Supporters of LGBT rights from around the country invited to an upcoming Pride reception at the White House are hoping President Obama will use the opportunity to address LGBT issues relevant to their work.
The White House is holding Tuesday’s reception, which features remarks from Obama, to commemorate June as Pride month. The number of invitees and the specific names of people who received invitations wasn’t public before deadline.
People speaking anonymously to the Blade have said invitations generally were restricted to the heads of state equality groups, members of the LGBT community with compelling stories and a contingent of LGBT youth.
The upcoming reception recalls a similar White House event last year. That reception came in the wake of the publication of a controversial legal brief from the Justice Department defending the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that incurred the rancor of many LGBT activists.
But this year’s reception follows no such controversy and seems to be targeting different members of the LGBT community. The leaders of national LGBT groups — including Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese — weren’t invited to the event next week, according to one source.
Leaders of state equality groups who were invited to the White House Pride reception and said they want to hear Obama speak about issues affecting LGBT people in the places they represent.
Ian Palmquist, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said he wants the president to urge Congress to move forward with pro-LGBT legislation, particularly the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“I would like the president to publicly and vocally call on Congress to pass ENDA as soon as possible,” Palmquist said. “I believe that ENDA is the most important item on our agenda right now — and passing it would have a transformative effect on a lot of LGBT people in our country.”
North Carolina is among the states that have no laws intended to protect LGBT residents against discrimination in the workforce.
Palmquist said he would speak with Obama about the importance of ENDA if given the chance during the reception.
“I think I’d tell him about the impact that discrimination is having on people here in North Carolina and why it’s so important for him to stand up and ask that ENDA be passed as soon as possible,” he said.
Also planning to attend the White House reception is Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. She said she’d like to hear from Obama his agenda for addressing LGBT issues as well as what the LGBT community can do to “accelerate achieving those goals.”
If given the opportunity to speak with the president, Smith said she would raise the issue of adoption by LGBT parents.
Florida is the only state with a statute explicitly banning from gays, lesbians and bisexuals from adopting, although a case is pending that could overturn the law.
“I would ask him to help us undo it,” Smith said. “It’s on the ropes; public support for it is eroding. We think him weighing in would be really helpful.”
Smith said she fears social conservatives could work to spread anti-adoption laws like Florida’s throughout the country — similar to how in recent years bans against same-sex marriage spread throughout the states.
Many activists, including LGBT bloggers, have expressed displeasure with the White House for holding a Pride reception with so many issues outstanding for the LGBT community — and for restricting the invitations to the event.
Robin McGehee, co-chair of GetEqual, the group responsible for many recent protests on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and other issues key to the LGBT community, expressed skepticism about the reception and said she saw it as a fundraising effort for the Democratic Party.
McGehee, who wasn’t invited to the reception, said invitees should only go to the White House if they intend to advocate on behalf of LGBT people before the president and shouldn’t take part in the event as recreation.
“In reference to the leadership that’s going in, I hope that it’s not just going in to share tea or cocktails, but it’s actually to go in and come out with answers about when the ['Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell'] discharges are going to stop and when ENDA’s going to get to the floor for a vote,” she said.
McGehee said GetEQUAL is “taking about” having a counter event that would take place at the same time as the White House reception, although offered no details.