September 8, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Behind the scenes of the Obama campaign

President Obama (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

[Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series.]

Gay and lesbian staffers have taken key roles ranging from public outreach to battleground state strategy in the campaign already underway to re-elect President Obama to the White House in 2012.

The Washington Blade interviewed four gay and lesbian staffers working to re-elect Obama from the campaign headquarters in Chicago. This article is the second in a two-part series and features interviews with two of the campaign workers: Jamie Citron, LGBT vote director for Project Vote, and Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy battleground states director.

As LGBT vote director for Project Vote, Citron, who’s 28 and gay, is focused on monitoring the news developments and needs of the LGBT community. Established in August, Project Vote is the Obama campaign’s initiative aimed at encouraging participation among Democratic base constituencies, including LGBT Americans.

“Usually when I first make it into the office, it’s trying to catch up on the community,” Citron said. “It’s seeing what the conversations are, what the buzz was overnight on the listservs. It’s about reading the blogs and reading the LGBT press and seeing what the top lines of the stories are today.”

Other daily duties for Citron are meeting with the rest of the Project Vote team to discuss the best ways for taking the Obama campaign’s messages to the Democratic Party’s constituencies — as well as integrating the concerns of those constituencies into the campaign.

“Most important to me in my mind, each of us kind of figures out how we can work together across constituencies and make sure that we are engaging people as whole people instead of just focusing on one block at a time,” Citron said.

Citron’s role with the Obama campaign is similar to his previous role at the Democratic National Committee, where he served as director of the LGBT leadership council. Citron, who was also involved in the 2008 campaign, said he transferred back to the campaign to take a more direct role in the “engine working the campaign” to re-elect Obama.

A Chicago native, Citron said he also wanted to return to the Windy City to be closer to his boyfriend of three years, Tyler, who’s 30 and a lawyer living in the area. The two met in 2007 at an Obama fundraiser. Citron asked that Tyler’s last name be withheld.

The scope of Jean-Pierre’s role is somewhat larger as she develops campaign strategy for the battleground states in 2012. A key task: providing resources to states and figuring out the best way for them to get the word out for the campaign.

“To me, getting the president re-elected right now is the most important thing that I can be doing with my life,” Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre’s role is similar to her duties in 2008 as the Obama campaign’s southern political director. Upon Obama’s election, Jean-Pierre, a lesbian, became White House liaison to the Labor Department and later became regional director in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

For Jean-Pierre, the decision to work as part of the 2012 campaign as opposed to staying at the White House was an easy one.

Under the Obama administration, the LGBT community has seen significant achievements, including passage an expanded federal hate crimes law and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In February, Obama declared that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional — after initially defending the anti-gay law in court — and has been filing legal briefs against the statute.

Still, Obama has yet to fulfill all promises to the LGBT community on which he campaigned in 2008. One notable outstanding goal is passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Obama’s lack of support of same-sex marriage continues to disappoint LGBT advocates.

But those working on the Obama campaign maintain has been a friend to the community and will continue to be an LGBT advocate during a second term in office.

As a recent example of support, Citron cited the news of the Obama administration reasserting that DOMA is unconstitutional in a legal brief against the anti-gay statute in the case of Windsor v. United States as well as an announcement that the Department of Homeland Security will work to take foreign nationals in same-sex relationships out of the deportation pipeline.

“I think the conversation between the LGBT community and the president certainly has been robust over the three years, and I think a lot of good things have come out about it,” Citron said. “Is the conversation finished? No. But I think it’s important that we acknowledge all that has come out from that and all that continues to come out.”

Campaign workers may also have their work cut out for them in convincing the general public to send the president back to the White House. According to recent polls, Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. A Gallup poll published over the weekend found the president’s approval rating stands at just 42 percent.

Citron maintained LGBT people should be part of the effort to re-elect Obama.

“I think that the LGBT community could agree with me when I say I know that a second Obama term means more forward progress, whereas with a Republican entering the White House in 2012, not only does that signal the end to that progress, but it signals the start of a backwards march,” Citron said. “I think that’s something we should all be concerned about.”

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

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