Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Follows Through on Pledge to Treat LGBT Equally By Deb Price

Paul Levandowski knows pressure. When the baritone horn player from Lansing approached President Barack Obama as part of the first Gay band to march in an inaugural parade, he recalls thinking, "Oh, God, please, I hope I can get this high note. I hope my valves don't freeze. I hope I can remember all the notes." The history-making band performed John Philip Sousa's "Washington Post" perfectly, as the new president and First Lady Michelle waved from the presidential reviewing stand.

The delighted smiles on the musicians' faces capture how Gay Americans feel about the unprecedented hand of friendship the new president keeps extending. He included a Lesbian couple among the "everyday Americans" on his whistle stop train ride from Philadelphia to the nation's capital. He had Gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson deliver the invocation kicking off the pre-inauguration extravaganza at the Lincoln Memorial. And he's appointing openly Gay men and Lesbians to influential posts. Nancy Sutley was quickly confirmed as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama is expected to tap Fred Hochberg as chairman of the Export-Import Bank and -- in what would be the highest level presidential appointment of an out Gay person -- John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management. "John Berry's role as director of OPM will essentially make him the head of (human resources) of the federal government. The fact that an openly Gay man will be in this job speaks to the president's views about equality in the workplace," said Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

But to Lisa Hazirijian, who along with her partner, Michelle Kaiser, rode on the Whistle Stop Tour, nothing demonstrates Obama's commitment to change for Gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans more than the official web site of the executive branch of the U.S. government. At, under "The Agenda" for civil rights, the new president spells out his support for equality for LGBT Americans, including backing civil unions, adoption rights, a ban on workplace discrimination and lifting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy.

"Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us," Obama declares at the site. "But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

Hazirijian, who organized Gay supporters for Obama in Cleveland, says she understands why some Gays are shocked that Obama is following through on the inclusive message of his campaign. "The change just shows that Barack Obama really is who he appears to be," she says. But the new atmosphere created by the all-are-welcome mat in front of the Obama White House isn't just being noticed by Gay Americans.

After watching a YouTube video of the Gay marching band -- led by a high-spirited drum major -- perform, a viewer named "Wisdomwalker" left this comment: "I'm not a homosexual but watching this made (me) really proud to be an American for some reason."

(Deb Price is a columnist for the Detroit News, from which this is reprinted.)

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