On Jan. 20, we’ll say goodbye to a transformative leader who tied his legacy to advancing LGBTQ civil rights, along with increasing health care access, saving the nation from economic depression, ending two wars, brokering a nuclear deal with Iran and normalizing relations with Cuba.
The Obama administration will be seen as a milestone for the LGBTQ community. The landmark achievements for which he will be remembered include signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010, and ending the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011, which ultimately led to marriage equality in 2015 via a Supreme Court ruling.
But hope and change for the LGBTQ community didn’t end with these accomplishments.
Each year, President Obama and his cabinet made sure we continued to become part of the American fabric. Here are some highlights* (from a very long list of LGBTQ advancements):
2009: President Obama ended a 22-year ban on travel to the United States by HIV-positive people and ended mandatory HIV tests for residency applications.
2010: He developed the first comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy for the United States and continued to update and fund it.
2011: The President supported the Department of Health and Human Services’ StopBullying.gov, which provides resources to youth, parents, and community members to build a safe environment for all kids, including LGBTQ youth.
2012: The Obama Administration issued a final rule to ensure that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s core housing programs are open to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
2013: Following the Windsor decision, the president directed federal agencies to extend federal benefits to same-sex married couples. The Human Rights Campaign called it “the largest granting of rights in history.”
2014: He signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.
2015: The Obama administration supported efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.
2016: The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education sent a directive to school districts advising them that transgender students should be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, rather than their gender assigned at birth.
From ensuring hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones to expanding access to health care coverage and preventing LGBT discrimination by insurers, this president made society more tolerable.
President Obama worked hard to protect our future, while also recognizing the importance of preserving our past. He called on the Interior Department to identify significant LGBTQ historic sites. In 2016, the department selected the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, as the first national monument honored for its role in the LGBTQ rights movement.
On a personal note, President Obama is the reason I came to Washington, D.C. In July 2011, I was politically appointed to HHS. I became one of 250-plus openly LGBTQ professionals who would serve in his administration — this total is more than all the known LGBTQ appointments of other presidential administrations combined, according to the Victory Fund.
It was important that President Obama not only discussed and acted on our issues, but he allowed us to become part of those conversations and placed us in positions of power to act on them. Thank you, Mr. President. I’m forever grateful.
Jesse Garcia is the former president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and LULAC Dallas Rainbow Council. He now resides in Washington, D.C., and volunteers for his local LGBT Democratic group and the LULAC Lambda DC council he cofounded.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2017