Another holiday season has come and gone, and here we are at the dawn of a new year and a new decade. Regardless of religious, social or philosophical differences, it seems that nearly everyone celebrates the holidays in some way and for one reason or another. But even with the various views of importance placed upon the holidays we do share one common aspect as individuals as demonstrated by our annual nostalgic review of the previous year with high hopes for a better one to come.

We wonder is each year so bad or disappointing that we persistently hope for the better? If that's true, then what are we doing so wrong that each year is a disappointment? Our own philosophy is such that we try to live in the moment and enjoy what we have rather than seeking fulfillment in time yet to arrive.

"Here in the United States millions of us voted for change, and some of us have not been disappointed."Of course, living with self-confidence as healthy and satisfied individuals is probably a result of years of experience in trying to always get it right, which may justify some reflection upon the past. Anyway, waxing about failures passed or successes to come has caused us to reflect upon larger issues than just ourselves.

We think celebrating the new year is not so much about personal resolutions (surely to be broken or forgotten) as it is about a universal evolution of humankind, including all of the cultural and social institutions that we have created. In this broader perspective are we doing better or worse? Just how great was last year? For example, here in the United States millions of us voted for change, and some of us have not been disappointed. By electing Barack Obama as the first black president we may not have eliminated racism, but we surely have turned another page in the chapter of history that moves us further away from the shame of slavery.

And while any politician has to compromise, we have been pleased with Obama's performance. He has fulfilled some of his campaign promises by promoting the cessation of discrimination against individuals and groups, as evidenced by his support for equal pay and anti-domestic violence legislation, as well as for sensible family planning and protections for women and children. In a very short time he has managed to correct or reverse some of the damaging legislation that passed during the Bush regime (think stem cell research here, for example, or the discrimination against HIV-positive immigrants), and he continues to stand firm in the economic arena as a proponent of equity and fairness.

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Now we aren't economists and don't intend to discuss in depth the pros and cons of the president's policies, such as the bank and auto bailouts, for instance, because the economic crisis is ongoing. It took many years of mismanagement to create the housing and workplace debacles and will take some time to correct them. And that, coincident with the changes in industry and technology, will take time. And many adjustments will have to be made by both employees and employers to ensure that all Americans can enjoy equal opportunity in employment and housing.
"We think that our national image has improved under Obama's leadership."Just as the Industrial Age created job market turbulence, change and a restructuring of the workplace, we can expect no different from the current and ongoing technology age. However, we want to caution here that individuals must prepare themselves for the new job market and not reminisce too much about the jobs that are gone for good. What was opportunity for grandma and grandpa is nonexistent now, and we must be willing to educate, train for and adapt to a different work environment.

Anyway, change can be a good thing, and we think that our national image has improved under Obama's leadership. Ha, you say!! What about the terrorist bombings and other activities? Are those increasing, and are we less safe? We can only say that we feel as safe as we ever did, and here we will admit to one disagreement we do have with the president in his decision to increase the military troops in Afghanistan.

We think it might help relationships and build trust if we stopped killing folks, but on the other hand, how does one protect oneself from those zealots who for whatever religious, personal or political reason are willing to blow themselves up to make some kind of statement? Is using the actions of individual terrorists reason to continue a large-scale attack? Somehow that doesn't feel right to us, but then we weren't privy to any of the many discussions Obama had with his security council, so what do we know anyway?

The war effort seems to be a major corporate undertaking to boost the income levels of those already in power and the wealthy, and the well-organized fear campaign maintains a status quo of public support. Sometimes we wonder how many will be sacrificed and just how much money one person or company needs in one life time anyway.

Is there some equation for money vs. time of which we are unaware? Perhaps dying rich is better than leaving a legacy of justice and fairness? In this instance we are glad we aren't the president, who has to weigh the arguments put forth by the military-industrialists -- it would give us a headache!! In fact, it just did!!

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One thing we do know is that on the domestic front Obama has been the friendliest president ever in recognizing and supporting the LGBT population by addressing our issues of civil and social discrimination. We know that many folks were expecting good things, like the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and perhaps the elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act, a marriage discrimination policy holdover from the Clinton years that the Obama administration still supports. But we believe that progress is being made in both of those areas and that elimination of both will follow in the near future.
"On the domestic front Obama has been the friendliest president ever in recognizing and supporting the LGBT population by addressing our issues of civil and social discrimination."Negotiation does take time, after all, and as discouraging as the process can be, we do have much to celebrate. For instance, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, in what is the first federal legislation recognizing and supporting protections for the LGBTQ community. The very fact that Obama would admit the need for such protections demonstrates his respect for us as individuals, and his attitude of acceptance sets a tone of equity and fairness for the country.

We think it's no coincidence that, following on the heels of the president's decision, Washington DC decided to recognize same-sex marriage and the extension of domestic partner benefits to federal employees, and New Hampshire became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Hampshire joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa in recognizing basic civil rights for everyone.

While the marriage effort precedes the Obama administration, he has stated that he supports civil unions and/or marriage for everyone. We believe him. Now we know that when same-sex marriage is put to popular vote, it loses nearly every time; but the margin of defeat is decreasing each year by a few percentage points. Even in our home state of Indiana an increase in acceptance can be found in the results of a poll conducted by Indiana Equality, where 80.4 percent believe in LGB civil rights protections and 79.7 percent support transgender inclusion.

We should note here that bipartisan support shows Democrats at 92 percent, Republicans at 64 percent and independents at 85 percent. And significantly, in California, where Prop 8 ended the brief legalization of same-sex marriage in that state, the legislature is set to recognize LGBT marriages performed in other states and has confirmed the legal status of the state marriages permitted, albeit briefly.

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Since Obama took office, more openly lesbian and gay political candidates ran for and/or were elected to local, state and national leadership positions than ever before. Indeed, Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly lesbian mayor. In the near future we anticipate the passage of the new fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will provide workplace protections against discrimination based upon gender identity and sexual orientation.
"We know that when same-sex marriage is put to popular vote, it loses nearly every time; but the margin of defeat is decreasing each year by a few percentage points."The president has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk! History in the making is so much better to watch when there's a level playing field!

Obama's determination to right previous wrongs was certainly evident when he honored some unsung heroes by bestowing America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, upon openly lesbian tennis great Billy Jean King, the first openly LGBT elected official, Harvey Milk, and WW II hero and acclaimed Native American Historian Joe Medicine Crow.

Of course the late, great Senator Edward M. Kennedy was also honored along with 15 or so others. But the significant thing in Obama's administration has been the recognition of individuals from the many disenfranchised populations who have typically been overlooked. From his cabinet to the Supreme Court, a new face of government representation is emerging, one that is more reflective of who we truly are as a country.

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Can one individual change the world? Probably not, but they can certainly set the stage for a new era of understanding and acceptance. And when we reflect upon 2009, despite the progress made, we see a year of devastating economic loss, joblessness, homelessness and individual despair. We see good changes afoot but know that all is not progress: 30 states have voted to ban same-sex marriage, the soup kitchens are still overcrowded and LGBT teen suicide and homelessness are at all time highs.
"Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly lesbian mayor."We are at war with what seems like the entire Middle East, and yet our president is doggedly determined to provide national health care for everyone, in spite of the opposition from special interest companies and those who just don't get it. Positive goals accomplished and failures still abound.

Did we get it right in 2009? Apparently the answer is yes and no, and isn't that fairly typical after all? Can we get it right in 2010? We think the country is headed in the right direction, but the citizenry must unite and cease its petty squabbling about differences. Instead of making individual resolutions about weight loss and exercise, let's join together in supporting one another in fulfilling the dream of acceptance, tolerance, understanding and a real peaceful coexistence.

We have a president who practices his principles of equality and fairness, and he deserves a nation of individuals who do no less.

Happy New Year!

Helen Harrell can be reached at hharrell@indiana.edu.