We took quite a ride in 2009, setting off with the inauguration of our first minority president who had vowed to be our “fierce advocate.” Many of us allowed our expectations to get the better of us and as the year progressed, marriage equality victories in Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire fueled the fantasy that we would gain our civil rights before too long. But by year’s end, we had no choice but to take off our pink colored glasses and see where we really stand with the White House, Democratic Party and American public.
The Obama administration made it crystal clear that LGBT civil rights is not on top of its agenda and that it was not even going to toss us bones it can well afford: temporarily halting the dismissals of LGBT Americans due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and not defending the Defense of Marriage Act. In California, the State Supreme Court upheld mob rule. In Maine, representative democracy was again usurped by the masses. Fact is, President Obama has not and will not be the champion we dreamed of, the Democratic Party only wants our money and votes, and while many of our friends, family and neighbors have come around and rallied for our rights, there are still millions who need to be convinced that our struggle for equality is theirs as well.
Now what about 2010? Our president, honorable representatives and august senators will very much remain preoccupied with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the threat posed by instability in Iran, Pakistan, Yemen and North Korea; the moribund economy and high unemployment rate; the unfinished health care reform battle; and whatever else might surface during the year. But most important of all, these politicians will be worrying about November’s mid-term elections. Therefore, abandon all hope you might have of action from the White House and the Hill. Their occupants will be more concerned about keeping their power than doing what is right by their constituents and the nation’s constitution.
In spite and because of the fact that most pols would sooner not touch LGBT civil rights, we and our allies have much to do this year.
In Congress, we need to watch closely and see whether the final health care reform bill includes LGBT-positive provisions. Currently, while the House version does, but the Senate version does not. The legislation that comes out of conference should include language that eliminates the tax penalty to people who provide coverage for their same-sex spouses or partners; mandates the Department of Health & Human Services to address health disparities suffered by LGBT citizens; makes low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS eligible for federal assistance; and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the delivery of health care. But as revealed in recent months, power rests in the hands of a few senators who may not necessarily feel any sympathy for us.
If our elected officials actually decide to pile on to their overflowing plate immigration reform, then we have to make sure that our families are not left out in the cold. Unfortunately, the bill recently introduced by the otherwise LGBT-friendly Rep. Luis Gutierrez omits stipulations immigration activists have been lobbying for, particularly one that allows LGBT individuals to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency and citizenship. Proponents of immigration reform will seek the support of conservative forces such as the Catholic and other fundamentalist churches which care more about establishing their god’s reign on the United States than an equitable and just society.
Another thing we need to keep on top of is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Rep. Barney Frank has indicated that it will be included as an amendment to the Department of Defense spending bill which will most likely pass both chambers of Congress, much like the hate crimes amendment did in 2009. However, with the November elections looming, many of Frank’s colleagues will not have the courage to back this maneuver.
Finally, although we have been assured by many in the know that Congress will leave the District’s new marriage equality law well enough alone, the tenacity and influence of fundamentalists and their minions in the Hill should not be underestimated. They have vowed to fight the bill throughout the 30-day congressional review period and beyond. While Republicans and conservative Democrats may let this one pass for now, D.C. City Council member David Catania wisely cautions that progress could be undone through mere budget maneuvers in the future.
Indeed, there will be enough for us to look out for, but not much will pass in our favor. Because of the challenging times we are in, the attention of our leaders will be focused on arguably more important things. Because of politicians’ natural instinct to take care of their interests and ensure their survival, it is up to us and our allies to make our interests crucial to their political survival.
This year will be a slog. We will have to continue our struggle without expecting any major pay-offs. Nonetheless, we must persist in our efforts to change minds and hearts one person at a time and create change at the local and state level. But so long as we patiently and stubbornly chip away, equality will take form slowly and surely.
You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter @ErwindeLeon (http://twitter.com/ErwindeLeon)