Washington Blade - June 12, 2009
RIDE REPRESENTS AS good a time as any to pause and evaluate the
state of the LGBT movement and although it�s been a momentous
year (Obama�s election, marriage rights in six states) it appears
that the year ahead will be a tough one.
Last year, many LGBT activists, donors and voters were focused on
electing Barack Obama president and expanding Democratic
majorities in Congress, while also fighting off anti-gay ballot
initiatives in three states, including California. The outcome,
of course, was bittersweet as many of us celebrated Obama�s
victory while mourning the passage of Proposition 8.
The year ahead holds more complicated trials for a movement that
is maturing and changing. As our national LGBT rights groups like
Human Rights Campaign urge patience and promise that the White
House has �a plan� for advancing gay rights initiatives,
grassroots organizers aren�t so sure. There is an overwhelming
sense that the Democratic Party is very close to exhausting the
collective patience of LGBT Americans who have supported it with
money and votes and, so far anyway, received very little in
Sure, we get annual Pride proclamations in June. But where are
the legislative victories and public support of our congressional
allies at this critical time? Since taking control of Congress in
2006, the Democrats have still not managed to pass a single piece
of gay rights legislation through both houses.
Last June, candidate Obama issued an open letter to gay voters,
pledging his full support for a federal hate crimes law and a
trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He also
reiterated his support for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage
Act and �Don�t Ask, Don�t Tell.�
�As your president I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to
treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and
adoption laws,� Obama said in the letter.
MUCH HAS CHANGED in recent months for the better, even if it�s
not all attributable to the White House. Same-sex couples are now
marrying in six states; the official White House web site
includes a list of pro-gay commitments; Obama has named gays and
lesbians to several high-level posts, including John Berry at OPM
and Kevin Jennings at Education. And recent poll numbers on
same-sex marriage rights are cause for celebration. While only 40
percent support full marriage rights, that number jumps to 49
percent among those who know an openly gay person, affirming the
importance of coming out. What else could explain the parade of
prominent Republicans � Dick Cheney, Steve Schmidt, Meghan
McCain, Ted Olson � who now support same-sex marriage?
Five months into his administration, Obama�s White House has
publicly endorsed the hate crimes bill, which passed the House
but remains MIA in the Senate. ENDA has not yet been introduced.
DOMA remains federal law, even though same-sex couples are now
legally married from California to Iowa to Massachusetts. And the
military�s gay ban remains in effect, with little hope of repeal
HRC�s legislative approach � endorsed by congressional allies �
is to move on hate crimes and ENDA in 2009 with a �Don�t Ask,
Don�t Tell� repeal in 2010.
If Congress wakes up and finally passes some of these
long-suffering bills, then HRC will claim victory. If, however,
our so-called Democratic �allies� can�t pass ENDA and hate crimes
and a �Don�t Ask, Don�t Tell� repeal is off the table come
December 2009, then the entire movement is a bust and everyone
working in it should resign and make way for more effective
leadership. There will never be a better time to advance these
measures. The Democrats have made lots of promises to LGBT voters
and, more importantly to them, to gay donors. We�ve waited
patiently for those politicians to deliver. Come December, my
patience runs out. The clock is ticking.
THE UNCERTAIN YEAR ahead illustrates the pitfalls of a maturing
movement. Power within that movement is shifting from a
centralized few groups that know best to a decentralized mass of
grassroots organizers, bloggers and others fed up with the slow
pace of change. Rather than fighting religious right zealots, gay
rights advocates are debating each other about the best way
forward. In addition to resolving internal conflicts over
strategy, those same advocates who�ve been so beholden to
Democrats will finally be forced to stand up to the party this
year. Will HRC, the Task Force and others aggressively hold
Democrats accountable for their myriad promises? I�m hopeful they
will, but history suggests otherwise.
And our challenges aren�t limited to Congress. Last week, the
Blade hosted its first panel discussion featuring LGBT youth and elders and
the results were moving, tearful and sometimes startling. The
idea was to bring together a handful of youth and elders to talk
about coming out, Pride, the state of the movement and more in a
casual setting. Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training
for SAGE, acted as facilitator and Andrew Barnett, executive
director of SMYAL, participated and recruited youth volunteers.
Special thanks to them and to Cathy Renna for her help in
coordinating it and to all of our volunteers who are profiled in
this issue. Be sure to visit our web site, washingtonblade.com,
to watch video of the conversation.
Although there were some common experiences among the panelists,
such as coping with disapproving parents, other topics revealed
the generational divide, most notably on HIV/AIDS.
Several of the young participants spoke of HIV as �not their
problem.� HIV is widely viewed among many younger gays as a
manageable illness, rather than the death sentence that my
generation grew up fearing. Some assumed that HIV will be cured
soon and that if you contract the disease, you simply �take a
Of course, our elders jumped at the chance to remind them of the
realities and history of HIV. In Washington, 3 percent are
officially infected, but health officials have said the true
number is probably closer to 5 percent. These numbers � and the
attitudes of our young panelists � say a lot more about those of
us who survived the �80s than those who weren�t alive then. We�ve
failed to teach the painful history of AIDS and imbued young gay
people with a false sense of security.
So as we prepare to celebrate another year of Pride, let�s commit
to a few basic tasks in the year ahead. First, no more free rides
for Democrats who take our support and then run and hide when we
need them most. Second, no more waiting. If legislative advances
fail to materialize in 2009, then we need to clean house and
staff the professional LGBT rights movement with fresh
leadership. And third, we must all do a better job of fighting
HIV. It�s not the government�s job � or any AIDS service
provider�s job � to make sure you use a condom.
Here�s to Pride 2010, when I hope we�re celebrating a year of