LGBTQ Community Divided, Not United, by Obama’s Speech to the HRC

obama-hrcLet me confess; I’m a believer. I’m a dreamer. I imagine all the people living life in peace, and for about five minutes following Obama’s speech to the HRC last week, I believed that we would. But in the days following, compelling arguments have been made on both sides. But that’s just it — people are taking sides now. Are you an Obama believer or a critic? Do you think he’s pandering to the fancy HRC so he can take our money and run, or do you think it’s meaningful that he even offered WORDS, considering the political climate of the health care debate?

Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m critical for the same reasons the critics are: inaction on DADT, too many empty promises. We can’t say “Wait” and “now is not the time” forever, we have to fight. We need radical voices to enable moderate voices.

But on the other hand, observing straight America’s reaction to last weekend’s events has hammered home an inconvenient truth: for as long as gay rights have no direct impact on the lives of heterosexuals, we must pay attention to how often The Majority hears our demands as impatient whining. To many who don’t feel personally affected by the content of Obama’s speech, the speech sounded good enough. He did, after all, acknowledge that things are not moving as quickly as we’d like. We do know this, though: we need straight votes to win our rights and I believe we can best impact change at the ground level with other voters.

“Even for the most empathetic, liberal, passionate activists I know, our marriage rights do not, in any way, directly affect their lives. But they’re as involved as they can be, because they know us and they know what’s right. Unfortunately this is the exception, not the rule.”

Last week I attended my best friend’s wedding and my girlfriend & I were delighted to hear “I vow to keep fighting for equality so that all our friends can get married,” in the marriage vows of both bride and groom, and we felt similarly warmed by cards on every dinner table reading; “We’ve given a gift on behalf of the guests of this wedding to the Marriage Equality Campaign in Maine. We got married today, but many of our friends and loved ones are still not able to do the same. That has to change.”

In a few weeks, my other best friend’s fiancee will be moving here from overseas. When he arrives, he’ll be able to obtain citizenship via their relationship. Were they a same-sex couple, this wouldn’t be possible and they’d probably just have to break up.

Both of these friends identify as “label-free” and are the most bleeding heart liberals I know; Natalie works for a Women’s Rights NGO and writes for Autostraddle, Krista’s husband runs Moveon.org and Krista herself is literally the most politically passionate person I know; even when underemployed she donated regularly to Planned Parenthood, the HRC, and about 100 other orgs that flooded our shared mailbox with free address labels.

But they’re able to take advantage of their rights anyhow — as they should. Our biggest supporters are getting married, and we can’t. The wedding itself was a reminder that their activism is a choice, and ours is not. Even for the most empathetic, liberal, passionate activists I know, our marriage rights do not, in any way, directly affect their lives. But they’re as involved as they can be, because they know us and they know what’s right. Unfortunately this is the exception, not the rule.

Straight support of our causes is key to our success, but for a movement that continually stresses our non-impact on our fellow citizens — as Keith Olberman so powerfully asked those who voted Yes on 8, Why does this matter to you, what is it to you? — it’s not surprising that much of mainstream America hears our demands as irrelevant whining.

Because it is nothing to them. The other side has strategically unfurled a Pandora’s Box of potential viruses same-sex marriage will unleash upon schools & churches — in fact, their public campaigns rarely address their true motivations (money, fear, religious bureaucracy)  — but we haven’t done much on our side to display a treasure chest of potential charms same-sex marriage will offer our schools, churches, economy, national spirit and society. We need to make gay marriage, DADT, hate crimes laws and employee discrimination matter to straight people.

So where do we stand? Do we think Obama is full of shit? Maybe. We’re still split and I think we’ll be better able to judge in a few weeks. He hasn’t had a chance to follow through on the promises he made Friday night — the first he’s made while in office, which is different than campaign promises – ’cause he just made them! [It’s like when your Mom wants you to mow the lawn by the end of the weekend and on Saturday starts nagging you about it, and you’re like, hello, I’m doing it Sunday!]

But we lean towards the “grassroots is where it’s at” side.  We think it’s more effective for us to convince our fellow citizens that change must come so they’ll all donate to Prop 1 when they get married, too, and march with us. Obama doesn’t read our blogs, but our parents and our classmates and co-workers CAN.

So, in lieu of the typical round-up of gay media reactions to news stories, I’m gonna tell you what the mainstream media thought of last weekend so you can prepare to change people personally.

The Detroit Free Press: “With two wars, health care and the economy crowding his plate, you’d think President Barack Obama would have no room for another entrée-sized issue. In his Saturday speech to the Human Rights Campaign, the president added gay rights initiatives to his near-term agenda.”

Huffington Post’s Adele Stan: “After Obama spoke, activists focused on what they did not hear. The rest of it sounded old to them. To me, it sounded remarkably new.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Obama Deserves More Time on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: “But let me say a difficult thing: Obama is right too.”

Former (Gay) US Ambassador Jim Hormel: I am as eager as anyone else to have action on the various pieces of legislation — some of which are a generation old — like ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). ENDA has been in the Senate for a literal generation. So when I exercise any restraint whatsoever — it’s out of knowledge and awareness of the atmosphere under which the president is operating.”

The Nation: Gay Activists Split on Obama.

John Harwood: “Barack Obama is doing well with 90 precent or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the Internet left fringe.”

National Review Online: [it’s by Maggie Gallagher, so click at your own risk] “Pity President Obama. He’s done more, more quickly, for gay people than any president in history but it’s clearly not enough.”

New York Times: “President Obama Saturday renewed his vow to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, but failed to offer a timetable for doing so — an omission likely to inflame critics who say he is not fighting aggressively enough for gay rights.

In related news:

SOLMONESE: Joe Solmonese just keeps saying things. Like this, which is his response to a question about why diversity in the HRC: But I think that… perhaps the crowd at the dinner last night was a little bit more politically aware and had a better sense of maybe, you know, what’s at stake and what needs to be done. Way to sidestep a really important issue while simultaneously slighting everyone who couldn’t afford to be at Saturday night’s dinner. (@huffpo)

LIEBERMAN: Obama is actually talking to people on the Hill about repealing DADT. The Advocate is reporting that the administration is in direct talks with Joe Lieberman and is working to “introduce Senate legislation with bipartisan support.” (@advocate)

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2676 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. There is something the Right does with chilling precision…immediately outline why any issue that they oppose will somehow be detrimental to “the children.”

    It’s scare tactics at its worse for sure, but the Left could learn from that strategy. Make something about the children and suddenly you have people’s attention. Cause if there’s one thing straight people are good at its having babies. Some of those babies are gonna be gay. You never know which ones. More straight people should fight, not just for us, but for their children and their grandchildren.

    Also, is Jim Hormel formerly gay or formerly a US Ambassador?

    I love Autostraddle.

    • Formerly a US Ambassador. har.

      I agree, we need to sell this shit to the children. we need a PSA that asks a very important question, which is do you want your children growing up in a world where they are told that some people are better than other people? Or how about statistics that show that people who are anti-gay marriage are less educated, I bet those exist.

  2. With Obama, I can’t help but be optimistic. That’s probably because I’m not looking to get married or serve in the military, but I believe he will make good on his promises. Obvs republicans are doing every thing they can to make his job harder on every issue, so I can cut him some slack. I just like him. I will give him his full first term to make the changes. I do truly hate it for those who are being affected by things like DADT and marriage inequality right now though.

  3. The cost of the HRC dinner is the one of the biggest issues that the members of Join the Impact had (the ones I was stranded with, anyway). $250 a head is quite a bit and sort of reinforced the view that the HRC takes everyone’s money, but isn’t really out there on the streets working at this like everyone else. It’s a lot of talk and show, but not so much action.

  4. for me, Obama’s speech was awesome, because I heard an actual promise from him: he flat out said he would repeal DADT. as someone who is very much affected by DADT, this is a dream come true.

    as soon as that happens, I’m ready to jump up and be an activist for marriage, ENDA (hello, that is kinda what DADT is, so they should go hand in hand), and any other way people are discriminated.

    so I’m optimistic, cautiously hopeful. each day there are new pieces of news, and the more of that good exposure, the better.

    • That made me feel hopeful too! He was really serious about that, like really defiant, and said he would do it. Of course there is unrest as to why he hasn’t done it already, but I don’t think he can just say that and never, ever do it.

  5. I always shudder when politicians make promises, especially presidents. Because in all actuality they have limited power to getting laws pass. Even if it is passed once Congress gets there hands in it, it may be shadow of the former law or bill. It is nice to have his support though

    The fight for equal rights affects everyone, in one way or another. I look it at it on the most basic level, money. As the Detroit free Press mentioned with other pertinent issues plaguing our country, time and money is spent denying people rights.. Its stupid and a waste. It should not be an, everyone should be have the same rights PERIOD. Whether you agree with it, hate it, or whatever..

  6. Hello, Barbara here, speaking from Italy where our Parliament just voted NO on our first law proposal ever against homophobia. They said it was unconstitutional as it created special categories while we should all be equal according to the constitution. Moreover, they said it was not fair to protect people regardless of their sexual orientation, because this could mean protecting zoophiles, pedophiles, and necrophiles.

    While I prefer not to get started on the above, I would like to say that I think I know why it’s so important to straight people what happens to us and what rights we have. It’s their sexual orientation. They are not really straight “naturally”, but they chose heterosexuality in order to avoid the discriminations that gay face.

    They thought, the gays have it really bad in this society, SO I WILL DO MY BEST TO BE STRAIGHT and somehow they are succeeding, at least apparently. But it’s a second best for them and they know it. So when you stop discriminating the gays, these people suddenly appear atupid to themselves, because you take away the reason they chose to be straight. And they just don’t want to feel betrayed by reality, which suddenly appears different than the one they perceived when they made the choice, and which oriented that choice. I don’t know if I made myself clear.

      • No, I don’t think that’s what she’s saying … I think she’s trying to explain what the haters think, make fun of them, and explain why their argument is flawed. She said in the first line that she’s Italian also, and even though English is my first language I still can’t make a sentence that everyone understands.

        • Okay. That makes sense. Cause I was like WTF?
          That;s one thing I hate about talking over the internet you can misinterpret things just because you don;t here how it was said. You can miss things like sarcasm
          That IS a terrible argument.

          • Sorry I know my English is broken like that jewelry Kate Moennig advertises over twitter, but in the smallest possible amount of words, what I meant to say is: homophobes are repressed gays who never came out to themselves or society and identify as straight.

            Now, how did they come to identify as straight if they are actually gay? Because they learned that gays are bashed / discriminated against (as we all perfectly know), and they lacked the courage / strength to follow their feelings, or to make them conscious. NOW, if gays become “normal”, obtain rights, stop being discriminated against, suddenly that (more or less conscious) choice they made a long time ago (to be with someone of the opposite sex even though they’d prefer someone of the same sex) appears stupid. And they don’t want to feel stupid. Nope.

            I hope it’s a little clearer now. Anyway it’s just my opinion. Anyway I’ll shut up now and maybe I should post comments while my brain is not completely fried. Yep.

          • Ha, brain-fried comments are the best!

            Anyhow, I agree with you that the most homophobic people of all are always hiding something deviant or gay about their own sexuality. I think I wrote a whole article about it … HERE!

          • Your English is great. I am just slow sometimes. I see your point. Its interesting and valid. I don;t completely agree, but its valid. I don’t think all homophobes/homo-awkward people are repressed gays but it could apply to some. I think an an uncomfortablity could be innate and/or taught. Whereas hate is purely taught. And acting on those opinions is definitely wrong.
            If/When this reform happens they will have to reevaluate themselves, mentally, sexually, everything and that could be very scary daunting task.

    • hi barbara, you’ve raised a few interesting points here. i don’t know that being straight is a choice as much being gay is a choice, but maybe it is for some people. but i kinda get what you’re saying, that being gay does sometimes have a stigma about it, and the fact that straight people therefore do not have this stigma is something that they can be happy about, you know, inside themselves. some people choose to express this in hateful ways. so, when you take away the reasons for the stigma by making everyone equal, they lose the joy that some find in being a majority over a minority. but i think there would still be a difference between legal and societal change.

      • I think being straight is a much more popular choice than being gay because of the stigma than being gay brings about. I mean, it’s not really a stigma, people get hanged and stoned for being gay. It’s more, like, a cause of death? You know what I mean? Even if they don’t get hanged, people get humiliated. In my country the parliament has just stated that we are similar to zoophiles and necrophiles. And of course in most countries (and US states) you can’t get married and you do not have adoption rights. So, no matter how much pride you have, it does not feel exactly good to be treated like shit.

        And sometimes, in the end, not everyone is strong, not everyone is a pioneer. Most people are weak. They don’t have the courage to make important choices, and they are unhappy about it. So when you take away the stigma, you are reminding them how stupid and weak they have been not to have the courage to live their homosexuality, especially openly (because that’s what rights are about: the openness and the transparency). And they hate to feel stupid and weak, especially because they really are.

        • I want to clarify — I don’t think you mean that “being straight” is a choice homosexual people make which often leads to them really hating homosexual people, I think you mean that “acting and living a “straight” life” is a choice these homosexual people make which often leads to them really hating people who are comfortable living the gay life most true to themselves.

          • Yes, that is exactly what I mean, sorry again for my tattered English, next time I might as well just type OMG WTF LOL 🙂

          • Uhm… my last reply was to something Riese wrote (a good clarification of my point) which suddenly disappeared, so no, even though I might be autistic I am not replying to myself yet 😛

  7. can i just say that watching obama’s speech made me very thankful and almost amazed that someone so powerful in politics can speak sanely with reason and logic? it hasn’t happened in a long time, i got used to not listening to/dismissing bush babbling about freedom

  8. Someone (I think maybe Bill Ayers? whatever) said once that it’s easy to get frustrated demanding things from the government or from the top, because if we look at history no important change has ever really come from them. It’s ultimately come from the radicals, the students eating ramen and the people getting beaten by police and the people in jail, even if it was the suits who passed the legislation. I genuinely love Obama and have faith that in general he’ll do what’s best for me as President, but I don’t think we should hold him to higher standards than any other US president has performed at. He may very well repeal DADT and DOMA, but when he does, it will be because he was absolutely forced to by activists. That’s just the way change happens. So, I mean, essentially what Riese said – remain optimistic about Obama and be thankful for the amount of respect he’s given our community so far, but don’t let up on any of the work we’ve been doing to convince both our countrymen and him that we deserve to be treated like tax-paying citizens.

  9. 2 thoughts:
    1. I thought the exact same thing while watching this speech and the whole march on TV on Sunday–we need straight people. OF COURSE the gays are there standing up for it. OF COURSE all of our gay friends are going to march. OF COURSE they will vote for legislation allowing for same sex marriage, etc. We are the minority though (really? Is it only 10%?), and the minority is not going to win. We need the most important letter in the LGBTIQQA, which is the latest acronym I’ve seen, and that is out allies. The straight people who will stand up for us and vote for ALL people having equal rights. We need their votes, period.
    2. When he says “I will end DADT”, it just seemed like too much of a cut and dry statement to be a lie. He said nothing before or after it to give stipulations to this or give it gray areas. That was the complete sentence. When he said that as he did, I just thought “this will happen. It has to. He said it plain and simple”. If it doesn’t happen, he is going to have to have the absolute best explanation in HISTORY to make up for it. It makes me think he knows more than we do at this point and it is already very far in the works. Wishful thinking I guess…

    • It’s scary — the 10% thing. Because that’s a really small percentage of the population, relative to other groups fighting for their rights. I honestly think the solution is the same thing Harvey Milk said — they have to know you. Once they know someone gay — just one person — things change. That’s why everyone should come out! (If only it was that easy)

  10. obama, the poor bastard. i’m not sure where i stand on where he’s at right now, because while on the one hand i think that every single day that goes by that gay people are second-class citizens is a day too many, i also think that if he moves on this now, he won’t get a second term. his second term is already a bit tenuous to me because of all the BATSHIT CRAZY MORONS who have shown up to wave their guns at him and call him Hitler. and as DEPRESSING as it is to acknowledge, it really seems like he’s at the mercy of this right-wing, religious nutso conservative base, even though he won. i don’t think anyone should have to wait any more, and i agree that saying “it’s not the right time” is insanity and convenient only for those who already HAVE rights (anyone see mad men this weekend when peggy said the same thing about civil rights to the maid? fucked) but i’m afraid that if he makes sweeping changes before re-election (hell, before the mid-term elections even), it will mean less chance for change in the future. and while gay people desperately need rights, we also need health care, and education reform, and less war, and everything else that the rest of america needs too. i hate that the president’s power is really only “power.” i hate that the republicans lost, but still have obama by the balls. i still have faith, though. i think he really wants to take action on gay rights and intends to, i just think that he DOES have to listen to strategists and advisors who might say that waiting is best for the time being, because even though it’s fucked up for so many reasons, it’s probably also true.

  11. For those of you claiming homosexuality is a “lifestyle”, that is a false and ignorant statement. Homosexuality is not a choice. Just like you don’t choose the color of your skin, you cannot choose whom you are sexually attracted to. If you can, sorry, but you are not heterosexual, you are bi-sexual. Virtually all major psychological and medical experts agree that sexual orientation is NOT a choice. Most gay people will tell you its not a choice. Common sense will tell you its not a choice. While science is relatively new to studying homosexuality, studies tend to indicate that its biological.

    http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/03/differential-brain-activation.pdf
    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/sex/dn14146-gay-brains-structured-like-those-of-the-opposite-sex.html
    Gay, Straight Men’s Brain Responses Differ
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,155990,00.html
    http://www.livescience.com/health/060224_gay_genes.html
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/w27453600k586276/
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/06/16/172/

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a choice. Sexual orientation is generally a biological trait that is determined pre-natally, although there is no one certain thing that explains all of the cases. “Nurture” may have some effect, but for the most part it is biological.

    And it should also be noted that:
    “It is worth noting that many medical and scientific organisations do believe it is impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation and this is displayed in a statement by American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and National Education Association.”

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