A study by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on contemporary US presidents’ use of the word “gay” in public speeches or statements found that current president Barack Obama has said it the most, with 272 instances in the five years since his inauguration in 2009.
Second place went to Bill Clinton, who said “gay” 216 times while in office, from 1993 to 2001. An analysis showed that he said it 46 times in reference to gays in the military, and 80 times when discussing hate crime legislation. In 1998, during Clinton’s second term, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death for being gay; his murder put anti-gay violence on the national radar and furthered efforts to enact laws against hate crimes.
In contrast, between 2001 and 2009, George W. Bush said “gay” only twice, and one use was to express disapproval of same-sex marriage; he never made any speeches specifically on LGBT issues.
Both Ronald Regan (president from 1981-1989) and George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) never said the word at all in their presidential statements.
Obama has also used the widest LGBT vocabulary; the report found that he said “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” 421 times in total.
HRC’s president, Chad Griffin, said in a statement, “Words matter an enormous amount, and when President Obama uses his platform to declare that LGBT people are just as American as anyone else, it has a huge and historic effect. Evidence suggests that when people know us, they don’t want to discriminate against us.”
Studies have shown that one of the biggest factors that determines whether people are in favor of LGBT rights is knowing someone who is LGBT, and more and more people have been living their lives openly in the last few decades.
Starting with Massachusetts in 2004, seventeen states have legalized marriage equality in the last ten years.