President Obama warns about ‘battles ahead’ on LGBT rights

President Obama has warned that there will be “tough battles” on LGBT equality in the future.

The outgoing Democratic President, who leaves office after eight years tomorrow, made the warning in his final press conference yesterday.

Obama was asked if he thinks progress on LGBT equality “will endure or continue under the President-elect”.

He said: “I’m proud that in certain places we maybe provided a good block downfield to help the movement advance.

“I don’t think it is something that will be reversible because American society has changed; the attitudes of young people, in particular, have changed.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be some fights that are important – legal issues, issues surrounding transgender persons – there are still going to be some battles that need to take place.

“But if you talk to young people of Malia, Sasha’s generation, even if they’re Republicans, even if they’re conservative, many of them would tell you, I don’t understand how you would discriminate against somebody because of sexual orientation. That’s just sort of burned into them in pretty powerful ways.”

Mike Pence has previously suggested plans to pare back executive orders signed by President Obama that provide “crucial protections for LGBT workers, including one that states federal contractors can’t be fired on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation”.

One of President-elect Trump’s few direct policy pledges is to sign the First Amendment Defence Act, which would permit businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the grounds of religion.

Reflecting on his own legacy, President Obama said he was proud to have brought about change.

He said: “I could not be prouder of the transformation that’s taken place in our society just in the last decade. And I’ve said before, I think we made some useful contributions to it, but the primary heroes in this stage of our growth as a democracy and a society are all the individual activists, and sons and daughters and couples who courageously said, this is who I am and I’m proud of it.

“And that opened people’s minds and opened their hearts. And, eventually, laws caught up. But I don’t think any of that would have happened without the activism — in some cases, loud and noisy, but in some cases, just quiet and very personal.

“And I think that what we did as an administration was to help the society to move in a better direction, but to do so in a way that didn’t create an enormous backlash, and was systematic and respectful of the fact that, in some cases, these issues were controversial.

“I think the way we handled, for example, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ — being methodical about it, working with the Joint Chiefs, making sure that we showed this would not have an impact on the effectiveness of the greatest military on Earth — and then to have Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Chairman Mike Mullen and a Joint Chiefs who were open to evidence and ultimately worked with me to do the right thing — I am proud of that. But, again, none of that would have happened without this incredible transformation that was happening in society out there.

“You know, when I gave Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I meant what I said. I think somebody that kind and likeable projecting into living rooms around the country — that changed attitudes. And that wasn’t easy to do for her. And that’s just one small example of what was happening in countless communities all across the country.”

Related: 19 ways Obama changed the world on LGBT rights