A Brief Word on President Obama’s Responsibility for Persisting LGBT Discrimination

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Pride month has come to an end, and we got a lot of lovely words from the Oval Office, but ultimately, another month of inaction.

Say what you will about GetEQUAL—they’re not a perfect group—but they have done much to raise the spirit of the queer equality movement. They have reminded us that it’s not enough to rely on corporate lobbyists to achieve our rights. Even if I’m not always 100% thrilled by what GetEQUAL does, I still feel like they do much better at speaking on my behalf than groups like HRC do.

And as I’ve pointed out (here, here, and especially here), the most important thing that direct action has done is place responsibility on our leaders, and in particular President Barack Obama. Stepping away from GetEQUAL, Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo are continuing the effort, announcing today that they are subpoenaing the President as part of their defense for chaining themselves to the White House fence (read more at Politico or Pam’s House Blend).

Their claim is novel and by no means bogus, and raises multiple questions. For example, is the President ever not the Commander in Chief? It cannot be denied that on multiple occasions he has instructed gay rights advocates to pressure him into action. Choi and Pietrangelo were not only following orders through their demonstration; they were also taking actions to “prevent a greater harm.”

The accountability falls back to President Obama. He has said we should pressure him. Did he mean only a little? He has said we should hold him accountable. Did he mean only if it’s convenient for him? We assume he meant that as a result of this pressure, we would see change. Was this just a ruse?

It’s not so far-fetched. President Obama has nothing to gain by advancing gay rights (except a potentially historic reputation as our hero, which seems unlikely at this point). He only benefits from the support of the LGBT community. So it doesn’t matter if he actually effects change; his only concern is that we buy in—literally—to the notion that he wants to effect the changes we want to see. It seems his game is catching up with him.

On yesterday’s Queer and Queerer Podcast, I mentioned Monday’s blog post by the Palm Center’s Chris Neff, urging the gay community to thank the President. Neff touts the fact that the President has stood by us despite our heckling, protesting, and blog-trashing, and we should be grateful that Obama is “fighting for equality.” Few (if any) of the comments on his post were positive. My own reaction was, “thankful for what?”

Thankful for affirmation? Done. I thanked him with several campaign contributions, which was no small feat for a student affairs graduate student. Where’s my action? Where’s my equality? Where is the change I caucused and voted for?

We are always moving; we are never still. When the President ignores us, we move backward. Words no longer move us forward. Now, only actions will suffice. And if he will not act, we must hold him accountable for his inaction. He, himself, has said as much.

I applaud Choi and Pietrangelo for their innovative strategy and look forward to its results.

Mr. President, you’re running out of opportunities to prove yourself to us. Demonstrate that you have the courage to support the convictions we hear from you so often.

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