Despite the chorus of complaints about the long wait for change and our growing collective impatience with President Obama and this Congress, LGBT rights advocates are doomed to more sitting on the sidelines as 2010 marches on toward its political climax in November.
After waiting decades for progress, everyone seems to be in a sudden hurry for change.
There was the Task Force’s Rea Carey speaking at last week’s Creating Change conference.
“I am looking at the calendar … and it’s 2010. 2010. Should freedom have to wait any longer? Should equality be something we schedule? Should we only act to end blatant discrimination when it’s politically convenient? No.”
There was Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black writing for Huffington Post.
“To those who have said, ‘Wait,’ I say, Gay and Lesbian people should not be forced to wait years to be treated equally under the law. … We cannot wait. We cannot wait for more children to be born into this country hearing that they are ‘less than,’ that this country considers them inferior or second class, that their love is not worth honoring. If we do, how can we ever expect them to contribute, to thrive, or even just to survive?”
Despite these and other similar protests, we are, unfortunately, destined to continue waiting because we’ve trained our supposed political allies in the Democratic Party that there will be no repercussions for failing to pass pro-LGBT legislation or failing to honor campaign promises of support.
In fact, there are clear signs from the Hill that LGBT issues are headed to their usual place on the back burner. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the DC Agenda last week that she’s unsure whether the House will overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year before the Pentagon completes its review on implementing repeal. “I don’t know,” she said, “I’ll have to examine. We’ll take a look. We’ll sit down together and see what is the advantage of going first with legislation or would the legislation more aptly reflect what is in the review — or is it a two-step process?”
She was responding to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement that a working group will examine the implications of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — a process he warned will take a full year to complete.
More ominously, there was Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine last Friday speaking to the party’s LGBT Americans Caucus and apparently urging us to — you guessed it — wait some more.
Kaine said he was aware of “frustration” over the pace of progress on LGBT legislation in Congress but noted it was crucial that Democrats retain their majorities in Congress. And why exactly is that so important? So we can be told to wait again until after the 2012 elections for movement on LGBT rights legislation in Congress?
This predictable pattern of waiting for action extends beyond Congress and can be seen in state fights across the country. Over and over, our purported allies calibrate their support based on political and personal considerations. In Maryland, LGBT rights supporters continue to wait on Attorney General Douglas Gansler to issue an opinion on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. In New Jersey, activists grew so tired of waiting for their Democratic “allies” to grow a spine that the Garden State Equality board of directors this week voted to end the practice of giving to political parties. The statewide group will now make contributions only to “individual candidates and to pro-LGBT non-party organizations.” The board announced in its press release, “No political party should take the LGBT community and our many allies for granted.” It’s a welcome and long-overdue policy change that ought to be adopted by LGBT rights groups across the country.
And how many times have we needed public figures to support our equality, only to be made to wait until they’ve left office or the public eye to speak up? Bill Clinton waited until he was long out of office to hint at support for marriage rights; retired Gen. Colin Powell has come out in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” now that it’s politically safe to do so. Public support for repeal hovers around 70 percent in polls.
And then there’s Cindy McCain, who appeared in a recent ad campaign advocating for marriage equality, now that it’s a safe bet she won’t be serving as first lady. Her public support would have been powerful had it come during the 2008 campaign. Those fighting Proposition 8 could have used a prominent Republican’s help in Orange County that year. Too late now. And McCain’s support might have forced Michelle Obama to take a stand in favor of same-sex marriage.
The reason LGBT issues are so easily bumped to the bottom of the political heap is this seemingly intractable problem of our being taken for granted by the Democratic Party. What’s the solution? Garden State Equality is onto something. We must all — individual donors, statewide activist groups and national lobbyist organizations — stop donating to the Democratic Party. Instead, channel those funds into targeted races and bump off anti-gay candidates and incumbents in both parties who are delaying progress. Give money and other forms of support to those unafraid to honor their private beliefs in public.
Until we demand substantive progress and public support for our money and votes, LGBT concerns will remain at the bottom of the political agenda. And we will continue to wait.