President Obama delivered the commencement speech this weekend at Morehouse College, an historically black all-male liberal arts school in Georgia. His remarks were remarkably gay-inclusive, challenging the graduates to be the best husband they can be even if their partner isn’t female, and to recognize the kind of oppression other groups experience, including gays and lesbians:
OBAMA: And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do: Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important. […]
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. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.
So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy — the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you’re not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers.
Watch the full address (HT: Towleroad):
In 2009, Morehouse College was the subject of controversy for instituting a dress code that seemed to specifically target gay men who occasionally cross-dressed. More recently, the university established a scholarship in the name of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and also began offering its first Black LGBT History course.