Outgoing President Barack Obama has delivered a passionate call for equality in his farewell speech.
The Democrat, elected President in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, has been a proud supporter of LGBT rights, leading a quiet revolution on equality in the US and around the world.
He is set to leave power on January 20, as Republican President-elect Donald Trump assumes the office.
The President delivered his farewell address on Tuesday night, from his hometown Chicago.
He told the crowd: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history …if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 …if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
“But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”
He added: “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.
“That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.
“That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem.”
He added: “Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require.
“But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’
“For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.
“For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.”
President Obama is by far the most progressive President on LGBT issues in US history.
Despite facing a hostile Congress for most of his Presidency, he signed a federal hate crime law, filed legal briefs that helped bring about equal marriage, overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, helped bring down the Defence of Marriage Act, banned homophobic discrimination for federal contractors, appointed an LGBT rights envoy, appointed a string of openly gay ambassadors and officials, oversaw a State Department that defends equality around the world, challenged anti-gay world leaders to their face, lit up the White House as a symbol of Pride, held a number of LGBT rights receptions, enshrined protections for LGBT people in healthcare law under Obamacare, issued a directive urging schools to protect LGBT students, helped block a number of homophobic Republican bills, recognised Ellen DeGeneres with a Congressional Medal of Freedom, made the Stonewall Inn a national monument, and led a nation in mourning after the Pulse tragedy.