Newsweek’s Daily Beast conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan writes this week’s unabashed pro-Obama cover story, “The First Gay President,” with a rainbow-colored halo over President Obama on the cover. “The president’s bold support shifted the mainstream. Andrew Sullivan on why it shouldn’t be surprising—Obama’s life as a biracial man has deep ties to the gay experience,” the sub-head reads.
A bit much? A comparison to the “Bill Clinton, America’s first Black president” idea?
A few excerpts from the 2400 word piece:
Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.
This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. And in Obama’s marriage to a professional, determined, charismatic black woman, he created a kind of family he never had before, without ever leaving his real family behind. He did the hard work of integration and managed to create a space in America for people who did not have the space to be themselves before. And then as president, he constitutionally represented us all.
I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own. And he knows how the love and sacrifice of marriage can heal, integrate, and rebuild a soul. The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves. This has been Obama’s life’s work. And he just enlarged the space in this world for so many others, trapped in different cages of identity, yearning to be released and returned to the families they love and the dignity they deserve.
And yet there is something on this subject with Obama that goes deeper in my view than cold, calculating politics and a commitment to civil rights. The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.
In four years Obama went from being JFK on civil rights to being LBJ: from giving uplifting speeches to acting in ways to make the inspiring words a reality. And he did so by co-opting the forces of resistance—like the military leadership. He fooled most of us much of the time, our outbursts often intemperate—I went on CNN at one point to say that the president had betrayed the gay community on the military ban. We snarked about the “fierce urgency of whenever.” Our anger built. And sometimes I wonder if he goaded us into “making him do it.” If he did, it worked.
And yet when I watched [last week's ABC News Robin Roberts] interview, the tears came flooding down. The moment reminded me of my own wedding day. I had figured it out in my head, but not my heart. And I was utterly unprepared for how psychologically transformative the moment would be. To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity—and the humanity of all gay Americans—was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders—from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer—backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous. And in response, Mitt Romney could only stutter.
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