Wonder Boi Writes

Thank You Mr. President

On Election Day 2004 I was a political science major at Illinois State University. We saw record voter turn out. Some students waited in line for 3 hours to cast their ballots. I spent the day split between coordinating efforts at the campus polling place and canvassing neighborhoods with get-out-the-vote efforts.  We already knew the senate bid we’d been working hard for would be successful. Some young guy no one had heard of a few months earlier was now favored to be the next junior Senator from Illinois, but the real fight was to unseat George W. Bush and defeat the almost dozen anti-gay state constitutional amendments he’d sparked.

Anticipation turned to dread as results poured in. Slowly it became clear we were going to lose the White House to a man who’d said my wife and I were more dangerous to the fabric of our society than terrorism. So dangerous, in fact, that he advocated changing our nation’s founding documents to protect future generations by making sure we never got access to equal protection under the law. Even worse, voters in eleven states agreed with him.

It was one of the worst nights of my life. I went home and unplugged my phone. Susie and I cried in each others arms. The country hated us. The next day as I went from class to class with a tissue in each hand, I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. Did he hate me? Did she vote against my basic civil liberties? Did they stand idly by while I got attacked? I felt confused, dejected, and worthless. Everywhere I looked stood someone who didn’t think I deserved fundamental human rights. I didn’t trust anyone, and I couldn’t muster much belief in myself or my future either.

I say all this only to say “I’ve been there, North Carolina.”  I know what it’s like to feel attacked by your neighbors, to question colleagues, and to be afraid of what you’ll see in the strangers you pass on the street. It’s devastating and it shakes your confidence in every connection that matters. Which is why it’s so important that President Obama did what he did, when he did it.

On Wednesday President Barack Obama, that young junior senator I’d supported in college, became the first sitting United States President to say gay and lesbians should have the right to marry. I’ve heard all the questions from both sides. Why now? Why not last week? Why not wait until after the election?  Why did he risk it? Why didn’t he risk it sooner? Couldn’t he have done more? Should he have even done this? And most importantly, what does it matter?

The political scientist in me understands that legally it doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t change the law now, and saying it last week wouldn’t have changed the votes. And maybe if you’ve never been on the other side of the equation, if you’ve never felt the way I did in 2004 or the way many people in North Carolina feel now, then this won’t mean much to you, but for me and others like me, it means a whole lot.

For one, we’ve never heard anything like this before. Our community has only ever been attacked from or ignored by the Oval Office. Presidents have used their power to beat us down, to write laws against us, or to use our lives to scare our fellow citizens. There’s a novelty to this new respect that some of us don’t know what to do with. And some of us are even afraid for him, because we’ve seen this go badly for so many others, but we’re still so proud that he took that risk on our behalf. But this feeling is more than the simple joy that comes from our team scoring a point in some game.

It matters because he’s the most powerful man in the free world. It matters because most of us look up to him a whole lot. It matters because next time we start to think everyone is against us, we can point to the President of the United States of America and say, “He doesn’t hate me; in fact, he thinks my relationship is equal to his.”  Our love, the love our previous leaders said was so dangerous that it had to be outlawed, now holds the same value as the one between the President and the First Lady, at least to them. It matters because his statement proves that even though the world is changing more slowly than we want, it is still changing.

Furthermore, it matters because kids in the middle of the south who have never met a gay person or heard anything nice said about them just heard a powerful, educated, successful man say something really loving and affirming about them. It matters because when nameless, faceless, anonymous bigots went into private booths and pulled levers in secret, a man the whole world knows stood under the bright lights at the seat of power in the most powerful country in the world and said, “I disagree with you.” Oh, and by the way, so does the Vice President, Secretary of State, Senate Majority Leader, and Secretary of Education.  It matters because it shows we are not crazy for feeling the way we feel, we are not worthless, and we have not been completely rejected.

Most importantly, the President’s words matter because they show us, even on the darkest of days, we are not alone

Advertisements

May 11, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

12 Comments »

  1. Wow, great blog Rachel. It moved me to tears. I’m not American, and we do have civil partnerships here in the UK, but I can still identify with the feelings you’re talking about very strongly. Obama is the most powerful man in the world. His words echo in every country. It matters so very very much. Thank you for articulating it so well.

    Comment by rebeccasb | May 11, 2012 | Reply

    • thank you Rebecca! I’m so glad to hear is resonated across the pond. I worried that the “most powerful man in the world” bit might rub people the wrong way, but I’m not saying that’s how it should be, but it is how he’s perceived.

      Comment by rachelspangler | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  2. Brilliant.

    Comment by lyndaniner | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  3. So brilliantly stated.

    Comment by lyndaniner | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  4. I have been struggling for days to put into words exactly how I felt when the president made his statement of support. One on the true injustices about inequality is that as it continues you begin to doubt. You begin to build scar tissue, a toughness that makes you feel like maybe you don’t care. Then, the leader of the free world says he supports you.
    President Obama already had my vote and my support because I can’t let a wrong-headed, narrow-minded bigot have a chance at the most powerful job in the world.
    His statement of his personal belief didn’t change my vote. It changed my heart and my attitude.
    Plus, it’s just freaking cool.

    Comment by bettnorris | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  5. Thank you Bett! I agree with you on all counts!

    Comment by rachelspangler | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  6. Nice job. Rachel. Ignorance breeds fear and I believe that most decent people would be stunned to know how many people in their everyday lives, how many ‘just average folks’ are actually gay and always have been. They just never noticed.

    Comment by Barrett | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  7. Reading this gave me goosebumps. Well done Rachel, well done President Obama. *waves*

    Comment by Hilary | May 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you Hilary. I hope all is well with you!

      Comment by rachelspangler | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  8. Thank you, Rachel!

    Comment by lynchly | May 12, 2012 | Reply

  9. Very well said Rach. Thanks for stepping up and saying it for many of us.

    Comment by connie ward | May 12, 2012 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: