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January 16, 2009

Cleveland lesbian couple joins Obama’s inaugural train

Cleveland—Sixteen people will be honored to accompany President-elect Barack Obama on the train trip to his January 20 inauguration, and the Obama Pride coordinator for Cleveland is one of them.

Lisa Hazirjian, who headed LGBT outreach in Cleveland for the Obama campaign, will bring her partner Michelle with her to the inauguration, although even she is not quite sure how the train’s passengers were chosen.

“I know that all 16 of us who were selected to participate in the train trip were people who had been involved in the campaign in some significant way,” Hazirjian said, “and in my case it was related to my work as a volunteer serving as the Obama Pride coordinator for Cleveland.”

Hazirjian believes, however, that part of the consideration in choosing the train’s passengers was to reflect the “diversity of the coalition that was brought together to support Barack Obama.”

She also suspects the reason she got involved in the campaign may have had something to do with it--she was denied a university job because she is lesbian.

Last spring, she was offered a position at an out-of-state school, and during her contract negotiations she expressed concern over the lack of domestic partner benefits.

After she asked about health insurance for her partner, “The dialogue really broke down, the tone changed considerably,” and “the offer was revoked.”

“Really, when all that happened to me, I did talk to attorneys and investigated what my options might be, but without employment nondiscrimination legislation, I had no case,” she said.

She already supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that has been heard in Congress, but “when it happens to you, that just amplifies the commitment, so for me that really propelled a lot of my work on the campaign, and there were some folks pretty high up on the campaign who knew that was a factor in all the work I did.”

It will be a hectic weekend for the couple, starting with an early flight on Friday, January 16 to Philadelphia, where all of the sixteen chosen and their families will board the train the next morning.

The “inauguration express” will then stop in Wilmington, Delaware to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family, go on to Baltimore, Maryland, and end up in Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, the sixteen guests will participate in the inauguration’s kick-off event at the Lincoln Memorial, which will include an invocation by Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire whose ordination triggered an exodus of far-right congregations from the American branch of the Anglican Communion.

Robinson’s inclusion is seen as a counter to Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical who will be giving the invocation at the inauguration itself. Warren has spoken in favor of “conversion therapy” and other anti-gay beliefs, and while he works against AIDS in Africa, his allies there rely on abstinence-only education and have burned condoms.

Robinson’s invocation will be followed by an inaugural concert, which will be shown on cable network HBO. The station will allow cable subscribers who don’t pay for their service to watch the concert, including Robinson’s prayer, for free.

Among the other performers at the concert will be the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.

On January 19, the Obamas, Bidens and the sixteen families will participate in the National Day of Service that coincides with the commemoration of Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

The trip will wrap up with the inauguration itself, then a jaunt to view the parade, which will include a contingent from the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, including members of three Ohio groups: the Blazing River Freedom Band, the Capital Pride Band of Columbus and the Queen City Rainbow Band.

The families will then attend an inaugural ball, for which Hazirjian selected a classic.

“We both have black dresses and, not being a fashinista, that’s about as much as I can tell you about them,” she laughed, before delivering her punch line, “Black gowns, classic, elegant, sexy.”

Back in Cleveland, Hazirjian’s influence and the dedication of the other campaign volunteers will continue to be felt during her absence.

On Sunday, a canvass will be held on behalf of Cleveland Families Count, an organization that sprung up to counter a repeal effort against the city’s incipient domestic partner registry.

“Back in December, the Obama Pride Cleveland group got together and decided that the next thing folks wanted to be involved in was defending the domestic partner registry,” Hazirjian recounted.

To give extra punch to the effort, they are asking that volunteers donate new socks, underwear or toiletries to the Cleveland LGBT Center’s Metro Youth Outreach Program, which aids homeless youth.

The event is an official part of the Obama inauguration and has appeared on a few related websites, one of which then sent out information about it from soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama.

“I can tell where the responses are coming from,” Hazirjian said, noting that much interest in the canvass appears to have been generated by Ms. Obama’s email about the event.     

This material is copyrighted by the Gay People’s Chronicle. Permission is given only to repost the headline, byline, and one or two paragraphs, with the full name of the Gay People’s Chronicle and a link to the full article on our website. Reproduction of the entire article is prohibited without specific written permission.


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