November 19, 2008
To my bah humbug friends…
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: At the end of the post.
When the election of Barack Obama sent many gay Americans dancing into the streets -- figuratively and literally -- celebrating, my dear friend Kevin offered a sober, some might say cynical, reality check:
[W]hy gay Americans should be shitting themselves with glee right now is, frankly, something I can't comprehend. The 2008 election was, in fact, a disaster for gays. And as the reality of our situation in America sets in over the coming days, as well as the next two years, it seems that nothing but a crashing disillusionment set against the backdrop of such wild celebrations last night is the only thing that could smack the gay community awake once and for all.
Well, we all saw how the dancing celebrations quickly transformed themselves into angry protest, for day after day in California and culminating in a National Day of Protest on Saturday that was unprecedented in size, reach and energy. (I say that having participated in both the 1993 and 2000 Marches on Washington.) Already there are creative campaigns to shine blue lights outside homes and businesses in support of equality, as well as talk of additional protests, including during inauguration weekend, and maybe even another March on Washington in May.
However you feel about street protests, it's no fair tsk-tsk-ing these folks for wild-eyed optimism about Obama's election. Clearly, they see the need for continued activism and continued pressure.
It's also becoming more apparent than political climate in Washington for gay rights is not the same today as it was in 1992, as much as my bah humbug friends would have us believe. For one thing, the president-elect has already reiterated in writing the promises he made during the campaign to push for a wide array of federal LGBT rights. He didn't have to do that; anyone named Clinton certainly wouldn't have.
Just today on the Hill, a leading House Democrat predicted repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" during the first year of the Obama administration. Does that make it so? Of course not, but she also didn't have to do it. Like the Obama-Biden Plan on LGBT Rights, the promise made by Rep. Ellen Tauscher is an early sign, mere days after the election, that real change may well be coming to America.
I do not agree with Kevin, either as a historical or prospective matter, that "the national Democratic Party doesn't care one bit about gay rights, beyond pleasant words and reaping big, pliant cash donations." I have been as critical over the years as anyone of their inaction and unfulfilled promises. No doubt they take advantage, and no doubt they milk us again and again.
But they do care about gay rights, in my view, just as their GOP counterparts care about opposing gay rights and limiting legal access to abortion. The reality that gives rise to the cynicism is that politicians of all stripes tend toward the cowardly, doing the absolute minimum they think they can get away with.
That is where we come in, and why continued pressure from us, if not from our supposed leadership, is so critical. If the Democrats co-opt us into believing only hate crimes and ENDA are achievable in Obama's first year or first term, then that's surely all that we'll get. But, my bah humbug friends, the same holds true if we give in to cynicism -- confusing 2008 with 1992 and Barack Obama with Bill (or Hillary) Clinton. Cynicism can lower your sights, just as being coopted can, and you're left in the same place as the very HRC-ites you justifiably condemn.
In that respect, Barack Obama was absolutely right. We are the change we've been waiting for.
Know Hope But Verify.
One grassroots effort that sprung up in response to Prop 8 offers a creative way to keep the pressure on the Obama-Biden team. Project Postcard, initiated by a group called the LGBTQ Civil RIghts Front, suggests mailing a postcard from your hometown with a "friendly little reminder" of candidate Obama's gay rights promises.
Here's the address:
President-elect Barack Obama
Presidential Transition Office
Kluczynski Federal Building
230 S. Dearborn St., 38th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604
The Project's organizers suggest using the text of the postcard to call for repeal of DOMA, which certainly sounds good to me, but I would go one step further, calling for passage of a federal civil unions law:
Dear President-elect Obama,
Please ask Congress to enact a Federal Civil Unions Act repeal DOMA! All Americans should have the right to marry. Thank you in advance for advocating for the civil rights of your LGBT citizens.
Will a bunch of postcards change the world? Of course not. But it's going to be up to each and every one of us to do what we can to keep up the pressure, since it's unlikely to come from our "leaders" in Washington.
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