No Surprises

I was not the only one who anticipated that the President would not say anything new at HRC’s annual dinner last Saturday. As I posted on the Blade (full text below), I knew that he was going to reaffirm his unwavering support for the gays and for equal rights for all Americans. Sure enough he also touted his upcoming signing of the Hate Crimes Bill. Anyone who has been following the administration’s actions on behalf of the community could have predicted all this.

I still remain grateful to Mr. Obama for showing up and mentioning lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in speeches to larger audiences. However, I no longer have any expectations of the Nobel laureate, at least when it comes to LGBT rights. He and his administration have set out their priorities and while we can all argue about what should or shouldn’t be in their agenda, fact is, they have made their calculations and are moving accordingly.

We should get over it, roll up our sleeves and start working. Daddy’s not going to join us.

Saturday Surprise?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade, October 9, 2009.

This Saturday, President Obama will address our community at HRC’s annual national dinner. While I welcome and appreciate the gesture, I wonder if this is a good idea. Who advises him on all things gay, anyway?

The administration has disappointed us from day one, from the choice of Rick Warren to lead the invocation during the inauguration to the decision to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In spite of candidate Obama’s promise to be our “fierce advocate,” the White House has been at best tepid on gay issues, opting for inaction glossed over by private gatherings, meetings and photo-ops with the LGBT elite.

As such, Mr. Obama needs to deliver more than sweet words this weekend if he is to retain whatever credibility and support he, his administration and the Democratic Party have, particularly among those who don’t get to party at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or have pictures taken with him.

So what might he announce? What concrete action can he tout? His choice of a gay ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa? Progress on hate crimes legislation? The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (or at least a stay on dismissals of out lesbian and gay soldiers)?

An openly gay ambassador is nothing new. In 1999, President Clinton appointed James Hormel to be our Ambassador to Luxembourg and two year later, George W. Bush made Michael Guest our chief diplomat in Romania. And with all due respect to New Zealand and Samoa, they are not exactly G20 material, like France, Brazil or India.

As for hate crimes legislation – it’s been in the pipeline for some time now, so the president can’t really take much credit for that other than signing it into law when it gets to his desk.

That leaves “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and actually doing something about the insidious law other than musing about it. Among all the things Mr. Obama can do for us, action on DADT will cost him the least political capital. This is a bone he can easily throw us on Saturday.

But considering that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act might actually make it to the finish line within the coming weeks, I think Mr. Obama will (a) reiterate his commitment to full equality for all and (b) use the hate crimes measure as his administration’s good faith deposit to us. There will be no (c). I will be very surprised if he decides to be proactive on DADT.

But it is what it is. I have no doubt about the president’s progressive heart, but I am also aware of the realities of politics and policymaking. He does have a whole lot on his plate. Health care reform. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The growing unemployment rate and widening inequity.

I am grateful for the president’s decision to show up this weekend, whether it is out of sincere solidarity with our community or out of political expediency. Whatever the reasoning of his advisers, the fact remains that every time he mentions us or is seen with us, he bolsters the case for equality for all Americans. It is up to us to continue the struggle after this weekend.


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