In late August 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the Democratic National Convention. I listened carefully to the speeches of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and President Bill Clinton. On Aug. 28, 2008, I listened to Sen. Barack Obama outline his soaring vision for America. I heard him speak about how he would address the sinking economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care reform, clean energy technology, and job creation.
I felt like Obama was speaking directly to me when he said, “I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.”
In my opinion that statement was his promise to millions of LGBT Americans that we were part of his plan to make America a better place and that eliminating those vestiges of discrimination would be an important part of his agenda. Like millions of Americans, I decided that I would work hard to help elect Barack Obama president of the United States.
Fast forward to today, a little over a year since Barack Obama was sworn in as our president and there has been much discussion in some quarters of the LGBT community questioning whether or not his administration has the stomach to move “our” agenda forward. There are those who believe he is moving too slowly on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, and that he has not done enough to push the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Many of those same voices have called for the LGBT community to withhold support and money from the Democratic Party, based on their belief that President Obama has not kept his word to our communities. But for this black gay American, this rhetoric contrasts greatly with the reality of the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues during his first year in office.
In only one year in office, the Obama Administration has extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees; signed into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the existing federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or disability; lifted the HIV entry ban; extended the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act; reversed an inexcusable U.S. position by signing the U.N. Declaration on Gay Rights; spoken out forcefully on Uganda’s repressive treatment of its LGBT communities; endorsed the Baldwin-Lieberman bill; hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including more than 10 Senate confirmed appointments; and in the summer of 2009, the administration released the first presidential Pride proclamation since 2000. In addition, the Obama administration has sought input from the LGBT community on hundreds of proposed policy changes affecting all levels of the federal government.
Recently Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, ”Speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape the … facts that we have a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” Anyone who understands how the Pentagon operates must realize that the Obama administration had a strong hand in moving the military establishment to support the repeal of this odious law.
I believe that advocacy and applying political pressure for the LGBT agenda on both the Obama administration and Congress are fundamental tenets granted to all citizens of this Republic. While our great nation still has a far ways to go before LGBT Americans will enjoy all of the promises and benefits made to us in the Constitution, I do believe that the Obama administration has been subject to unfair criticism from parts of the LGBT community, who, for whatever reasons, refuse to acknowledge the many accomplishments in the first year of this administration.
I have faith that our president will continue to make good on the promises made that warm summer evening in Denver, and this black gay American will continue to support the Obama administration as one of our best hopes to bring about equality for LGBT Americans.