Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The White House Pride Reception...Taking A Hard Look At Our Progress

A White House reception for Pride month has just wrapped up. That heads of activist organizations have been invited to the White House is not especially unique under this administration. The HRC alone spends more time at the White House than they do within their own offices. What marks this reception as different was that the heads of the largest LGBT lobbying groups where NOT invited. Since HRC has taken so much criticism of late for their utter lack of effectiveness given the amount of time they spend attending fancy cocktail parties, it will be interesting to see the results of what happens when they are specifically left off the guest list. So.....What happens when you mix a room full of gay activists with the President of the Unites States, and free cocktails? A very long speach. watch the video after the jump...

A full transcript is available below my commentary for those who cannot...or prefer watch the video.

Now...on to the meat of this little get together. All the applause aside, lets look at what was actually said....

More than half of this speach was to drive home the passage of the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Act, Hospital visitation rights, and a piecemeal extension of federal benefits to same-sex couples. I did my own transcription below and while I know its not a perfect version...nearly half of the text is devoted to these three accomplishments. Don't get me wrong...these are vital and VERY long overdue steps forward for which we can be glad....but lets also not forget that these same accomplishments didn't happen until the President came under criticism for not moving forward to fullfill ANY of his campaign promises.

For all the text devoted to what he has done...a relatively small amount was given to DOMA other than to say he has "called on Congress" to do something about it. Um....really? Thats it? Its that easy? Just say the magic words "I call on Congress to repeal DOMA and restore justice to all American citizens!" Wow...that felt good....too bad it didn't work. We need something more than calling on someone else to do the work. We need the President to take a definitive stand in support of repealing DOMA and a President who will not stand by while his Department of Justice issues homophobic and discriminatory rationalisations supporting DOMA. Without putting some teeth behind his statement of support it sounds a little like passing the buck to me.

Ditto for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It got barely two or three sentences out of the whole speach. And if its not right...or American for people to be fired from their jobs because of being gay...which most of us feel is self-evident...then whats the hold up? Why has it taken nearly 20 years to pass...and...WHY IS IT STILL SEEN AS A CONTRAVERSIAL BILL THAT DEMOCRATS ARE SCARED TO TOUCH! Can we agree to not have lawmakers quietly going about the halls of Congress spreading the word to NOT push for a vote on ENDA? That really sends the opposite message from the one delivered in this address.

And on to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"...Yes its fabulous that a bill was crafted that allowed everyone to feel like they got something. You can now beging siting that the law is all but repealed and the Pentagon gets an escape clause if they get the last minute willies. But not so fast Mr. President...we know what this compromise can mean and just how many things can go wrong. I would not put this one in your "done" box just yet. How long will this study take? and what the hell is there to study? Gay people have been in the military since its inception....who are we really making feel better here? The issue at hand is older than America as most of our older allies will attest...many of them having already integrated gays and lesbians into their militaries without suffering in combat readiness or valor.

In can't be sited enough. Integration of African Americans in the military didn't begin with a compromise or a study. No concensus was saught with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They work for the President and carry out his directives...they are soldiers too. Wheres the leadership on this one? The President keeps making allusions to time and how it takes time to create the kind of change we really want to see....but while that is true in one regard...trusting to time can also lead to the idea that change will come "later" and we fall back into the inertia of our lives. Change may well take time and patience but that doesn't preclude action in the here and now.

This is also another instance in which nothing happened until additional pressure was brought to bare via the actions of activists willing to participate in sit-ins and handcuffing themselves to the White House fence.

In closing....the statements made about LGBT youth were spot on and the portion of the speach in which I actually found some heart and inspiration. I have no idea who may have been sitting in the audience that day but clearly they made and impression. Every generation pushes the boundries a little farther...todays gay youth are doing things I could never have dreamed of at the same age...and to be at the White House to tell your story to the President of the United States was simply unimaginable for me then. How amazing that is. But will it move this administration beyond nice speaches and into substantial action and fearless leadership? That I can not say...I still hold to hope....but I also watch for something more. I hope the attendees of this reception do to.

Until next time dear readers...

Transcript(post intoductions):

Now look...the fact that we've got activists here is important because its a reminder that change never comes...or at least never begins in Washington. It begins, with acts of compassion and sometimes defiance, across America. It begins with ordinary people out of love for a mother or a father, son or daughter, husband or wife, speack out against injustices that have been accepted for too long....And it begins when these impostions of conscience start opening hearts that have been closed, and when we finally see each others humanity...whatever our differences. Now this struggle is as old as America itself. It's never been easy. But standing here, I am hopefull. One year ago, in this room, we marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall protests....(applause)...Some of you were here, and you may remember that I pledged then, that even at a time when we faced enormous challenges both on the economy and in our foreign policy, that we would not put aside matters of basic equality...and we haven't. We've got alot of hard work that we still have to do, but we can already point to extraordinary progress that we've made over tha past year on behalf of Americans who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

....Just stay with me here for a second....Last year I met with Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mom, and I promised her that after a decades long struggle, we would pass inclusive hate crimes legislation. I promised, that in the name of her son, we would ensure that the full might of the law is brought down on those who would attack somebody just because they are gay....And less than six months later, with Judy by my side, we marked the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act. It is now the law of the land. (Applause)

Just a few moments ago I met with Janice Langbehnand her children. Where did Janice go? ...There they are right there....and when Janice's partner of 18 years...Lisa...sundeenly collapsed because of an Aneurysm, Janice and the couples three kids were denied the chance to comfort their partner...and their mom...barred from Lisa's bedside. It was wrong. It was cruel....and, in part, because of their story I instructed my Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to make sure that any hospital thats participating in Medicare or Medicaid...that means most hospitals(laughter)...allow gay and lesbian partners the same priviledges and visitation rights as straight partners.....(applause)...

After I issued that memoradum...I called Janice and I told her the news. And before we came out here today, I wanted to make sure that I had followed up. Secretary Sebelius will officially be proposing this regulation. And I can also announce that the Secretary has sent a letter today, asking hospitals to adopt these new changes now...even before the rule takes effect....(applause)...So...Nothing can undo the hurt that her...that Janice's family has experienced. And nothing can undo the pain felt by countless others who've been through a similar ordeal. For example, Charlene Strong is here. She lost her wife, Kate Fleming...and Charlene is here along with kates mom. Who said on behalf of all mothers, "Thank you because we think it's the right thing to do"....(applause)...

In addition...I've issued and executive order to extend as many partnership benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees as possible under current law and I'me going to continue to fight to change the law. to guarantee gay federal employees the exact same benefits as straight employees...including access to health insurance and retirement plans...(applause)...

And in an anouncement today, The Department of Labor made clear that, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, same-sex well as others raising children...are to be treated like the caretakers that they are....(applause)...Because I believe in committed...I believe that committed gay and lesbian couple deserve the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this county, I have called for Congress to repeal the so called "Defense of Marriage Act"....(big applause)...

We are pushing hard to pass an inclusive employee non-descrimination bill....(applause) one in America should be fired because they're gay. Its not right. It's not who we are as Americans and we are gonna put a stop to it.

And finally...We are going to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"...(big applause)...That is a promise I made as a candidate. It is a promise that I reiterated as President. Its one that this administration is going to keep. Now...the only way to lock this in...the only way to get the votes in Congress to roll back this if we work with the Pentagon, who are in the midst of two wars. And that's why we were gratified to see...for the first time ever...The Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, testify in favor of repeal....and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, has repeatedly and passionately argued for allowing gay men and women to serve honestly in the military....(applause)...we know that forcing gay soldiers to live a lie or to leave the military, that doesn't contribute to our harms our security. And thanks to Patrick Murphy and others, for the first time in history, the House has passed a repeal that would allow gay men and women to openly serve in our armed forces. And this repeal is authored so that the Pentagon can complete its review of the policy...which is critical, by the way, not only to passage, but also critical to making sure that the change is accepted and implemented effectively.

In the Senate, the Armed Services Committee has approved  repeal for the first time, and the full body is poised to vote soon.'s the bottom line...we have never been closer to ending this discriminatory policy. And I'm gonna keep on fighting until that bill is on my desk and I can sign it....(applause)...

Of course...ultimately...change is about more than just policies in our government. And thats why I want to close by recognizing all the young people who are here. I had a change to take a bunch of pictures with them...just really impressive folks who are advocating on their behalf. I know their are some in the audience who have experienced pain in their lives. Who at times have been...felt like outcasts, who have been scorned or bullied. And I know that there are families here on behalf of loved ones who are no longer with us...some in part because of the particularly difficult challenges that gay men and women still face. This is a reminder that we all still have and obligation to ensure that no young person is ever made to feel worthless or alone...ever. the same time, I think there's plenty of reason to have some hope for many of the young people, including those who are here today. they've shown incredible courage and incredible integrity, standing up for who they are. they've refused to be anything less than themselves...and we all remember being young...sort of....(laughter)...but it's not easy. It's not easy standing up all the time and being who you are. But they are showing us the way forward. These young people are helping to build a more perfect union...a nation where all of us are equal...each of us is free to pursue our own versions of hapiness....and I believe, because of them, that the future is bright. It's certainly bright for them. Of course, it does depend on all of us. It depends of the efforts of government and the activism of ordinary citizens like yourselves. It depends of the love of families and the support of communities....And I want you all to know, that as this work continues, I'm going to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with  you, fighting by your side every step of the way.


  1. I watched. So I guess some progress has been made.

    On a local front the Asshat Republican Governor of RI vetoed an expanded hate crimes bill. I can't wait until his ass is out the door in 2011.

  2. As much as i love your videos and family. I have to disagree with your stance on president Obama. I feel that he is doing a magnificent job in terms of advancing the Gay community. I don't know of any other specific group thats received as much attention since Obama has been president. I feel that Obama has made signigicant strides in a relatively short amount of time, and there are other issues than gay rights.

    We're still in two wars, the economy is still slow, theres a giant hole in the ocean currently damaging my home state of Louisiana possibly beyond repair, and every other day he has to battle republicans who seem to think the smartest way to run this country is to filibuster every hint of progression in the Senate.

    I'm all for holding our elected officials accountable, but i don't know why people feel as if the President is just throwing us bones.

  3. As a gay man living in the USA I am frustrated!!! I wonder when politicians will realize that our block of voters has quite a bit of money and that this block is growing larger by the day. Yes..the closet door has been opened and NOM or any other crazy group will not be able to close it. Kids are coming out in high school now. Every single one of these kids have friends and family members who support them..and they are part of that "block" too. My Dad was an AVID Republican. He would be rolling over in his grave right now if he knew what was going on in that party. It used to mean.."government stay out of our lives.." Now it seems they want to get into our bedrooms and tell us what is right and what is wrong..

    Am I disappointed with President Obama? Yes..a bit..but what is our other choice? McCain/Palin? Mike Huckabee? The President has done more for us than any other president so far..but I want more. I want full equality and I want it now!! I think I was just born 20 years too soon...

  4. @ anonymous poster who disagrees with my stance...

    I have to agree with you that the world has lots of problems that are as important/more important to solve than gay rights. The massive oil slick still spewing from the ocean floor would be on the top of my "fix now" list if I were in the Oval Office....that said, we have a very short window in which we have an advantage to make these things happen and a President who made some rather large claims that are not coming to fruition. I don't think we should set the bar so low that the goal is easy to when we meet mediocre goals we can say, "wow...look at what we did". We need to set the bar really high so that even if we don't make that goal this time around we can still be amazed at how much more was actually accomplished....

  5. Well, it could have been worse! I was very politically aware about the candidates for President during the last election, and though Obama was a good candidate, he wasn't the best. I remember him dodging many questions about LGBT issues and avoided the Gay Marriage question like the plague. It is true that he cares, but sometimes you really do get what you voted for. Frankly, I was astounded that he even bothered to ask Congress to repeal DOMA. Maybe, given enough pressure, even a presidential walnut has something to yield...

    It shouldn't be too much of a surprise, because though Americans might poll closely divided on some of the LGBT issues, they certainly don't vote that way. I know: I live in Michigan, a stage that changed its own constitution to make sure that some groups don't get the rights they deserve. You know things look grim when California has its Marriage rights repealed!

    As far as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it makes some sense that they'd want to "further survey" the situation. With such a hostile population at home, it would be strange if there weren't quite a few soldiers who harbored the same feelings. Thus unlike a more progressive country, like the Netherlands for instance, it could feasibly cause a problem.

    On a more positive note, I feel nothing but pure elation concerning the Matthew Shepard Act!!!!!!!!! I had a feeling I voted for you, Mr. President, for a reason. However, let's not undermine all the work both his family and the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, along with others, did to further the bill.

    I think it might be time to step it up a bit, Mr. President.
    ...SOON, please

  6. I'm always horribly behind on my reading, but I want to remind you that you're an excellent thinker and writer. :)

  7. I like your videos and your blogs, but I think you missed a point about President Obama. He is the executive branch, not the legislative branch. It is not up to him to change legislation, and it has been great to have a president to finally speak up for LGBT rights as forthrightly as he has.

    As for DADT, there are definitely issues that Pentagon needs to address, even when in principle they support gays to serve openly. For example, what happens to all the people who were forced out under DADT? Can they return to their old jobs? With retroactive pay? With seniority restored? What about housing and privacy issues for Marines who share accommodation? Would you expect men and women to share quarters and toilets? It is not unreasonable to study these and other issues before implementing the changes.

    I agree with you that there needs to be a limit to the length of time for studies, and that time for action is soon. I think it's a good idea to accept that the president and his team are acting on good faith, trying to implement changes as quickly as they see fit.