Obama Invites Gay Americans in
Hurrying to dress for a concert featuring one of her favorite blues singers, Easter Spencer felt something frightening.
"Honey, I found a lump," she told her partner, Phyllis.
Her partner calmed her, saying, "Let's just get a mammogram and get it taken care of."
Spencer, who had a job but no health insurance, turned to the Mautner Project, a Washington, D.C., based group that helps lesbians with cancer. Mautner referred her to a free mammogram program, and her lump proved benign. But doctors recommend that Spencer have it removed, something she can't afford to do until she's able to sign up for insurance next year.
"I feel panicky. I hope it doesn't get bigger," Spencer frets.
When President Barack Obama wanted to single out Americans whose problems illustrate shortfalls in the health care system, he invited Spencer to sit in the first lady's box for his high-stakes address to a joint session of Congress.
Spencer's story was recounted in a White House press release along with other guests' insurance woes: A yarn shop owner, for example, can't afford to insure her three workers; a Maryland woman faces $30,0000 in health care bills despite having insurance; and a college student had to sell his family's home after his uninsured mother died of brain cancer and left behind $255,000 in bills.
Spencer's inclusion is the most recent example of how the Obama White House has seamlessly woven everyday gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans into its events. For example, it made sure gay families participated in the Easter Egg Roll and that a gay dad attended the Fatherhood Town Hall.
Rob Keeling, a human resources executive from Virginia whose son Max is 4, was invited to the White House to hear the president stress fathers' importance in children's lives.
"You really saw a cross-section of fathers. And that reinforced that family is something that everyone can relate to," Keeling says.
Quite a few parents are among the folks receiving the unprecedented number of LGBT invitations from the Obama White House. Chris Caldwell and Richard Llewellyn of Los Angeles, a married couple with 19-year-old twins, met with the president and first lady before the White House's big Stonewall commemoration in June.
Caldwell recalls that the Obamas appeared completely comfortable when he told them, "This is my husband, Richard." Michelle Obama gave one of the twins, Rosemary, college tips.
"We felt that we were interacting on a very human level as parents to other parents," Caldwell said. "It was very affirming to have the president recognize that gay people are parents and part of the basic fabric of American life. It felt like the message was that he understood we are families that deserve the same recognition and respect as every other type of family."
Spencer similarly sees the Obamas as spreading the word that lesbians and gay men struggle with medical nightmares all too familiar to millions of other people.
"I felt the Obamas really cared and wanted other Americans to know people like me are having trouble getting health insurance," Spencer says.
The president clearly knows how much good that can flow from small acts of kindness. At the Fatherhood Town Hall, he said he ended up loving basketball and jazz because his own father, whom he scarcely knew, gave him a basketball and took him to his first jazz concert. "I really want to emphasize ... small moments and gestures can make a huge difference," the president said.
Taken together, the Obama administration's small, inclusive gestures send a big, inclusive message: This president embraces the diversity of the gay community and the nation he leads.
Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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