Editor's Letter: Why We Shot the President of the United States of America

obama out100
Photography by Ryan Pfluger

President Obama and I had a marvelous day, walking in a park, laughing, and generally enjoying one another’s company. At one point he shot a few hoops with this hipster kid from Williamsburg; at another I found myself in a church while he muttered a prayer over my head. That was strange, as I’m not remotely religious, but I felt blessed nonetheless. Who wouldn’t? We stopped at an art gallery (very expressive stuff), and the president spent half an hour in animated conversation with the artist. It was a warm day, there were still leaves on the trees, and I remember thinking, How extraordinary to be spending such a rich day with the most powerful man in the world. I badly wanted to get a selfie of us together, but for some reason my cell phone was missing.

And then I woke up—literally a few minutes ago and realized my new friendship would have to wait; we still had one more day to wrap up this issue, an annual monster that threatens, every year, to overwhelm our best intentions. What are those intentions? First, to reflect the energy and diversity of our energetic and diverse community; and, second, to measure our progress. The perfect issue of the Out100 should feel like a snapshot of the year, a status report on our individual and collective achievements. Naturally that means photographing Caitlyn Jenner as this year’s newsmaker, but it also means honoring people who make the headlines but are not necessarily in the headlines—people like Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter; Jose Antonio Vargas, a key figure in the fight to change U.S. immigration policy, or a young gay Syrian refugee like Subhi Nahas. His narrow escape from Islamic State militia is a dismaying reality-check on any complacency we may feel in the wake of our own newfound liberties.

SLIDESHOW | Out100 2015

As for the great success story of 2015—marriage equality—this portfolio would be bereft without the inclusion of Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the groundbreaking case that ensured all Americans the right to marry. And yes, for the same reason, it means photographing the 44th President of the United States as our Ally of the Year—a president who came to office on a wave of euphoria, appeared to lose momentum halfway through, and has since rallied, helping us secure marriage equality, among other landmark initiatives that are transforming our place in America. This is the first time a sitting president has been photographed for the cover of an LGBT title, a historic moment in itself, and a statement on how much his administration has done to advance a singularly volatile issue that tarnished the reputations of both President Clinton and President Bush. It might have tarnished this president, too, but for his late-hour conversion in 2012, which set the stage for the extraordinary succession of events that led to this year’s Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, making it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to wed. Many things led up to that decision—“decades of our brothers and sisters fighting for recognition and equality” as the president notes—but once his administration decided to join that fight it created what people like to call a “transformative” moment. It helped tip the balance, and it put our elected leader on the right side of justice.

You do not get much time with the president for a photo shoot—about four minutes, five if you’re lucky—and there’s something surreal and tense about kicking your heels in the White House library while waiting for your subject to materialize. Yet when the president walks into the room—and it’s a small room, lined with books and a few ornamental swords, one gifted to George Washington by the French—the air rushes in with him. Unconsciously, you find yourself forming a receiving line, and suddenly there he is, shaking your hand, asking your name, and then standing before the camera. It’s hard not to be starstruck. A little turn this way, a little that way, an ice-breaking joke (“this is the only expression I’ve got”), and we are done. The president strides off, the room empties. There was no walk in the park, or blessing, no visit to an art gallery. I am not likely to meet the president again. But I did get that selfie.

SLIDESHOW | Out100 2015

Obama

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