Obama’s Gay-Rights Record: Patience Vs. Protest
It’s been just under ten months since Barack Obama took the oath of office. So why isn’t America a shiny, lavender-hued Shangri-La where LGBTs serve openly in the military, same sex marriage is the law of the land, AIDS funding has grown to meet actual needs, and heterosexuals erupt in applause as you swish your way down the street?
Some say Obama has turned his back on LGBTs. Some say he cares, but traction on many issues has gone from "Yes we can" to "Yes, we will, but not right now." Some say he’s a savvy, stealthy ally who’s waiting, cat-like, for a second term to pounce on each and every little thing we care about.
Pretty much everyone agrees, though, that the current administration is light years ahead of the tone set during the last eight years of Bush. They’re also asking: Is that enough?
An eclectic group of activists, academics and humorists commented on the current administration’s job performance thus far, gay-wise.
Who Does Live Up to Campaign Rhetoric?
As for whether or not Obama has lived up to the implied commitments or outright promises he made in order to get the lion’s share of the LGBT vote, Professor Gary Bailey of the Simmons College School of Social Work asks, "Does any candidate ever live up to their campaign rhetoric? I’d argue none of them ever do, or they would never get elected to office. This president came into office with more on his plate than any president in recent memory."
Humorist Kate Clinton shares that sentiment, and gives it an appropriate punchline. "President Obama is a thin man with a lot on his plate," she says. "We’re the lima beans. Yet I know from friends working deep within the administration that they are finding infrastructure in disarray from the anti-government hack years of Bush cronies and they are restaffing and rebuilding."
At least, Clinton says, we’re getting our foot in the door these days: "Friends that lobbied for eight years for LGBT funding and could either not get a meeting or got a distracted fifteen minutes, are finding that they are being heard and funded."
But There Have Been Gains
Mara Keisling confirmed that newfound access and acknowledgement Kate Clinton spoke of. The executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality also points to gains made via the recent House vote to include gender expression and identity in federal hate crimes legislatyion.
The Obama administration, Keisling adds, sent "a very high ranking official," acting chairperson Stuart Ishimaru, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to an ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) hearing earlier in the House earlier this year.
And last week, at a hearing in the Senate committee regarding ENDA, the administration sent the assistant attorney general for civil rights. "Every time they’ve had an opportunity to weigh in on ENDA, they have," she says. "And they’ve done it very strongly in our favor."
A Glass Half-Full?
Bailey says it’s important to recognize that much of what Obama has accomplished so far has directly benefitted the LGBT community, even if the issue didn’t come custom-wrapped in a rainbow-hued ribbon.
"There has been a Herculean effort to do things that are more under the radar than above it," Bailey says. "Health care is an LGBT issue. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 affects lesbians."
Some pro-LGBT actions initiated by the Obama administration occurred without much notice or comment from the press, conservative groups or politicians.
Bailey points out that the Obama administration has moved to recognize, through the State Department, marriages from Massachusetts. "That means passports are being issued in a same sex spouse’s name," he points out. "There’s also change going on in the United Nations, thorough Ambassador Rice, such as including LGBT language in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were blocking that under the Bush administration."
Is the lack of immediate administrative action on big issues like gays in the military and same sex marriage really just a smokescreen for pushing through the less objectionable or sexy issues?
Kate Clinton, like Bailey, notes some significant developments on three fronts which failed to become contested hot button issues: "The administration has lifted the HIV immigration restrictions, signed The Hate Crime Statistics Act, and made census changes to count LGBT people."
So it doesn’t seem to much of a stretch, she reasons, to let gays carry guns and go to war: "They should drop Rahm Emmanuel’s Clinton era heebie jeebies about gays in the military--we’re all 16 years older now--and get rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
Like many gay activists, Clinton supports gay military personnel serving openly, if not the wars they are fighting: "President Obama, who got our hopes up opposing the war in Iraq, should remove the U.S. from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and stop the insane cycle of violence. Some say it’s a one-term guarantee, but I am not so sure."