Published January 14, 2009
Unprecedented inaugural celebrations for President-elect Barack Obama by gay activist groups, social organizations and ordinary citizens suggests many view Obama's election as a signal of a forthcoming sea change for the gay rights movement in America.
The Rev. Gene Robinson, a gay Episcopal bishop, will say a prayer at an inaugural event at the Lincoln Monument on Sunday; a gay and lesbian marching band will take its place in the official presidential parade; and a slew of gay parties and inaugural balls will be held in the nation's capital before and after Obama takes the oath of office.
But the gay-themed events have some conservative critics expressing concerns that while the celebration may be gay-friendly, it won't be family-friendly.
Jennifer Giroux, founder and president of Women Influencing the Nation, a group that focuses on restoring traditional family values, said, “I think (the) inauguration should be kept away from that. Christians may love the individual, but they are offended by the gay lifestyle. It’s unhealthy — spiritually, emotionally and physically.
"It’s not a day where a group that feels like it has some payback coming should be putting its decadent lifestyle on display.”
Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, an organization that describes itself as "devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda," is worried less about what happens in public and more about what may go on behind closed doors.
“I think most Americans would be put off if they knew what went on at these parties," LaBarbera said. "Every special interest group has a ball of some sort, but this is not just any special interest group. More than half the country considers their behavior immoral.”
But the organizers of next week's gay events are not overly concerned with whatever negative responses their groups incur.
"We hope any protesters along the route, for whatever issue, would challenge themselves to rise above their personal concerns and help celebrate this new era for America," says Robb Blackwell, vice president of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, which will participate in the inauguration parade.
"Our participation in the parade is a positive action; any negative reactions are entirely beyond our control as an organization. At least we know they'll be entertained by our dazzling musicianship."
Likewise, Kirsten Burgard, of The People's Inaugural "Gayla," which will be held at the Historical Society of Washington D.C., says her group is not expecting any backlash. "As a matter of fact, one of our musical acts is a Christian inspirational hip-hop group," she said.
Though Obama has said very little about gay issues and has said he does not support gay marriage, there is overwhelming optimism among gays that his presidency will reverse what many of them consider the intolerance of a Republican administration.
"We're looking for an uplift in attitude," says Bill Capello, general manager of the DC Eagle, a gay bar located a block away from the convention center where several events will take place.
"It already seems to be more upbeat, friendlier. We believe Obama will be a friend to gay America. We don't see him vetoing any measures that come across his desk. He may not be on the fringe of gay activism, but we expect him to be an ally."
Said Blackwell: "I believe LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Americans, like all Americans, are looking forward to a president who will bring positive change to this country. That's why we've chosen ‘Brand New Day’ as one of the pieces we'll be playing in the Inaugural Parade, to reinforce our view that this inauguration is ushering in an entirely new era for all Americans."
But not everyone shares their enthusiasm. LaBarbera’s group hopes to disrupt the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, held annually on Martin Luther King weekend for men with an interest in motorcycles and leather, by releasing details about the group’s plans.
"They keep their hotel location top-secret because they don’t want conservatives to find out. But we know it, and we’re going to try to get it stopped," he said. "This is the most vile event, and it’s being held at a swanky hotel where conferences regularly occur. Groups coming in after MAL won’t know what went on there before they got there.”
Other groups that oppose the gay rights movement said they do not plan to use the inauguration as a chance to demonstrate, and that they hope the week’s festivities go smoothly.
"I hope that everyone at the inauguration — on both sides — has manners and shows respect. Isn’t that what we’re taught to do?” Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs said.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said, "The Christian community embraces the idea of openness and tolerance, and believes that all should be welcome at the inauguration."
But there is some lingering resentment toward the gay community for its reaction to the passing of Proposition 8 in California, when demonstrators protested outside some houses of worship. "We would never choose the route of bigotry or hatred," Mahoney said, "as the gay community did when they lost Prop 8, by defacing and vandalizing churches and places of worship, and attacked people of faith because they did not share their beliefs.
"For all their cries of inclusion and openness, there are few groups out there more intolerant and hateful than the gay community."
James T. Harris, a Christian conservative radio host who famously told John McCain to “go after” Barack Obama at a rally in Wisconsin, said he thinks the inauguration will provide a chance for conservatives to showcase their tolerance.
“The gayer inauguration, the better," Harris said. "I hope that all of San Francisco turns out, and turns the inauguration into a gay pride festival. Then liberals can see how open and tolerant conservatives are.
"Let America see liberalism in all of its self-absorbed lunacy. Then maybe America will only have to tolerate four years of the madness.”