Saturday, September 18, 2010

The View From Under The Bus

Of the goals the gay community has as signposts on the way to full legal equality, three of the biggest are:

1) ENDA the Employment Non-Discrimination Act whose passage would make it illegal to fire someone from their job on the basis of sexual identity. This one sees most of its resistance because it includes a provision for transgendered peoples.
2) DOMA....repealing the Defense Of Marriage Act which currently protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states stands as a barrier to the recognition of same-sex marriage on a federal level. this dovetails with the individual state fights for same-sex marriage recognition.
3)DADT....also a repeal action, giving Don't Ask, Don't Tell the ax would end the discharge of LGBT people from the United States armed forces on the basis of their sexual identity.

They are also specific items that the White House has promised to specifically in the case of Don't Ask, Don't Tell...or promised to work toward as part of their advocacy and "change you can believe in".

Boiling them down to their essence... employment protection, military service, and marriage equality...all have the common denominator of seeking equal treatment under the law for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered U.S. citizens. No special treatments or provisions...just the ability to reap the same legal benefits from our society that our straight fellows enjoy...seeing as how we are expected pay our taxs and fulfill all other obligations of U.S. citizenship....expecting equal legal treatment is not too much to ask....but then, why is it so easy for lawmakers to throw us under the bus? Since, despite promises, it's likely that we will see NONE of these things accomplished this

Remember ENDA? Its been kicking around in congress since 1994. This year was one of the most promising years to see its passage being that we had a "fierce advocate" in the oval office and a democratic majority in congress. Yet, month after month it failed to make it to a vote. Various excuses were given for why lawmakers were simply "too busy" to touch it with a ten foot pole. When the foot dragging and excuses got to be enough and groups like GETequal did a sit-in at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi...then we saw a little fire under lawmakers to move. Then we saw quotes from Pelosi that ENDA would see a vote before the end of the year. Well....its now September and everyday we grow closer to the end of the year. Hopes to see ENDA passed have dwindled to nothing....especially as the elections approach and the democratic party faces the likely hood of losing its majority in Congress...and subsequently the power to get anything done.

DOMA...Our president regards as discriminatory, even though he does not support same-sex marriage. Were it not for the court cases slowly winding their way to the Supreme Court from Maine and California, this legislation would face no challenge at all...even from those who claim to be our allies.

DADT......Isn't this monstrosity gone yet? Finding people who claim they support this policy is becoming harder and harder to find. Even prominent republicans are coming out in opposition to it. As it stands, Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried....goaded on by Lady Gaga's calling attention to the issue in very vocal and very public ways(1,2)...has submitted the policy repeal to a vote attached to the upcoming Defense Authorization Bill, where it's passage is in question,  and if they can defeat a fillibuster attempt by Senatory John McCain.

But lets look at what we are really getting here. Passage of this bill does not automatically repeal DADT if it passes. The compromise language  basically says that, a repeal is possible...if...the Pentagon completes it's report on the impact of the repeal and its findings satisfy President Obama, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense. All of these individuals must then sign off on the bill for a repeal to occur. This leaves lots of room for interperation of data. Any one of these three individuals could refuse depending on how they chose to view that information gleaned from the Pentagon study...or how they can spin it. This is what we are actually getting in the upcoming vote....packaged and labeled as a repeal. There are so many weak links in this chain that it could easily end up much like ENDA...lots of promise, no result.

Add to this a recent statement that President Obama threatens to veto the bill even if it passes....if the bill contains a provision for a certain jet fighter engine, which he opposes. Now...the bill ALSO contains provisions for the DREAM Act, which the President also claims to support. The purpose of the DREAM Act...

" is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation."

So...because of monies allocated to a jet engine he opposes, which may be included in the bill, President Obama is willing to kill the civil rights of gay soldiers and path to citizenship for young people that includes access to college and military service? What kind of repeal is this if its not even fully supported by one its architects? Does any else see this as a bad attempt to get out of passing a DADT repeal with a flimsy excuse?

And so a clear pattern has emerged. In my opinion...I don't believe that granting civil rights are a priority to our President or anyone of the members of his administration...despite strident claims to the contrary. My reason for that opinion are the tire treads on my back from the bus that is currently running us over...all so that Democrats can save a little face come Novembers election time.

I understand that this Administration likes to build consensus. Its a meme that gets spun often. But it seems equally likely that no one wants to be seen as the one who pushed the button OK'ing a gay rights bill. No one wants to take the stand and say that whats happening to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people is...Patently...Clearly...not right and must be stopped. No one wants to be seen leading the charge for gay rights for fear of losing the vote elsewhere...thus the drive for consensus serves as a great place to hide. Nancy Pelosi's staffers get caught making statements to junior lawmakers not to push for the passage of "contraversial bills" ....Joe Biden admits on air that gay troops are still being discharged because those where the terms of the compromise they made to get enough votes for the compromise repeal...(ugh!) The President goes on record the Doma is discriminatory, yet does not support marriage equality.....(huh?)

I sometimes wonder how much President Obama's religious beliefs figure into his resistance to taking a stronger stance on these issues. I know a certain percentage of tea partying Americans believe that the President is a muslim....but, in fact his previous place of worship was a very vocal and not-so gay friendly Christian church in his home state.  Is it possible that he simply does not want to see any of this legislation passed because it goes against his personal belief system? Whether or not this is true, I do think that this fight is not personal for the President. Mayby if he were gay then the magic Presidential pen would have long ago stopped DADT. Perhaps he would understand why ending DOMA is important when it would mean something to his life. But right now...I see a man who doesn't seem to really support the change he promised to bring.

You know...I may be stretching a bit with this...and it is not directed at particular individuals...but I think that one of the reasons that some people feel so comfortable looking down on the gay community is the perception that being gay somehow equals being weak. The same mindset that makes a young man harrass another by calling him "queer" and "faggot" in high school, doesn't go away just because he gets older and one day lands a senate seat. I sometimes wonder how much of that factor is behind the foot dragging, stalling, and sometimes outright hostility of elected officials. I'm often amazed at the fact that its still o.k. to say insanely offensive things about gay people with no backlash or consequences...some people even nod their heads in agreement. All this at a period in history when we have already confronted so many other forms of discrimination and should have learned those lessons.

So here we are at the tail end of 2010, hoping to see passage of a repeal that makes no gaurantees to us...picking up the crumbs left behind by the people who where supposed to be our friends and allies. No hope for ENDA is in sight and repealing DOMA is going to be a long. bloody, legal battle with an uncertain outcome. I'm not sure where  my vote will go in November but I know I can not bring myself to vote for a matter how deceptive the Democrats have been. However I do not appreciate being lied to...or my rights used to ensure their place in office.

But these are the politics of compromise...of standing by and waiting politely for the world to change. It's ironic that the most effective movement on any gay rights issue is coming from the courts. I wonder what pressure the White House is feeling knowing that they made all these promises and fullfilled virtually none of them...and the reminders of those promises are steadily growing closer to them one trial at a time. Each judgement of the unconstitutionality of DOMA and DADT mocks the promises and soundbites that were made to secure their place in office. If the day does comes that these policies are struck down by the Supreme Court...none of the people who claimed to be our advocates will have the right to take credit for it. They dragged their feet...They offered excuses...They did nothing to take a stand.

Now if I could just get these tire treads off my back...


  1. As we are technically at war Obama could sign and enforce an Executive Order to repeal DADT for the sake of service, and save zillions on private outsourcing. But he doesn't.

  2. I agree: the system isn't on our side because there's still a lot of prejudice in the representatives. I was loathe to vote Obama into office because I knew that nothing constructive would be done in this area, that of Civil Rights, and I think you're absolutely right when you say that it's his religious beliefs that are obstructing his vision. Forget the Legislative and Executive branches; they're too self-involved in their own political careers to do anything decisive. Embrace the Courts and hope that they will do what they seem to do best: restore and preserve the rights of the minority. Once the absolute authority of the Constitution comes crashing down, the scales will be tipped and politicians will be forced to join or be flung into obscurity.


  3. I don't see this as only a GLBT issue. Bryan, you spoke of the prospect of the Dems losing their majority in congress and not being able to get anything done. The real issue is why can the Republicans set the agenda in government even when they are in the minority? Remember the Health-Care "Debate"? Not to even mention the Wars. The way I see it, the Dems have no balls, no spine. They are afraid of the Republicans. And what do the Dems actually stand for really? Republicans understand how politics works in this country. The Dems have no clue. As the great Lewis Black once said: "The Republicans are the party of Bad Ideas, and The Democrats are the party of No Ideas."

  4. Hmmm...

    I know I'm gonna be booed at for this, but here goes...

    I'm gay too but I'm not an american, so as such I tend to look at this situation from the outside-in rather than the other way around. I'm not sure if that gives me a different persective or it isolates me from what's actually happening in the US (and puts me in la-la land), but be that as it may, here's what I think...

    I think that if I were in your President's shoes I would be in a very difficult position. Regardless if I were in favor of DADT or ENDA, or against DOMA, if think the political climate in Washington is such that I could not openly support gay rights (despite being gay myself.) To do so would be tantamount to political suicide.

    I think there are far too many conservative-minded people in Washington whose support I would need in order to function effectively. People I would have to work with every day. Were I to make sweeping chsnges too fast (especially on deep-rooted things that many consider to be MORAL issues,) I suspect the political backlash would paralyze my administration, so that I could accomplish nothing at all. Not to mention the average joe. There are a lot of people who support gsy rights out there who aren't gay as well as a lot of people who openly oppose equality, but I think the people who say nothing (I think the majority) who are the real deciding factor. Are they afraid to upset anyone with their opinion? Are the secretly for, or against? What about those who openly say one thing, but secretly think another?

    I must also consider the effect my actions would have on the World stage. I have troops abroad - it situations that, were I to take such a stance too stongly may endanger their lives. Look at what happened when that minister in Florida threatened to burn the Qu'ran. My God... your enemies jumped on that so fast people's heads spun around. If I were President and I took a strong stance for gay rights at this time, I don't think I could keep the troops safe. Al Qaida and the Taliban would have a field day with that, and all progress there would be halted or reversed. I think I would have too many responsibilities on my shoulders to consider what people wanted. I would have to give them what they need - for now.

    No, I think if I were President, I would not be able to openly support us at all - at least not initially. It would be the difference between fulfilling a few of my promises and fulfilling most of them. In other words, I can tackle gay rights for now (and have a hard time doing anything else), or fulfill every thing else first and tackle gay rights towards the end of my term.

    I completely understand people's frustration but I think in this case, were I President, I would do the latter. The best people could hope for for now from me would be a little tug here, and a little push there in support of gay rights - and this is coming from a gay guy.

    (Sigh) Let the flame wars begin...

  5. Our Two party system is just entirely dysfunctional when it comes to meeting the needs of ordinary citizens. The rich and economically powerful can get whatever they want. The bankers say jump. The politicians ask how high? Ordinary people be they GLBT, the uninsured, soldiers, the unemployed, etc. They have to fight tooth and nail for basics like equal rights. All I'm saying is that the problems of our political system in the US are much deeper than the unpopularity of GLBT issues and effect all Americans and indeed the entire planet as a whole.

  6. So I can't help feeling like the last two years have been such a wasted opportunity. Barack Obama ran with such passion, energy and vision but has governed with such timidity, as to make me wonder if Candidate Obama and President Obama are even the same man.

    I understand the argument that cowardly Democrats are still better than any of the current crop of Republicans. Yet the truth is, I am having a hard time getting energized about a choice between apathy and evil.

    Nobody expected the President to win every battle. I just wish it didn't seem like Barack Obama was so afraid of even trying to fight the battles.

    As I write this comment I am waiting for the approval of my Civil Partnership Visa to the UK. my Partner and I waited, and hoped that this President would keep his word and the basic legal recognition heterosexual bi-national couples take for granted would finally be extended to us. We took Barack Obama at his word... and as it has turned out we were foolish to do so.

    So now in the middle of a recession I am going to leave my very good job and leave my country, all because my President is to worried about keeping his job, to actually do his job.

    Under the bus indeed...

  7. I have to wonder, how many Americans won't be going out and voting for the Dems because of Obama's about-face from bold conquering warrior before his inauguration to quivering coward afterwards? And how many senators and representatives will lose their seats because of that? Because based on his uninspiring performance so far, and those of Pelosi and Reid, if I was an American I wouldn't bother voting. When the choice is between the fringe and the cowardly, there really isn't much of a choice at all.

  8. Another frightening thought is the justices stance on the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia has already voiced his opinion about gay rights. He says sexual orientation is not a protected right under the constitution. He is so homophobic. I would think the same of Clarence Thomas. His theory is just so wrong. The constitution is a living breathing document that was made open to change as society evolves. If we were to agree with him then we should go back to the 1700's and take away the right of women to vote. We must also reinstate slavery.
    I voted for President Obama. I too am disappointed. But!! If McCain-Palin had won..who would he have appointed on the Supreme Court? It is almost frightening. That is why we must not sit at home on election day. By all means..VOTE!!!! Study who is for LGBT rights..whether they be Republican or Democrat and vote!!!

  9. I just got the latest fundraising email from President Obama's "Organizing for America", here is how I responded:

    I will work as hard for Barack Obama as he has worked for me..

    In the weeks ahead when I encounter insane lies and distortions about the President's record, I will shrug and make vague yet eloquent statements on the need to "come together" and "effect real change".

    In the days ahead, when I am told by OFA and the DNC how important it is to support them so we can keep moving forward, I will smile in a genuine and empathetic manner. Then say how I understand how they might feel my support hasn't come quickly enough or doesn't seem strong enough. But I will then mention how I have all these other things on "my plate" right now, but I PROMISE I will get around to supporting them really soon.

    On Election Day, When I am urged to get out and vote and to pick up the phone and urge my friends to vote for the Democrats, I will instead, spend that time talking to my other friends about their basketball game.

    And over the next Two Years, as the Republican Majority in both houses of Congress turns the Obama Administration into a lame duck, and OFA and the DNC complain to me about it, I will smile sympathetically and say they need to understand the "current reality", and remind them of all the support I have given them in the past, and how that should be enough for them right now.

    I will give President Obama and Democratic Party the same unwavering commitment that they have given me as an LGBT American

  10. I don't think the Courts helping us out the most is ironic at all. Historically speaking they've really done the most in terms of helping out disadvantaged social groups like African-Americans.

    Generally speaking you can't count on politicians to do any kind of dirty work for us. They're too focused on their own survival and that means hedging bets, working all sides, pandering to the majority or status quo, etc. The Gavin's are few and far in between.

    The best we can do really is continue to apply pressure, make ourselves an important political coalition that can't simply be ignored, educate the masses, and ensure there is significant political weight behind backing our causes. Even then like DADT that may be enough.

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