said: "We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson’s invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday’s program. We regret the error in executing this plan, but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event."

MSNBC reported that HBO planned to show a videotape of the entire concert — including Robinson’s invocation — on HBO Jan. 24 and 25.

HBO issued a statement saying the exclusion of Robinson’s invocation was "due to a miscommunication" with the Inaugural Committee.

The Robinson invocation, posted at online at EpiscopalCafe.com, called for compassion for people with AIDS and anger "at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

Robinson indicated in interviews before the weekend that he believes the inauguration committee planned to include him in activities even before the controversy erupted over the invitation to Warren to deliver the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony.

Exclusion and inclusion
Despite the absence of explicit mention of gays in the inauguration ceremony and the concert broadcast, there was much more visibility for the LGBT community in this inaugural than in any previous one.

At that Lincoln Memorial concert gathering, Obama included mention of gays as part of the diversity of America, much as he did throughout his campaign.

Talking about the hope he feels from "Americans of every race and region and station" who were gathering in the nation’s capitol to celebrate the new administration, Obama called on the country to "recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together — Democrats, Republicans and Independents; Latino, Asian and Native American; black and white; gay and straight; disabled and not … ."

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" at Sunday’s Lincoln Memorial concert, with performers Josh Groban and Heather Headley. Chorus Artistic Director Jeff Buhrman called inclusion of the chorus "another significant historic moment that will put a face and give a voice to gay equality."

Lesbian rock star Melissa Etheridge and Bishop Robinson were last-minute invited guests on the podium for the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday.

The Lesbian and Gay Marching band was lined up as the 80th contingent out of 103 participating in the inaugural parade.

Even before Inauguration Day on Tuesday, an LGBT television viewer could tell that this was going to be a very different inaugural just by watching CNN. The cable news network interviewed the lesbian couple who accompanied the Obama family on a train from Philadelphia to Washington on Saturday.

The couple – Lisa Hazirjian and her partner Michelle Kaizer from Cleveland— were interviewed Saturday night, Jan. 17 after they got off the train. They told the live national television audience that they had been able to have "conversations" with the Obamas.

The couple was also interviewed with another invited rider, an Iraq War veteran, for a videoblog by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. They said Obama visited informally with each guest on the train and that they talked about the weather and the food on the train.

© 2009 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2009.

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