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Winds of change: Obama becomes the 44th president
by Andrew Davis
2009-02-01

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Providing the high point for millions of visitors to Washington, D.C.—and ushering in an era of change, diversity and hope—Barack Obama was sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, becoming the 44th president of the United States.

Officials expected approximately 2 million people on Inauguration Day, compelling outgoing President George W. Bush to declare the district a federal emergency area, according to the Washington Blade.

The timing of the swearing-in—the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—provided even more meaning to a historic day when the first African-American commander-in-chief took office. Obama spent the holiday at the Sasha Bruce House, a place for homeless teens, while issuing a "call to service" to the nation; there, he assisted people who were fixing up rooms.

The inauguration ceremony included a performance by Aretha Franklin, a reading by renowned poet Elizabeth Alexander and an invocation by controversial minister Rick Warren. The selection of Warren—who supported California's anti-same-sex measure, Prop 8—galled many members of the LGBT community, in particular. After announcing the choice of Warren, Obama's transition team selected openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson to lead the prayer at this past Sunday's inaugural kickoff event at the Lincoln Memorial.

Obama started off by saying that he was "humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors." He then acknowledged the economic crisis: "The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth."

The new president also addressed the issue of war: "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Obama's message—which stressed that this country will rise to the challenges presented to it—also mentioned religion, but did not mention sexual orientation.

Tuesday's ceremony ended with the inaugural parade, which included the Lesbian and Gay Band Association ( LGBA ) , a musical organization composed of marching and concert bands from across the U.S. and around the world. Among the songs the LGBA performed during the 1.5-mile route were Brand New Day ( from the musical The Wiz ) , The Washington Post and Hold On, I'm Comin'. Six members of Chicago's Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles marched with the band.

LGBT-rights groups expressed their happiness with the new leadership. Human Rights Campaign Joe Solmonese said that " [ t ] oday's inauguration represents a paradigm shift. The pendulum has swung away from the anti-gay forces and toward a new president and vice president who acknowledge our equality. ... Our community and do many others are looking at a new day of welcome and great promise. "

The Lincoln Memorial

On Jan. 18, a half-million people witnessed the two-hour "We Are One" concert, an all-star collection of actors and singers that took place at the Lincoln Memorial. Among those performing or speaking were Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Denzel Washington and Bono.

Obama included the LGBT community in his speech at the event: "It's the same thing that gave me hope from the day we began this campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago. A belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another, bring everybody together, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Latino, Asian, and Native American, Black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not, then not only would we restore hope and and opportunity in places that yearn for both, but maybe just maybe we might perfect our union in the process. This is what I believed, but you made this belief real."

However, the event did not occur without some controversy. Obama's inauguration committee took responsibility for failing to broadcast Robinson's prayer; HBO showed the concert but did not air what the bishop said, according to a Boston Globe item. On Tuesday, HBO sent a release to Windy City Times stating that "Rev. Robinson's invocation was not included in the live presentation due to a miscommunication within the Presidential Inaugural Committee." The release also said that Robinson's invocation would be included in Jan. 21, 24 and 25 re-airings of the concert.

Also, Brooks performed Shout and We Shall Be Free, a song that many have said endorses same-sex marriage, but did not include the stanza about gays in the latter song. In addition, the D.C. Gay Men's Chorus performed with singers Josh Groban and Heather Headley; however, the group was not identified on HBO, although the individual singers were. However, Groban, when interviewed by MSNBC about the event, mentioned the chorus and called the gay and lesbian community "phenomenal," according to AfterElton.com .

The concert ended with all of the speakers and performers singing America the Beautiful ( written by the lesbian Katharine Lee Bates ) , led by Beyonce.

Galas galore

The celebrating certainly did not stop with the concert on Sunday. Galas took place Sunday through Tuesday evenings.

Lesbian comedian Kate Clinton co-hosted ( with activist Verna Avery Brown ) at the Inaugural Peace Ball at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum Jan. 19. She was joined by such celebrities as Joan Baez, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, Holly Near & Emma's Revolution and Harry Belafonte.

Among the galas scheduled for Tuesday night were the Youth Inaugural Ball, the Obama Home States Inaugural Ball ( for guests from Hawaii and Illinois ) , the Midwest Inaugural Ball and the Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball.

Well over a dozen organizations ( including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force ) hosted the "Out for Equality" Ball at the Mayflower Hotel Tuesday night. Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Wainwright, Catie Curtis and Cyndi Lauper were among those performing.


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