LGBT Comes to the SOTU

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech. 

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Despite the impending Supreme Court showdown over marriage equality, President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address contained only three references to gay rights. Most notably, Obama praised same-sex marriage as “a story of freedom across our country” and “a civil right.” He also said that Americans now “value the dignity and worth” of gay citizens.

But that doesn’t mean Obama’s speech wasn’t historic for the LGBTQ community. Toward the end of his address, Obama declared that Americans “condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” This marks the first time a president has used the words transgender and bisexual in a State of the Union address (in addition to the explict use of the term lesbian rather than the generic gay).* In 2010, Obama became the second president to use the word gay in a State of the Union address, regarding his efforts to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy. (The word made its first appearance in a State of Union address when President Bill Clinton used it in 2000 in reference to a hate crime.)**

This shout-out is a considerable victory for both bisexual and transgender Americans, who have struggled to achieve mainstream recognition—especially in Washington—for decades. It’s an especially exciting achievement for the trans community, which just closed out a year of astonishing victories, both political and cultural. With his respectful, equality-minded embrace of the trans community on Tuesday, Obama likely gave this once-maligned group a significant boost in visibility. 2014 was an amazing year for trans rights. 2015 may be even better. 

*Update, Jan. 20, 2015, 10:30 pm: This post has been updated to note that Obama’s speech also marks the first time a president has used the word lesbian in a SOTU address. Of course, his previous references to gay people implicitly encompassed lesbians along with gay men.

**Correction, Jan. 20, 2015: This post originally misstated that Barack Obama was the first president to use the word “gay” in a State of the Union address. He was the second; Bill Clinton was the first.

Read more of Slate’s State of the Union coverage.

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