On June 26, 2015, the United States hit its highest high-water mark in living out the ideals upon which it was founded. And the longer we slog through the tenure of President Trump, with its aggressive efforts to turn back the hands of time, the more true that assertion becomes. For that day two years ago was a most extraordinary day in our history.
The morning started with the announcement of a once-unthinkable decision from the Supreme Court. At 10:07 a.m., the high court ruled that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. A decades-long push that saw countless ordinary Americans demand from their nation the right to equal respect and dignity for their relationships and families ended with a 5-4 decision that affirmed both. Writing the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy got to the heart of the matter:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. (Pg. 28)
The joy and jubilation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans that rippled across the country would manifest itself in a most sensational way. But not before then-President Barack Obama had the solemn duty of tending to the nation’s festering racial wounds.
At 2:49 p.m., Obama started delivering his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African American parishioners killed by a white supremacist at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the evening of June 17. It was a speech that used the horrific racially motivated murders to try to bind the nation’s newest set of weeping wounds caused by its original sin.
I remember watching the speech live on the television in my office. And the howl that emanated from it when Obama broke a nine-second silence near the end of his eulogy by singing “Amazing Grace” came as much from shock as it did from enormous pride. To watch the first African American president be unapologetically black while representing the best of who we all are as a nation was overwhelming to see and hear. The tears flowed from my eyes with ease that day, just as they did the other day when I rewatched the entire speech in preparation for writing this piece.
Minutes after the speech, a reader asked me what I thought about the events of June 26, 2015. I declared myself speechless. Little did I know what was to come. My now-husband Nick and I were at dinner that evening. We were both tired from the week and exhausted from the emotions that come with knowing that your nation embraced your humanity. A cryptic tweet from Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was sent at 7:06 p.m.
And then the Facebook and Instagram posts started flooding in. As day became night in Washington, folks couldn’t believe their eyes. The White House was ablaze in the rainbow colors of LGBT pride. To see it with our own eyes was breathtaking. Never before had the people’s house been the canvas for such a vivid display. What better way to celebrate inclusion and the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.
The north front of the White House gates were packed with people taking it all in and snapping selfies by the time Nick and I got there. Thousands more came from every corner of the city to see and revel in the historic event. And knowing who allowed it to happen, the president of the United States who had held his annual LGBT pride reception at the White House two days earlier, added to the feeling that there was no limit to the inclusive trajectory of our country.
Trump proved how naive that feeling was and how fleeting inclusiveness is when the leader of the nation doesn’t value it. Trump neither held a pride reception nor issued a proclamation heralding LGBT Pride Month at the beginning of June (or at all this month, as of this writing), as Obama did in all eight years of his celebrated presidency. Those are symbolic snubs compared with more significant actions by the Trump administration.
Last February, Trump’s Justice and Education Departments rescinded protections for transgender students in public schools instituted by Obama the previous year. The push to have LGBT Americans be counted in the 2020 Census was gaining steam until proposed questions about sexual orientation and gender identity were removed from a draft the same day said document was released last March. This came just after the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services Department removed questions about LGBT senior citizens from its National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants — questions that had been in place since 2014. That same year, Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT federal contractors from discrimination. Last March, Trump signed an executive order that basically nullified Obama’s by rescinding the Obama requirement that contractors prove they are in compliance. And let’s not forget that when it comes to criminal justice reform and police accountability, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done a 180 from the priorities set by his predecessors Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.
The only pro-LGBT thing to come out of the Trump White House was a tweet from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, on June 1.
How nice, but woefully inadequate after the heights reached on June 26, 2015. The promise of liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness were finally acknowledged for LGBT Americans, and the president of the United States celebrated them on the same day he comforted his nation grieving the murderous result of racial hatred. It was a reflection of our better selves as a people and a nation. Given all the milestones of progress achieved in our 241-year history, we may never have been better as a nation than we were that day.
May we reach those heights again.
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