Michael Shutt attended an "Out for Equality" ball during the inauguration festivities in Washington. Everyone, he said, was talking about the importance of the president's speech in terms of the movement. Just that people were talking about LGBT issues was a big step, Shutt felt.
He returned home to Atlanta to attend a five-day leadership conference of about 3,000 LGBT activists. Shutt, who is director of Emory University's LGBT Campus Life office, said one of his students was so moved that he cried through every session.
The mood this year was different.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which sponsored the "Creating Change" conference in Atlanta, said in her opening statement that for many years, participants have convened still feeling the sting of the ballot box. Other years, they came together to lift each other up in the face of legal losses and policy disappointments.
"This is not that year," she told the conference last week. "This year was the year when enough people stood together, joined together and said, 'Enough.'"
She mentioned progress in every sphere, a "watershed moment 40 years in the making." But she warned that much work remained to be done.
A loving gay couple can get married, have the wedding of their dreams, come home, put a picture on their desk of their honeymoon and then get fired, legally, for doing so.
"There are 29 states that lack any semblance of protections," she said. "LGBT people lack the very foundational protections that so many have sought in this country."
"We are so thankful for the progress we have made but now is not the time to rest," she said, "because there are so many people who are experiencing discrimination simply because of who they are and who they love."
Emory's Shutt said, for example, that much work still needs to be done with educating young people and providing ample support for LGBT students on college campuses.
Notre Dame announced in December that it will create services for LGBT students on campus, a huge step for a Catholic university. More than 220 colleges and universities have such services now, Shutt said. But there are more than 6,000 colleges in America.
"That gives you the scope of it," he said.
Shutt was born in 1973, the year that homosexuality was no longer regarded a mental disorder, the year that Lambda Legal and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force were founded. When he went to college at Michigan State University, the climate was not favorable for anyone to be openly gay.
Carey believes that one of Obama's biggest contributions through his public statements is that he has helped create a space for people who are supportive of LGBT people to stand up and say so. After Obama's remarks on same-sex marriage, she said, the NAACP and La Raza joined in his support.
"That made a difference," Carey said.
A brother who paved the way
Susan Browning-Chriss wishes her brother had been able to listen to Obama's embrace of gay rights in his inaugural address.
He would have been thrilled, she is sure, to know the nation had come far enough to have a president stand on the steps of the Capitol and pledge equality for gay Americans.
"That was opening a door that will lead us to a lot of good places," she said.
Her brother Michael Hardwick was arrested in 1986 for having consensual sex with a man in his Atlanta home under an archaic sodomy law. He challenged the law and for a while made the rounds on television talking about the case.