Barack Hussein Obama was sworn into office as the nation’s 44th president on Jan 20, following days of anticipation and celebration that culminated in nearly two million people braving bitterly cold temperatures in Washington, D.C., to witness the historic inauguration of the first African-American commander-in-chief. Throughout the heady, nerve-wracking weeks leading from his election on Nov 4 to Inauguration Day, gay issues remained a part of the Obama story, at times dramatic, controversial and fashionable.
The inaugural shuffle started off on a shaky foot Dec 17, when it was announced that Obama had invited Evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. Gay rights groups took offense to such a prominent role for Warren, leader of the 22,000-strong Saddleback Church, because of his support for Proposition 8, the initiative that banned legal gay marriages in California, and his earlier derogatory statements about gay marriage. Obama defended his pick, a strategic nod to the religious right, by arguing that it was important for Americans to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
However, the weeks of intense media pressure seemed to take their toll, and on Jan 12 it was revealed that Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, would deliver the opening prayer at a star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan 18. Gay prayers went unanswered, though, when Bishop Robinson’s appearance was not part of the official televised coverage provided by HBO. The cable giant deflected blame, saying the Presidential Inauguration Committee made the decision to keep his prayer part of the pre-show.
On the other hand, how could the LGBT community feel too annoyed with the Presidential Inauguration Committee when it honored one of their own with a leading role? Out lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) was named by the committee on Dec 22 as an honorary co-chair of the inauguration, joining former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a legislator, Baldwin will likely play a leading role in the advancement of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and hate crimes legislation, the two pro-gay items that look remotely achievable in an atmosphere dominated by concerns about the economy.
Where pocketbook issues are concerned, for anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000, admirers of the Michelle Obama inaugural ball gown can buy evening wear from the openly gay designer Jason Wu. The First Lady opted to wear a white, one-shouldered gown by the emerging 26-year-old designer. Wu previously supplied the $3,510 raw silk dress with hand-embroidered rosettes that Obama wore in November on ABC’s The Barbara Walters Special.
But for sheer American style, nothing beats the simple pleasure of a marching band. Nearly 180 members of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association entertained the First Family during the inaugural parade. The Association was selected as one of 50 among more than 1,400 bands that applied to perform. As a first in history, it provided yet another indication that Obama has the country marching to a different tune.