CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As Democrats rally in Charlotte this week, LGBT attendees of this week's Democratic National Convention are among the most enthusiastic supporters in town. Bolstered by the Democrats' 2012 party platform that specifically endorses marriage equality, many supporters feel fully included for the first time in political history.
The formal document lays out the philosophy behind where the party wants to take the nation and, for the first time, includes language in favor of same-sex marriage. ''We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference,'' the platform reads.
Matt Comer, editor of the local LGBT newspaper QNotes, has been one of most excited locals to welcome queer delegates and staffers to his home city.
''The DNC's presence in Charlotte will give this conservative bank-town a run for its progressive money. It will open eyes at the possibilities,'' Comer said. ''And, if played right, it will serve as a moment to leave a lasting progressive legacy in the city. It is a proud moment for my adopted hometown and my native Tar Heel State.''
While many LGBT people have been upset at President Obama during his first term in office and complain that he hasn't accomplished enough for the community, you'd be hard pressed to find any naysayers in Charlotte. Supporters point to accomplishments the president has already racked up and insist that a second term would bring many more.
Under Obama's leadership, Congress has passed landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law that kept out gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving in the armed forces. DADT was signed into law under Democratic President Bill Clinton.
''I'm thrilled beyond words to be at my first convention, but what makes it really sweet is that I can help re-elect a president who signed the bill ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell – relieving a burden from our servicemembers and making our military stronger,'' said West Point graduate and New Jersey delegate Sue Fulton, a lesbian. ''This president has done more to help our veterans – education, health care – than Bush did in eight years. I am proud to be able to say: Support our troops – re-elect Barack Obama!''
But those two large items haven't been the only ways the Obama administration has helped the LGBT community to overcome hurdles in the federal government. Obama has implemented a nondiscrimination policy for federal employees that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, released new regulations ensuring that government housing programs are open to LGBT participants and families, required all government-funded hospitals to recognize same-sex partners as equal to heterosexual spouses and stopped automatically deporting individuals in same-sex binational relationships, an immigration protection long granted to married, opposite-sex, binational couples.
Other dramatic changes to federal policies have come in the area of transgender rights. From new regulations to the Federal Aviation Administration about transgender pilots, to working with the Department of Homeland Security on how to handle transgender passengers flying with mismatched gender markers on their identifications, the Obama administration has been the first to directly involve itself in making life easier for transgender people.
Transgender New York delegate Melissa Sklarz is absolutely certain that Obama is the best candidate for transgender people.
''From health care inclusion to housing discrimination protection, Barack Obama has taken great strides to ensure that transgender people achieve basic civil rights just like other Americans. Even the ability to secure a passport without SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) is a welcome change for many trans people that will create security and opportunities with travel abroad,'' she said.
National Stonewall Democrats, the umbrella organization for most of the country's LGBT Democratic clubs, has an exceedingly large presence at this year's convention. They are co-hosting a luncheon Wednesday afternoon with the Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina where first lady Michelle Obama will speak. NSD's Tuesday night party is the biggest LGBT-specific event planned for the week.
Matt Comer, interviewed for this report, is the editor of QNotes. Democratic National Convention coverage is provided by Metro Weekly and QNotes, the leading LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina, based in Charlotte.