Why LGBT Equality Means Equality for All

In his second inaugural address, President Obama made history for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement, in more ways than one. As he said so eloquently of our struggle for equal rights: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well." Less than a week later, he made history again by becoming the first U.S. president to address the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, held for the 25th time this year in Atlanta.

His speeches were not just remarkable for their call for LGBT equality. In the inauguration speech, President Obama made a vital, history-making contribution to our movement by placing LGBT rights squarely in our long, gradual national progression toward equality for all, calling equality "the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall." Just as that star did not cease guiding us when women were granted the right to vote or when Jim Crow fell, neither will it cease when LGBT Americans finally achieve full legal equality in all corners of the country. Nor can it.

The LGBT movement is not just about what most people would commonly label "LGBT issues," such as same-sex marriage. LGBT Americans reflect the full diversity of this country, in every way. Our sexual orientations and gender identities cut across every race, ethnicity, age, religion, class and national origin. And the issues that influence our lives are at the intersections of all those distinctions, just as they are about what connects us all: poverty, racism, sexism and systemic economic and legal inequality.

When it comes to immigration, our movement is again deeply intertwined with the struggle for equality for all immigrants -- which the president emphasized as another crucial component to our national journey in both speeches. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, 11 million who have no clear path to citizenship, who must hide the truth about how they came to this country, who must live their lives in constant fear of being forcibly separated from their families and from the people they love most, and who are at continual risk of being detained and subjected to appalling abuses. Many of these individuals and families are LGBT, and our movements have united out of the common cause that no one should be forced to hide any aspect of their identity. LGBT people have joined in calling on the president and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and in taking a stand against blatantly discriminatory laws such as Arizona's S.B. 1070, and Latino and immigrant rights organizations have joined in taking strong stands in support of LGBT equality.

And one of the pillars of the LGBT rights movement is this truth: The government does not have the right to control our bodies by legislating on the basis of a narrow standard for sexuality. But that same controlling impulse is behind the right wing's efforts across the country to restrict abortion and access to contraception, and to mandate abstinence-only education. Their intent is clear: to deny women control of their own sexuality. On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, LGBT Americans are among the strongest advocates for reproductive freedom, because our cause is one and the same: to live our lives as we wish, without anyone imposing their judgment and will on our most personal decisions.

Finally, when it comes to economic inequality, we know that LGBT people face this reality firsthand. LGBT people of color, especially transgender people of color, have among the highest rates of poverty and HIV infections and face among the harshest discrimination in our society, whether in employment or in incarceration rates. We join our allies in demanding solutions not just to anti-LGBT discrimination but to the underlying crisis of poverty and racial injustice in America.

No civil rights movement can leave behind its most vulnerable members, and all these issues affect the most vulnerable LGBT people -- whether it be a transgender immigrant facing horrific abuse in detention, an LGBT person living in a red state and unable to find employment, a rape victim without access to emergency contraception, or a homeless LGBT youth being subjected to humiliation by the police. At the same time, our goals are about more than just LGBT Americans; they are about basic principles and freedoms for all Americans, whatever our background, whatever our sexuality, whatever our gender identity and wherever we came from. They are about that guiding star that President Obama spoke of, that constant that connects those throughout history who have struggled to ensure that our country lives up to the ideals upon which it was founded. And united as one, we will pursue freedom, justice and equality together.

Rea Carey is the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the country's premier social justice organization improving the lives of LGBT people and working to create positive, lasting change in opportunity for all.