June 21, 2010 at 11:04 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Invitees hopeful for White House's Pride reception

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.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Given Obama’s dismal record on LGBT rights, I expect this event will turn out to be nothing more than a fundraiser pep rally that accomplishes nothing. Obama and the Dems in Congress have not kept their promises to the LGBT Community. I hope the invitees push the issue and demand answers as to when and how the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, Employment Nondiscrimination Act, Student Nondiscrimination Act, Uniting American Familes Act and the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell are going to take place. Right now it looks like all they have to show for themselves is the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill, (hidden in a defense authorization bill last year) and possibly a promise to repeal DADT that may not actually take place for years, and even that may not pass this year. Personally, I don’t believe anything they say anymore, and sure enough Obama have betrayed us far too many times to be trusted or seen as “A fierce advocate for the LGBT community”.

  • It appears that activist leaders (such as heads of statewide groups) who were not on the invite list for last year’s Stonewall 40 WH reception were invited this year. That would indicate no snub of Solmonese et al., but simply a desire to reach out to more people. Given the number of people at such receptions, one person can’t expect to have time for more than a few sentences with the President; I was at last year’s event, and asked Obama to support the Uniting American Families Act. But there were also staffers there, including Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Brian Bond. It’s great having face time with the President, but the staffers are the ones to follow up with on the details. Those who scorn the reception as if it’s all we’re getting (on the false assertion that if we don’t get everything immediately then we’re getting nothing) are free to stay away. Those who do go, who are serious about actually creating change (which is difficult and messy) rather than just complaining, will have a chance to make or renew connections that can be valuable. I am tired of the self-righteous, professionally angry types who act as if snarling and spitting are the only legitimate approach to activism. Anger is valuable when it is channeled productively, but that doesn’t require calling other activists sellouts because they add to their busy schedules a reception with our imperfect ally in the White House. Imperfection does not make an ally into an enemy. It’s hardly surprising, BTW, that Robin McGehee was not invited. If you choose heckling and threatening disruptions as your modus operandi, and you make clear your scorn for people who attend receptions, why would you be invited to a reception?

    • Rick here’s some charmin wipe your nose.

      As for your defense of Solmonsleaze an “activists” how wrong can you be. he is a “professional advocate” and quite a bad one at that.

  • Robin McGeHee says go to the White House and “go in and come out with answers.” How childish. Are those “answers” behind a painting or in a cookie jar, Robin?

    This is what you get for $$89,000 a year?

    McGeHee also barged into to Chairman Miller’s Committee Meetings with a bag of markers because “Miller couldn’t afford markers.” Or her call for the LGBT Community to send Nancy Pelosi a pack of gum every day “until she learns she can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

    Whatever Kip Williams was trying to shout at the President was probably equally stimulating.

    Jonathan Lewis and Paul Yandura hired Robin and Kip to “embarrass Democrats.” They have only succeeded in embarrassing all of us with their childish publicity stunts. Fortunately, GetEQUAL has been ignored by the media and they haven’t attracted any participants to the “rallies.”

    This childish “demanding” is counterproductive.

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