Michelle Obama is African-American, straight, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law, economically well off, a former First Lady, and gorgeously tall. It just so happens that I am none of these things. In fact, we could not be more different. And yet, when the Supreme Court ruled that I was free to legally marry in any state in America, Michelle Obama was lit throughout with excitement and joy. On that hot June night in 2015 when the Supreme Court came down with the decision in Washington legalizing gay marriage all over this country, it was a thrilling night for her, too. A happily married straight woman, the ruling would not affect her personally in any way. But it was history, in all the right ways. And it was so important that she made the decision to do something she did not normally do – break the security rules which governed her family in the White House residence. And she decided, too, that it was important to take her young daughter Malia along with her on the escape.
Obama describes the scene in her new book, Becoming: “We made our way down a marble staircase and over red carpets, around the busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and past the kitchen until suddenly we were outdoors. Malia and I just busted past the agents on duty, neither one of us making eye contact. The humid summer air hit our faces. I could see fireflies blinking on the lawn. And there it was, the hum of the public, people whooping and celebrating outside the iron gates … We were outside, standing on a patch of lawn off to one side, out of sight of the public but with a beautiful, close-up view of the White House, lit up in pride. Malia and I leaned into each other, happy to have found our way there.”
In an interview last week she continued her account: “Thousands of people were gathering in front of the White House at that time to celebrate, and my staff was calling me, everybody was celebrating, people were crying, and I thought, ‘I want to be in that … Also, we had worked to make sure that the White House was lit up in the LGBT colors … It was beautiful. We stood along with all the cheering crowd, off to the side, mind you, so no one would see us, with security surrounding us, and we tried to have our tender mother-daughter moment, but we just took it in. I held her tight, and my feeling was, we are moving forward. Change is happening.”
This historic change was happening, and the Obamas embraced it. They welcomed it. They cheered it on. Michelle Obama launching her mad dash from the White House just to be a part of the moment of thousands of people celebrating the legalization of gay marriage is, for me, the heart of the difference between the Obamas and our current nightmare occupant of the White House.
As different as she is from me and from you in sexual orientation and life situation and a thousand other ways – she represented us. Her unbound joy and support while in the White House meant that she actually represented me and you and every member of the LGBTQ community. The expansion of our rights did not represent a threat to her in any way, she did not see it as somebody taking anything away from her. Our gain of legality and the full rights of citizenship did not lessen her own rights. She did not feel beleaguered, threatened, diminished or imperiled. She did not lash out in fear and recrimination – looking for a scapegoat to blame for her own dignity or position or privilege being threatened. As a straight woman, she had been free to marry the man of her choice her entire life, with the certitude that society would sanction and celebrate her choice. And now, we as a nation had progressed enough that those different from herself finally had that same right.
Michelle Obama would never dream that allowing gay people to finally enter into a legal union with their beloved partner was anything other than a beautiful and overdue step forward. It didn’t apply to her own personal agenda, but she did not see that law as, by very definition, a law that somehow drained her own bucket of privilege and rights. She did not feel the need to go back and ‘make America great again’ – which for the huge swath of gay people only means going back to the days when we were constricted to a life in the closet, without rights and without recognition.
The former First Lady telling this story out on tour as a highlight of her book was a heart-searing reminder of what we have lost in this country in the last two horrendous years. I am not represented by the person who is the president and the people to whom he is attached, those whose words and deeds matter. You are not represented. We are not represented. It is not only grief that fills my heart, it is also fear.
- Sage Piper lives on poetry, coffee, the Resistance, and lots of pasta. She works all day supporting those who choose to spend their lives working to improve her beloved Bmore and the lives of her fellow citizens, in every neighborhood. Sage came to Baltimore in the 1980’s to study political science and attend Johns Hopkins University, fell full-swoon into the open, irresistible arms of Charm City, and she has never left. Along the way she has been a restaurant sous chef, a White House intern, an elementary school teacher, an incurable optimist, and a fervent political junkie. On off hours, you can probably find Sage running with Back On My Feet,hanging at Red Emma’s, dancing til dawn, or sipping Zeke’s coffee and buying local produce, pickles, and garlic olives every Saturday morning at the Waverly Farmer’s Market. Sage’s favorite time of year is when Baltimore springs to life amid the crack of baseball bats in the air, both weekend Farmer’s Markets in full swing,and road bikes tuning up for the140-mile ride with many big-hearted soulmates for the Ride For The Feast to raise money and support her favorite mission, Moveable Feast in Baltimore.