Today is Barack Obama’s 55th birthday—his last one in office as president of the United States. No president is perfect, but we’re hard pressed to think of a Commander in Chief who has brought so much dignity, strength and yes, pride, to the office.
He’s also evolved into a staunch ally to the LGBT community—combatting ignorance, hatred and congressional gridlock to enact and support groundbreaking advancements in the road to full equality.
Since we couldn’t possibly buy President Obama a birthday present worthy of his status, we’re recounting 12 of the many times he’s been with us.
Ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”
Obama’s push for the repeal of the ban on openly gay service members helped change the culture of the U.S. military, and lead to the Defense Department later allowing trans people to serve in the Armed Forces.
Supporting marriage equality
Sure, Obama wrestled with same-sex marriage longer than we would’ve liked, but once he “evolved,” his vocal support of marriage equality was deafening.
Even before he came out in support of same-sex marriage, Obama issued presidential directives in 2009 and 2010 telling federal agencies to extend whatever benefits they could to the same-sex partners of federal employees.
And his determination that the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible served as crucial support for the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the act in 2013.
Giving us dignity in the face of medical crises
In 2010, President Obama issued another presidential mandate directing all hospitals that received Medicaid and Medicare to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people when it came to visitation rights. Previously, families were torn apart when a loved one went into the hospital—sometimes partners were not even allowed to say goodbye for the last time.
And his efforts with the Affordable Care Act ensured that millions of low-income LGBT people received health-care coverage, and ensured carriers could not discriminate against those transitioning or facing an HIV diagnosis.
That same year, the Office of Personnel Management announced that same-sex domestic partners of federal employees could apply for long-term care insurance, funeral and sick leave to care for a domestic partner.
Changing the face of government
Obama has brought LGBT people into his administration in a way no other president has.
“[The president] is committed to appointing highly qualified individuals for each post,” said spokesperson Shin Inouye in 2010. “We have made a record number of openly LGBT appointments and we are confident that this number will only continue to grow.”
Inclusion is evident from the top and the bottom, from out Google executive Megan Smith being named chief technology officer of the United States in 2014,to Dave Noble serving as Obama’s Deputy Assistant and Deputy Director of Presidential Personnel. This year Eric Fanning became the first openly gay Secretary of the Army.
And Obama was the first president to appoint trans people to his administration: Amanda Simpson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, White House liaison to the LGBT community.
Strengthening laws to protect our community
Previously, hate-crime legislation only protected victims of crimes motivated by race, religion or nationality—and only when the victim was engaged in a federal activity, like voting. Obama also expanded federal protections to include crimes motivated by gender and gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.
Earlier this year Obama bypassed Congress to enact stricter background checks for gun owners, more effective enforcement of current gun laws, safer gun technology and better mental health treatment for all Americans.
And, in 2014, Obama expanded a Johnson-era statute prohibiting federal hiring discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lifting the ban on HIV-positive people entering the U.S.
In the first year of his presidency, President Obama ended a 22-year ban on travel to the United States by HIV-positive people and mandatory HIV tests for residency applications.
Working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the President hoped to position America as a global leader in combating the stigma people with HIV face.
Advancing the rights of LGBT people around the globeVADIM DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama Administration continues to engage systematically with governments around the world to advance the rights of LGBT persons, from funding the Global Equality Fund to making LGBT rights a core directive of USAID, the U.S. government agency responsible for international aid. (In February 2015, the State Department also appointed the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.)
When the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia— which had recently passed a “gay propaganda” ban—President Obama sent a delegation to the Games comprised of out sports superstars Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow and Brian Boitano.
Taking the fight against HIV/AIDS seriouslyChina Photos/Getty Images
In 2010, President Obama developed the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States and has continued to update and fund it.
The strategy not only looks for avenues to spread information, prevention and treatment, but addresses disparities faced by gay/bisexual men and transgender women of color.
Condemning conversion therapy
The President has supported legislative efforts to ban the use of so-called “conversion therapy” against minors and released a mental-health study condemning the discredited practice.
“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember,” the president said in 2015. “Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us—on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”
Helping transgender people to define their own legal genderAlo Ceballos/GC Images
Obama worked with the State Department and the Social Security Administration to allow Americans to state a gender on their passport and other legal documents based on their identity, not the gender assigned at birth—without requiring proof of gender-confirmation surgery.
Letting trans students go to the damn bathroom
Obama issued guidelines earlier this year directing public schools nationwide to allow students to use the bathroom and locker room that matches their gender identity, or risk losing funding.
And while dozens of states have filed suit against the directive, the administration has stuck with supporting of young trans people.
“What happened and what continues to happen is you have transgender kids in schools. And they get bullied. And they get ostracized. And it’s tough for them,” Obama said. “My best interpretation of what our laws and our obligations are is that we should try to accommodate these kids so that they are not in a vulnerable situation.”
Naming Stonewall a national monument
This year the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay-rights movement, became the first national monument honored for its role in LGBT history.
“I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us,” Obama said at the time. “That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”
Steve Philips contributed to this feature