The inauguration of Barack H. Obama as the 44th president of the United States is cause for pride and hopefulness for America and the world. Sen. Obama's campaign heralded a transformational message of progressive change. His very election, as the first American president of African descent alone marks a consequential transformation in our nation's long and shameful history of racial discrimination, injustice and prejudice.
Finally, America may move past our debilitating culture wars about religion and race. Yet during the campaign and in the days and weeks that have followed, these self-perpetuating American family quarrels have not gone peacefully into the night.
Religion continues to be a flashpoint for discord especially when it comes to the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. A quick look at the voting patterns in California in favor of the anti-gay Proposition 8 shows that those who frequently attended church services were more likely to vote against full equality for same-sex couples.
Moreover, President-elect Obama himself gave a pass to religious bigotry in his rationale for opposing marriage while claiming the moniker of a fierce advocate for gay rights.
Likewise, in the aftermath of Prop 8 and during the campaign, racism reared its ugly head. The blogosphere was full of racist rants about Barack Hussein Obama's heritage, his church and his pastor. Many white LGBT people, rightly angered by the passage of anti-gay ballot measures, lashed out with racist recriminations against blacks who voted in favor of taking away our civil rights in California.
Yet, I believe that President Obama will preside over the greatest expansion of civil rights for gay Americans we have witnessed in our lifetimes. The presence of an African-American man and his family in the White House will enhance our national consciousness about race in America and provide an example of the strong parenting and supportive communities needed to improve the condition of black America.
If the Obama presidency is to be truly transformational, it must be a time of new ideas and substantive changes in our society. Getting health care and treatment to Americans living with HIV must be a priority for a transformational movement for justice. Ameliorating the ignorance, fear and bigotry that fuels anti-LGBT sentiment and has led to the killing and abuse of transgender people should have no place in the world.
Indeed, the elevation of Barack Obama to the presidency brings with it more joy and even more expectations. Obama has made it clear that the community has to work together if we hope to achieve our goals. None of the talk about changing Washington and eliminating big money influence will amount to anything if we, the people, walk away and hope that someone else is going to do the heavy lifting.
My hope for the next 100 days is that we get off to a running start. Congress must act to pass hate crimes legislation and begin the discussions about passing federal protections for LGBT people in the workplace. The White House must immediately get to work to develop a comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy by installing a director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy with the experience, influence and insider access necessary to drive the process. And the marriages of gay Americans should count in the 2010 Census.
To achieve these goals will take presidential leadership and Obama's well-documented ability to inspire, organize and bring people together in common cause.
Of course, there is the recession, the multiple wars and other international humanitarian crises and conflicts. These issues will be on the top of the Oval Office desk and LGBT Americans in the White House and throughout the nation will play a role in bringing about resolutions.
At times, it will be tough to keep our agenda of change and full equality on the table. There will be calls for compromise and we will undoubtedly be asked to postpone our priorities. We can expect our opponents to use LGBT people and our rights as a tool to distract and confuse our fellow Americans into believing that we are a threat. Our job is to speak truth.
In the meantime, we are considerably overdue for a reason to celebrate, and there's nothing more significant than what we Americans have done by electing Barack Obama president of the greatest nation in the world.
Take this moment to breathe in the promise of a land where it is the content of one's character that matters most.