Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the Pink at the White House

by David Ernesto Munar
(pictured, left, with partner Guillermo)

On this seemingly ordinary sunny day in our nation’s capital, my partner and I strolled slowly down 16th Street, looking for pockets of shade and commenting on the majestic magnolia trees and fragrant lilacs.

Despite the heat, we dressed in our best business attire to make a good impression at our first ever invitation to the White House.

At Lafayette Square, we watched a small group rally for human rights in Colombia and talked to activists and reporters about the significance of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s official state visit, in progress.

We posed for pictures at Pennsylvania Avenue as Sri Lankans, from the end of a bullhorn, urged greater U.S. attention to their country’s violent civil war.

“Excuse me, is this a new suit?” asked a stranger, kindly removing the dangling tag from my jacket. That one I must have missed, I said. “Leave it to a lesbian,” said my new friend, Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco. I snapped pictures of Kate and her beaming son—all of 11 or 12—excited beyond words to soon see the President for a historic Stonewall commemoration at the White House.

Past security and a cordon of military officers, we assembled in the stately Entrance Hall where a hip DJ queued dance tunes on his MacBook.

We greeted Brian Bond of the White House Office of Public Liaison and leisurely strolled about the ornate rooms of antique furniture and impressive portraits. The deep windows of the Blue Room, overlooking the South Portico, frame a perfect view of the Washington Monument like a postcard. So these are the vistas upon which the most powerful gaze!

Long associated with LGBT equality, a half dozen AIDS advocates, me included, chatted with Jeff Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and Brian (openly gay HIV-positive staffer) who helped organize the event.

As the room filled, the crowd’s excitement grew palpable—And, why not?

Few of any of us had ever before been invited to the White House, much less with our significant others, much less to such an august space with the President and First Lady. And certainly never before in commemoration of the 1969 riot that sparked the modern gay rights movement!

Having arrived at the people’s White House, our community must fight like hell so such occasions become commonplace. We must keep the pressure up—even among our allies—to advance legal protections, official recognition, and respect for our basic health and human rights.

For many, the reception served as a solemn reminder of the sizable work and advocacy that remains. Our nation can and must fulfill its promise to treat all men and women equally. And it must use its considerable influence to promote health and human rights and stamp out homophobia, transphobia, AIDS stigma, gender bias and all forms of state-sanctioned oppression and discrimination.

While rarely feted, our work pursuing equality and justice must not rest.

Waiting in the East Room for the President, I was overwhelmed by the countless decades of collective struggle of those assembled. As LGBT and HIV social-justice advocates, we have many proud accomplishments to celebrate. And we each owe a debt of gratitude to so many courageous activists, past and present, who paved the way.

I marveled at the sight of us: patriotic, diverse, hard-working, family-oriented and utterly ordinary.

The arrival of the President and Mrs. Obama electrified the room. There was an audible relief in the crowd when the President specifically addressed transgender and bisexual advocates as part of our diverse coalition.

A cell phone—oddly programmed to quack like a duck—inserted laughter into the President’s serious remarks. “Where do you guys get these ring tones?” he asked.

I stood four feet from the President as he assured his guests that “I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.” No one in the room is soon to forget this pledge, the President included, nor should we.


Transcript of President Obama’s

Video of the President’s remarks

Brian Bond’s White House blog

Munar's photo album

Munar is running the Chicago Marathon this fall to raise funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy - please cough up some green!

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