It was thrilling, too, for Jones, 58. He worked with Harvey Milk, one of America's first openly gay politicians, who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until his assassination in 1978. Jones was also the man behind the AIDS Quilt, which documented the lives of thousands who perished in the epidemic.
"I am kind of beside myself. I have to pinch myself sometimes," he said. "I never thought I would live long enough to see this. Never. Ever."
He pointed to electoral victories in November in which voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine approved same-sex marriage. Six other states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York -- and the District of Columbia already recognized same-sex marriage. Gay couples can even marry now in the National Cathedral.
In Wisconsin, voters elected the country's first openly gay U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin. Shortly after, Richard Blanco became the first openly gay poet to read at a presidential inauguration. The Boy Scouts of America said it was reconsidering its anti-gay policy. Fast food chain Chick-fil-A, under fire in July for its financial support of anti-gay groups, stopped making those donations. Marriott Corp., founded by Mormons, joined a coalition of big businesses in fighting the Defense of Marriage Act.
On Tuesday, Obama announced an immigration reform plan that includes protections for same-sex bi-national couples. The next day, the Internet was on fire with objections to anti-gay comments made by San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culver. Culver apologized in yet another example of how much more tolerant America has become of gay Americans.
All this comes after Obama publicly endorsed same-sex marriage in May. The year before, the U.S. military repealed its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, allowing gay men and women to serve openly.
Jones credits much of the progress to Obama, anointed by Newsweek magazine as "the first gay president," after his endorsement of same-sex marriage.
Obama's election in 2008 was a milestone -- for black America and for gay America -- Jones said. But there was more to the story.
On the same day that Obama was elected in 2008, voters in California passed Proposition 8, which effectively banned same-sex marriages after the state's high court had ruled them legal.
"It was a slap in the face for younger generations," Jones said.
That was also a year that Sean Penn won an Oscar for his performance as Harvey Milk. Jones said he believes the passage of Prop 8 along with the celluloid version of Milk's story helped galvanize a new generation of people to campaign for gay rights.
He has been working to sustain the momentum. Critical, he said, are the same-sex marriage hearings in the Supreme Court in late March. Jones is helping plan a day of action on March 25, the anniversary of the arrival of civil rights marchers from Selma at the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.
"How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in Selma.
That's how Jones looks at today's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movement. "If someone had told me in 1972 I would be campaigning for joining the military or for marriage, I'd be laughing," he said. "Now I really believe I am going to see us win our political battle."
Progress, but not finished
Michael Shutt attended an "Out for Equality" ball during the inauguration festivities in Washington. Everyone, he said, was talking about the importance of the president's speech in terms of the movement. Just that people were talking about LGBT issues was a big step, Shutt felt.
He returned home to Atlanta to attend a five-day leadership conference of about 3,000 LGBT activists. Shutt, who is director of Emory University's LGBT Campus Life office, said one of his students was so moved that he cried through every session.
The mood this year was different.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which sponsored the "Creating Change" conference in Atlanta, said in her opening statement that for many years, participants have convened still feeling the sting of the ballot box. Other years, they came together to lift each other up in the face of legal losses and policy disappointments.
"This is not that year," she told the conference last week. "This year was the year when enough people stood together, joined together and said, 'Enough.'"
She mentioned progress in every sphere, a "watershed moment 40 years in the making." But she warned that much work remained to be done.
A loving gay couple can get married, have the wedding of their dreams, come home, put a picture on their desk of their honeymoon and then get fired, legally, for doing so.
"There are 29 states that lack any semblance of protections," she said. "LGBT people lack the very foundational protections that so many have sought in this country."
"We are so thankful for the progress we have made but now is not the time to rest," she said, "because there are so many people who are experiencing discrimination simply because of who they are and who they love."
Emory's Shutt said, for example, that much work still needs to be done with educating young people and providing ample support for LGBT students on college campuses.