One year ago, I wrote a column in this space reminding readers of the promises the Democrats and President Obama made to LGBT Americans. Here’s part of what I wrote in June 2009:
“Since taking control of Congress in 2006, the Democrats have still not managed to pass a single piece of gay rights legislation through both houses.
“Last June, candidate Obama issued an open letter to gay voters, pledging his full support for a federal hate crimes law and a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He also reiterated his support for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
“‘As your president I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws,’” Obama said in the letter.
It’s Pride season again, another year has passed, so where do things stand? The news of the last year has been decidedly mixed. Indeed, the federal hate crimes law was finally expanded to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” appears on the cusp of repeal, after votes last month by the full House and the Senate Armed Services Committee. But the compromise repeal language omits any non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation and returns responsibility for implementing repeal of the policy to the Pentagon. And the measure still faces the very real possibility of a filibuster from Sen. John McCain, who is barely recognizable now that he’s moved to the far right to fend off a conservative primary challenger.
The ban on open service may still be relegated to the history books by summer, but getting to this point has been a sloppy, ugly process. Only the Democrats could screw up an issue on which 78 percent of Americans agree, according to a recent CNN poll on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Seventy-eight percent of Americans don’t agree on evolution, yet here’s a gay rights issue that’s popular with mainstream society that’s being reviewed by a Democratic Congress and White House. And somehow it’s still controversial and the result remains delayed and flawed. None of this bodes well for ENDA or DOMA repeal. The former has yet to see hearings or a vote; the latter is radioactive in an election year.
Despite the disappointments, there is much to celebrate this Pride season, including the enactment of same-sex marriage in D.C., which is why, for this edition of the Blade, we chose to recognize the work of 10 people making a difference. Of course, there are dozens of people who are doing important work on behalf of LGBT visibility and equality so our list is merely a sample of those helping to make 2010 a memorable year. At the top of our list is a straight ally, Rep. Patrick Murphy, an engaging and hard-working legislator and veteran who happens to believe strongly in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
He’s a rare politician: a straight shooter who stands up for what’s right, despite the potential negative consequences. The future of the movement depends on more such politically courageous advocates pushing for change.
Looking back on that editorial from last year proved a stark reminder of just how slow change comes. Then, I wrote:
“If our so-called Democratic ‘allies’ can’t pass ENDA and hate crimes and a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal is off the table come December 2009, then the entire movement is a bust and everyone working in it should resign and make way for more effective leadership. There will never be a better time to advance these measures. The Democrats have made lots of promises to LGBT voters and, more importantly to them, to gay donors. We’ve waited patiently for those politicians to deliver. Come December, my patience runs out. The clock is ticking.”
OK, maybe that was a tad strident. But those words reflect a frustration and impatience that boiled over in 2010 with the formation of GetEqual and the advent of direct action protests at the White House. The legislative process takes time and our system is imperfect, but the ability to advance the rest of our legislative agenda appears in doubt as we approach the November elections, which promise to be tough for the Democrats. When the party loses seats, look for LGBT issues to be bumped to the back burner until/if Obama wins a second term.
Indeed, change comes slowly, though sometimes unexpected change arrives like a swift slap in the face. That’s exactly how it felt when the Blade’s former parent company shut the paper down in November after crumbling under the weight of massive debt unrelated to our operations. Without rehashing those dark days, I wanted to acknowledge another group of people who make me proud: the staff and supporters of the Blade who made it possible for us to reinvent ourselves, reclaim the Blade name from bankruptcy court (and from out-of-town owners) and return to our mission of serving local readers and advertisers.
After a heartbreaking 2009, the Blade returned in April 2010 and thanks to our readers and advertisers, the issue you’re holding is even larger than last year’s Pride edition. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to our efforts. This year’s Pride has a special meaning for me and I look forward to walking in the parade with a large group of Blade supporters and celebrating all the good that has come in 2010.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.