It was with some pride that I listened to the words of President Barack Obama as he addressed the nation from the steps of the United States Capitol. He laid out a lot of the agenda for his next four years and called upon all of us to play an active part in shaping our country. In one of the more notable moments for me personally, he spoke of equality being a star that guides us, "just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." He so deftly tied together the fight for LGBT rights with the women's rights movement and the struggle for civil rights for people of color. He then continued, saying, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," and adding, "If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well."
As someone who has been in a same-sex relationship for decades, this was a great moment. Yet as a transgender woman, this also is a call for action.
The Stonewall riots were indeed a flashpoint in the struggle for gay rights in America. That one assault by police on a bar in Greenwich Village -- and the reaction to that assault -- ignited the movement in the late 1960s and early '70s. At the same time it is vitally important to view the history of the Stonewall rebellion much more closely and not let that fight be reduced to simply the right of gay and lesbian Americans to get married.
It is important to note that during the era of the Stonewall riots, LGBT Americans were largely still very much in the closet. The Stonewall Inn was a sort of haven, a brick-fronted, dark-windowed bar that people could sneak away to and socialize within. Such was our community. While much of its clientele were gay men and women who were forming relationships that should indeed be allowed to be truly called marriage, this was also the safe home of those who would today be called transgender.
When the police raided the Stonewall Inn, they claimed that they were closing down an illegal bar. To some in attendance, this was yet another shakedown of the bar's clientele by the NYPD, based largely on then-existing laws against cross dressing. At the time it was illegal to wear the clothing of the opposite sex, and police could indeed bust you if you weren't wearing at least three articles of "appropriately gendered" attire. This is what led to the riot, and at the forefront were two transgender women, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Yet as the struggle for gay rights grew in the 1970s in the wake of the Stonewall riots, the transgender history of the event was marginalized.
I'm not upset that President Obama only referenced the struggle for same-sex marriage a few beats after mentioning Stonewall. That is, as they say, politics. I know his administration has done a lot, so far, for transgender people, and I appreciate our victories. Indeed, this is an administration that has done more for transgender people than any other before: President Obama signed the transgender-inclusive Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and his Department of State greatly improved the process for transgender people to get passports in their preferred gender. We've seen several parts of this administration reach out to transgender people and secure further rights for all of us.
Nevertheless, I'm going to take the inauguration speech as a call to action. We who are transgender, and our allies, need to secure our history and work toward our future. We need to keep fighting and keep pressing President Obama to sign an executive order banning workplace discrimination against transgender people and our lesbian, gay and bisexual allies by contractors doing business with the federal government. We need Congress -- such as it is -- to pass a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Our community needs to fight on and do all we can to continue to move forward and make a better world for all transgender and gender-variant people. We need to hold on to the spirit of Stonewall and carry on the fight that Marsha P. and Sylvia started.