Obama makes historic 'transgender' reference in SOTU

President Barack Obama is the first to say the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union speech.

Story highlights

  • Obama is the first president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union
  • He also called gay marriage a "civil right"
  • Obama's been a longtime advocate for GLBTQ rights

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama became the first president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union on Tuesday night, issuing an historic call for protections for individuals of any sexual orientation.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama said. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."
    The remarks were a surprise, but not entirely unexpected for a president who has made GLBTQ rights a quiet but consistent focus of his tenure in office.
    Obama was also the first president to mention transgender individuals in any speech, and last year signed an executive order extending protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and transgender workers in the federal government.
    And he also called gay marriage a "civil right," in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to take up the issue once and for all.
    "I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that 7-in-10 Americans call home," Obama said.