Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Yesterday, like so many others I was tuned into the live White House video feed to watch President Obama’s speech at the White House reception in honor of LGBT Pride Month.

One thing's for certain, Barack Obama knows how to give a speech. It was the clearest and most direct statement on our rights from him that we've heard in a while. Unfortunately, given what we've been hearing since he took office, that's not really saying all that much.

Thing is, we all know he talks a good game. He can make LGBT Americans feel welcome and included like no other President, maybe even no other federal politician in history, ever has. Other than his lack of support for same-sex marriage the problem the LGBT community has with Obama has never been about what he says, the problem is with what he does - or doesn't do.

Even knowing that, I'm still heartened by this speech. Not just by what he said, but by the way he laid his agenda out there and basically told everyone in that room (and by extension the rest of our community) to hold him accountable for it.

During the campaign, Obama called jokingly called himself a "hopemonger". I think it may be perhaps one of the most truly accurate descriptions of him. His words can't help but fill you with hope for the future. But hope does not, in fact, spring eternal. Hope has a limited life span unless it's nourished with progress toward the hoped-for goal. And when hope dies, it's often replaced by anger.

Congressional Democrats have failed to nourish our hope by passing anything significant on LGBT rights as yet, and the Obama Administration made things infinitely worse by offering that horrific DOMA brief and (thus far) failing to withdraw it. Not just a failure to nurture our hope on the part of the Administration, the DOMA brief was political equivalent of spraying it with a highly toxic poison, causing it to wither quickly and dramatically, inspiring a corresponding and predictable surge of anger from the LGBT community in response.

Obama's speech yesterday was certainly an attempt to undo or at least lessen some of the damage done to the Administration's and the Party's relationship with the LGBT community. Not true progress in any real sense, this speech was more of a palliative effort to buy himself and Congress a little more time to get things done.

I'm inclined to think we've made our point, but by no means do I think we should stop pushing or stop holding the President and the Democrats accountable for failing to deliver. In fact, I think it's time to keep the pressure on like never before.

By denying the DNC donations, we deny the entire Party, which I believe is appropriate at this time. In order to corral the votes of skittish Democrats we have to be to demonstrate that it will cost them just as much to oppose our rights as it would to support them. Aside from our actual votes, withdrawing monetary support is the single best way to demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and its failures.

Conversely, there should be a resumption of support once truly significant progress is made, but that support should be clearly and directly tethered to continued and consistent progress on LGBT rights. Much like the Democratic Congress did with the bailout money by requiring the automakers to demonstrate viability as a precondition to receiving the funds, we need to tie our support of the Democratic Party to actual, measurable success in delivering on their promises to us.

As the Democrats in Congress have clearly demonstrated over and over, particularly in the Senate, the only time they can be counted upon to do anything significant on our issues is when there's a political gun pointed at their collective head. We have to be the ones holding that gun and we have to keep holding it right where it is, ready to fire at a moment's notice, until we get what we want and need from these people.

It would be nice if we could just trust that all will be well in time without forcing the issue like this, but after all the history - not just this century, but even just this year - it's the only strategy that makes sense anymore.

While the Senate is attaching the hate crimes bill as a sweetener to a defense authorization spending bill that contains money for F-22 jets the President doesn’t want and has said he will veto, another transwoman is violently attacked in a hate crime in a state where the hate crimes law doesn’t cover people like her.

Obama’s words may make us feel good, but feeling good just isn’t enough. Americans are losing jobs and careers and being denied opportunities for no good reason. Americans are being thrown out their homes. Relationships are being denied legal recognition to detriment of thousands of law-abiding, taxpaying Americans, their friends, and loved ones. Americans are being violently attacked and even murdered in the streets of our cities for the crime of being who they are.

This is happening right now. Today. It has been going on unabated for decades, centuries even. With Barack Obama in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, there’s no longer any rational excuse for failing to pass equal rights for all Americans into law, and there’s no excuse for delaying the process even one second longer than absolutely necessary. Not if the supportive words we’re hearing from this President and this Congress are to have any real meaning at all.

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