Obama Morehouse Commencement: What Can the LGBT Movement Learn From the Civil Rights Movement?

President Obama has made it clear since last July that LGBT issues will be a huge part of his second term. While his strong support of legalizing same-sex marriage has brought forth results in recent months, President Obama knows that he needs to do more than just grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At his speech during Morehouse College’s commencement ceremony, a private, all-male college in Atlanta, he skillfully made a connection between the African American community and the LGBT community. 

He first told the students to always try their best to maintain their romantic relationships, regardless of their sexuality. 

“Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man,” President Obama said . “Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because noting is more important.”

As the first president in the U.S. history to publicly support same-sex marriage, President Obama didn’t forget to remind the graduates, the majority of whom are African American, to always have empathy for minorities, including the LGBT community. 

“As Morehouse men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination,” President Obama said. “And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share.” 

He wrapped up the speech by advising students to assist whoever that needs help, no matter which community they belong to. 

We may not be surprised by President Obama’s ability to deliver inspiring speeches since he has accomplished that on other similar occasions. However, the emphasis in his messages certainly corresponds to the recent challenges that we’ve been witnessing in both the hate crimes against gay men in New York City and the Boy Scouts of America’s debate about potentially abolishing its ban on gay youth. The universal compassion for people in other communities is still missing in large portions of our society. 

Just hours after a rally aiming to end the hate crimes against gay men in New York City, two more similar attacks targeting gay men in Manhattan were reported. A 45-year-old man was knocked down unconsciously in the East Village late Monday night while he was drinking in a bar. Another man in the bar chanted an anti-gay slur at him before publicly assaulting him. In addition, two men were attacked by two others while walking in lower Manhattan around 5 a.m. on Tuesday. The series of assault has made New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, publicly denounce anti-gay hate crimes. 

“We are a place that celebrates diversity, a place where people from around the world come to live free of prejudice and persecution, and hate crimes like these are an offense against all we wanted for as a city,” said Bloomberg. 

Christine Quinn, New York City’s first publicly gay City Council speaker, also expressed her determination to fight hate crimes in the city. 

“We will not retreat in fear,” Quinn said. “New Yorkers are galvanized to take action and determined to stand up in the face of hatred.” 

Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, also tells us why the BSA’s recent moves to accept LGBT individuals are so important. While he gives compelling reasons why BSA has helped him tremendously in his life, the full acceptance of LGBT individuals into the organization also means that its anti-gay culture is gradually crumbling down. 

It’s always encouraging to see that there are always wiser voices that remind society of the unfinished tasks. Universal compassion for all the communities in society is the key to a truly harmonious social environment. While the LGBT community is working hard to gain respect from others, they should also bear in mind that it should never be one-way traffic, but mutual respect. 

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William Yang

William Yang is a writer, activist and blogger currently residing in Philadelphia while finishing his Master of Journalism degree at Temple University. He enjoys writing about human rights, equality and social welfare issues. While he's not writing, photography becomes another way for him to tell stories.

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