Last night, President Obama used two words never before said in the State Of The Union address: transgender and bisexual.
"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened..." Obama declared. "That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."
Obama has referenced gay rights in each SOTU address, but this is the first time he's explicitly named each of the groups in the "LGBT" acronym. It goes without saying that this acknowledgement, though a long time coming, sends a powerful message to these individuals and to all American citizens. This year, the trans* community has seen a great increase in mainstream visibility, but to be formally recognized in a forum like this is a vital step forward. The bisexual community, too, has long struggled with understanding and acceptance, even from some in the LGBT community.
Simply saying these words is not, of course, the end of this arduous uphill battle for equality. We need legislation and education. We need more people saying these words, and so many others, and talking about these groups of people in a respectful way, every day. Still, what President Obama did was elevate the conversation on a national level. Future leaders and American citizens will be urged to contend with these issues in a serious way. The first step toward equality is acknowledgment. On the one hand, it's a baby step. But, on this scale, it is also a great leap forward — the first of many, we hope.