Barack Obama shared his heartache at seeing the surge of anti-trans legislation across the US, saying: “This is not who we are.”
The former president was largely silent during the anti-LGBT+ crusade of Trump’s presidency, having learned that you “never looked as smart as the ex-president on the sidelines”.
But as Republicans target the basic rights and freedoms of transgender youth in a record-breaking year for anti-trans legislation, Obama spoke out.
“It breaks my heart. This is not who we are,” he told the Advocate.
“America has always been at its best when we open our arms wider and help more people feel like they belong – not treat them like second-class citizens because they’re different.”
So far a total of 33 states have introduced more than 100 anti-trans bills in 2021 alone as Republican lawmakers seize upon transgender issues to drive a cultural wedge.
Asked whether he thinks these bills are actually winning over voters, Obama noted that, in many ways, their discriminatory campaign is nothing new.
“For many years now, we’ve seen some Republicans seek political advantage by pitting us against one another, often by going after certain groups of people who just want equal treatment,” he said.
“These bills are doing real harm – especially to young people – whether they end up passing or not. Growing up is hard enough, and at some point we all struggle to find our place in the world.
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is for young people to know that some leaders – including people who are supposed to be representing you – don’t think they deserve equal rights.”
The huge strides for equality during Obama’s tenure in the White House mean he’s often remembered as the most LGBT-friendly president in history – but he’s more than happy for someone else to take the title.
“I would love my legacy to be overshadowed, because it would mean another president was doing even more to protect LGBTQ rights,” he said.
“It’s why I was so happy to see President Biden sign an executive order on his first day in office directing federal agencies to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“He also rolled back the previous administration’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, and took other steps to support and protect LGBTQ communities here around the world.”
He continued: “Now, we obviously have more work to do. We need to do even more to guarantee basic rights and protections for every American. My hope is that whatever success we had while I was president proves that progress is possible.”