Newsweek’s cover this week declares that Barack Obama is the “First Gay President,” playing on the reader’s knowledge that Obama isn’t himself gay, but his support for same-sex marriage earns him an honorary rainbow halo. The headline obviously calls back to 1998, when Toni Morrison declared Bill Clinton the first black president in The New Yorker, which at the time was edited by current Newsweek editor Tina Brown. ”Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas,” Morrison wrote, laying out the formula for how to declare a President has attained the identity of someone else through actions and behaviors. Newsweek’s cover has been called “controversial” and “pretty shocking,” but it’s merely the most recent in presidential firsts that weren’t for the country’s actual first black president.
First Female President: Perhaps Newsweek should have been more specific and declared Obama the “first lesbian president’ because the magazine’s already given him the honor of womanhood. During the 2008 campaign, Martin Linski wrote, “Obama doesn’t play the sax. But he is pushing against conventional—and political party nominating convention—wisdom in five important ways, with approaches that are usually thought of as qualities and values that women bring to organizational life.” The headline? “Obama: First Female President?”
In June 2010, The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker took the question mark out of the way. ”Obama: Our first female president,” her headline declared. Her column made the case that his crisis management style was more typically female.