Which means we need to stop being patient, stop giving him time, and start raising our voices until we are heard.
by Jennifer Vanasco
First published in the Chicago Free Press, May 6, 2009
By the end of Barack Obama’s first 100 days, it became clear: gays and lesbians are not this president’s priority.
He stopped mentioning us, except for two notable cases: the brouhaha surrounding the invitation of Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural prayer, and the call to Congress to support including sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crimes.
Then, at just about the 100 day mark, bloggers started pointing out something disturbing: WhiteHouse.gov had stripped its “civil rights” page of almost all things gay.
It narrowed down promises to the LGBT community from eight to three, and from a full half-page to a few sentences.
When bloggers called the White House to protest, some of the promises came back, including a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — but talk of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act had disappeared.
What also disappeared was this moving quote from Obama himself, on June 1, 2007, when he was still in campaign mode and working for our votes:
“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”
When blogger John Aravosis called the White House to ask what was going on, this is what he was told:
"Campaign promises are campaign promises. It is not enough that Obama said he was our ‘fierce advocate’ during the campaign. He needs to now show us that he is our president as well."
“Recently we overhauled the issues section to concisely reflect the President’s broad agenda, and will continue to update these pages. The President’s commitment on LGBT issues has not changed, and any suggestions to the contrary are false.”
Well. Maybe we’d believe that Obama’s commitment hasn’t changed if we saw some action on our issues, instead of almost complete avoidance.
Obama made that call for hate crimes legislation, great. Of course, that was the easiest of our issues to get behind — it is supported by the majority of our police forces and attorneys general, after all.
And yes, he’s facing big issues — the economic meltdown, two wars, now a retiring Supreme Court Justice. But in his first 100 days, he was somehow able to make it easier for women to sue for equal pay, lift Bush’s ban on stem cell research, lift the traveling restrictions for Cuban-Americans to Cuba, and protect two million acres of wilderness.
In other words, he made significant, sweeping change in government and for some groups of people, change that is only tangentially related — if at all — to the economy, or to the wars.
We’ve seen change, all right. Good change. For others. But we haven’t seen change for gays and lesbians and we haven’t seen proof of commitment to our issues.
Campaign promises are campaign promises. It is not enough that Obama said he was our “fierce advocate” during the campaign. He needs to now show us that he is our president as well.
Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Clinton, pointed out in the Washington Post that Obama has no gay friends close to him in the administration. He does, however, seem to have evangelical friends.
If it’s true that you can tell a person by the company they keep, then we may be in deeper trouble than we know. We’ll have to see what the next 100 days brings.
Obama is a good president. But we are clearly not his priority. He has forgotten, perhaps, that we are part of America’s “founding promise.” Which means we need to stop being patient, stop giving him time, and start raising our voices until we are heard.