In the course of this conversation, [Kevin Thompson] happened to mention Stonewall. “Well, what’s Stonewall?” Obama asked.
“You’ve never heard of it?” Thompson asked in surprise. This was a sophisticated Columbia- and Harvard-educated scholar and political organizer, running for national office. And yet he had never heard of the event that many consider the birth of the modern gay rights movement: the riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 1969, when the LGBT community fought back against police intimidation and arrest and demanded legal equality. Thompson gave Obama a primer, glad that they could have an honest back-and-forth.
Soloman sees this as evidence that Obama “began his political journey sympathetic to gay rights, but not deeply informed about them”:
They were not one of his core political priorities. Today, just over a decade later, he has done more for gay rights than any other US president. In particular, the president has been a key part of landmark achievements on the freedom to marry, from the gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act to winning marriage in state houses and courtrooms. It is now easy to envision the completion of this civil rights battle before Obama leaves office. A confluence of good timing, a strategic and determined advocacy movement, and a president who saw with increasing clarity that the values inherent in our cause were fully in sync with his deepest values, enabled this journey. These historic successes, on his watch and with his help, meant that LGBT rights, and marriage equality specifically, would be at the center of the legacy he’d leave behind.