News Today

A Brief Chronology of Presidential LGBTQIA+ Civil Rights Achievements

Feb 15, 2021 | Tim Marshall

To celebrate Presidents' Day, we at Seattle Pride are honoring the words and actions of executive leaders who have celebrated us. It is hard to go back more than a few years and see anything but empty pursuits of ‘tolerance’ or outright silence when considering LGBTQIA+ Americans, but today we pay homage to the few presidents who have championed improved conditions for our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

Lyndon B. Johnson (sort of):

Decades after passage, Barack Obama would laud the 1964 Civil Rights Act as instrumental in opening the door for other many other anti-discrimination laws and judicial decisions, most recently Bostock v Clayton Co, GA, which codified employment anti-discrimination for gay and transgender Americans.

However, the administration itself was not warm to this idea. In a 1965 letter to LGBTQIA+ forebear Frank Kameny, VP Humphrey insisted that the Civil Rights Act was ‘not relevant to the problems of homosexuals’.

Hence, LBJ can best be described as an accidental LGBTQIA+ advocate. Thanks (sort of)!

Bill Clinton (not really, though)

Bill Clinton was a politically nuanced leader, allowing him to work from a centrist position to engage many sides of an issue. This led to incidences of emphatic inaction on issues of LGBTQIA+ civil rights, as Clinton signaled support while worsening conditions for those seeking open military service and marriage equality. Following ardent pleas to LGBTQIA+ supporters in his 1992, he was seen as a changemaker, assuring his donors he would take a more ardent approach to battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite his spoken support for working against homophobic stigma, his passages of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act remain his legacy in the field of LGBTQIA+ rights.

While retrospect has granted him vision to rebuke his past decisions, LGBTQIA+ Americans had to wait for Barack Obama for redress.

Thanks but no thanks, Bill.

George W. Bush (meh...)

Self-described as a ‘compassionate conservative’, Bush Jr.’s hawkish foreign policy views were counterbalanced by surprisingly progressive social values (for a GOP politician in the early 2000s). In a time when the GOP party platform denounced civil unions of same-sex couples, he endorsed such an idea, while VP Cheney opposed adding a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, Bush himself supported such a constitutional amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage... but he also said he wouldn’t physically assault LGBTQIA+ community members, so there’s that.

Thanks George W. Bush, for being the least regressive GOP politician of the ‘00s. We’ll remember you like a pair of ultra-low-rise jeans: a pain to live with but impossible to forget.

Barack Obama (yes, actually):

Just as we were beginning to question whether any president made truly significant progress, we’ve arrived at Generation Y’s favorite president and Rolling Stone cover boy, Barack Obama.

Similar to Bill Clinton, Obama talked a good game. Early into his first term, he stated:

“Every single American -- gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society. It’s a pretty simple proposition.”

However, unlike past presidents, Obama backed up his words with actions, intentionally and consistently endorsing legislation that furthered the civil rights and well-being of LGBTQIA+ communities. In his eight years, his achievements included:

  • Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • Ending enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act
  • Voicing support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have formally repealed DOMA
  • Extending federal hate crime protections to cover attacks based on sexuality or gender identity
  • Requiring federally-funded hospitals to allow visitation rights for LGBTQIA+ patients
  • Passing the Affordable Care Act, which prevents health insurance discrimination, funds public health initiatives such as HIV/AIDS prevention, and has improved health care data collection standards for LGBTQIA+ Americans.
  • Initiating the comprehensive study into the reality of LGBTQIA+ housing discrimination
  • Resourcing anti-bullying efforts in schools

...and more!

Though it took until 2010 for the US’ executive leader to uniformly advocate for the betterment of LGBTQIA+ American lives, Seattle Pride appreciates all words of support (or indirect actions of support, in the case of LBJ), noting that indirect or flaccid support can act as tools of normalization when action is politically impossible or uncomfortable... although we still have the right to throw shade and expect better in the future.

As 2021 ushers in a new president, we have new executive actions to prepare for, not just undoing the past four years of ‘the most pro-LGBT president ever’. Joe Biden has the opportunity to ensure unfettered progress in terms of creating federal anti-discrimination enforcement mechanisms, honoring the achievements of LGBTQIA+ bureaucrats through agency appointments, and certify representation via comprehensive data collection through the Census.

Furthermore, he stands to be the first US president who embraces communities beyond the often truncated ‘LGBT’ - he has the responsibility of recognizing the dignity and needs of queer, non-binary, intersex, asexual, and agender Americans.

Hats off to you, Joe Biden! You’ll be hearing from us if you don’t live up to the hype.