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After a contentious press announcement on immigration earlier in the day in the Rose Garden, President Obama hosted his third LGBT Month Pride Reception in the East Room of the White House. Even though it is not a very old tradition, there were a couple things historically different about this year’s event: first of all, among the hundreds of guests were a number of out members of the armed forces.
Also, it was the first time same-sex couples from New York could attend (like City Council Christine Quinn, whom we heard was there though we did not see her) who were legally married.
The huge chances since the last pride reception reflect the major shifts in gay rights and how rapidly they are expanding. Last year, President Obama’s reception on June 29 was just a few days after New York State had passed the Marriage Equality Act; but it would be several months before couples could wed, and President Obama had been in an awkward position when he’d come to New York City on the eve of the Senate’s vote to haul cash from gay donors without endorsing same-sex marriage.
At the same time, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had been signed out of law, but hadn’t been certified and soldiers still couldn’t serve openly.
All that’s changed, and we witnessed all kinds of things happen today we never thought we’d see. (You know, like, the black President of the United States toasting gay rights and boasting about his support on gay marriage, as openly queer soldiers and legally married same-sex couples cheered him on in the White House.)
Entering the White House house from the main door beneath the North portico, guests were met by a naval band playing cocktail hour music and guided into the East Room. There, hundres of people milled about, noshing and drinking champagne. It was a sharply dressed crowd, populated by a handful of wide-eyed children and their gay or lesbian parents.
When President Obama arrived, it was to the biggest applause we’ve heard him get from a gay crowd since…well, since he signed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell out of law in 2010.
There were a few moments that received an especially high level of applause. One, for the New Yorkers in the House, was when President Obama gave a shout out to Marjorie Hill and GMHC. The Larry Kramer founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis is currently celebrating its 30 year anniversary.
Another moment was when Obama made a joke about whether other Americans had “evolved” on marriage or not. It drew laugher from the audience, which didn’t seem awkward or nervous; it just seemed human. Obama said he and the first lady had “made up our minds on this issue,” and vowed that the LGBT community would have his support as long as he was president.
Some stars of the event were the military personnel who could attend openly for the first time, like this Army officer.
As recently as last year’s reception, they could still have legally been charged for attending such an event. The military guests were small in number — perhaps fewer in number than the military personnel working at the event — but they were heartily being congratulated by the civilian guests.
A touching moment happened as we watched the president speaking and saw this couple silently, wordlessly holding each other.
We’ll tell their story in another post.