At an MTV Town Hall this afternoon, President Obama answered several questions about the LGBT community, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and bullying/cyber-bullying. It was full of spin and a complete lack of conviction about the LGBT community. Not only was it as if he just learned what sexual orientation is last week, it was also as if he knew less about our identities than the way he talked about us back during the campaign. He also ignores addressing gender identity, gender presentation, or transgender people at all, despite being asked about them.
Much thanks to Towleroad for supplying the transcript (via the White House). Video can be found at the bottom.
Addressing bullying, Obama shared this tidbit about some initiative was taken:
And so we actually, the Department of Education, has initiated a — we had a summit a couple of weeks ago just to talk about this issue: How can we help local and state officials set up structures where young people feel safe, where there’s a trigger that goes off when this kind of bullying starts taking place so that immediately school officials can nip it at the bud? So there are a range of cooperative efforts that we can initiate.
It’s not clear exactly what was actually accomplished at this meeting, nor what any of these “cooperative efforts” were. It could very well have been another meeting about meeting, and the ambiguity is suspicious.
According to Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (and GLSEN founder):
The Department of Education has funds set aside for any school in crisis including bullying and harassment. They just have to ask for our assistance.
It is unclear whether these funds actually exist, whether any school administrators even know about them, how they are even accessed, and whether they have ever been distributed. Funds were conveniently distributed on October 5 to support safe schools, but this money was already pre-arranged and is not at all connected to the alleged emergency funds for “schools in crisis.” In fact, it was only too coincidental that the Department of Education released that news on that day because it just happened to be the National Safe Schools Day of Action, an initiative the department was not involved in coordinating.
Keep in mind, this is the same Kevin Jennings who shared back on August 5th that the Department of Education has not engaged whatsoever with the Safe Schools Improvement Act or the Student Non-Discrimination Act, pointing out that “the Education Department doesn’t make the policy, the White House does.”
So, what are you really doing to help make schools safer, Mr. President? Holding meetings without concrete results. That’s not saving our LGBTQ youth.
And so I think there’s also a values component to this that all of us have to be in a serious conversation about. Because ultimately peer pressure can lead people to bully, but peer pressure can also say bullying is not acceptable.
No commitment to education about LGBTQ identities. No commitment to safe schools legislation. No real answer.
Then, Obama was asked whether being gay or trans was a choice. Here is his incredibly weak response which completely ignores trans people.
I am not obviously — I don’t profess to be an expert. This is a layperson’s opinion. But I don’t think it’s a choice. I think people are born with a certain makeup, and we’re all children of God. We don’t make determinations about who we love. And that’s why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.
He doesn’t think it’s a choice. This is troubling. Maybe other people think other things, and that’s okay.
The answer is no. Being gay is not a choice. AND being trans is not a choice. There is scientific consensus on these points. There’s a problem with his implication people can still have differing opinions on this. This is not a fierce answer; it’s an answer that panders to people who “think” (believe) something different.
And yes, it really is a big deal that he left trans issues unaddressed. We cannot let us go down this road where it’s okay to just ignore trans issues, especially in situations like this where he is specifically addressed about them. We need to stand up for our trans community each and every time, or we’re no better than other allies we try to hold accountable (like supposedly Obama).
The final relevant question was about DADT. In fact, it specifically addressed issuing an executive order to end discharges.
The President totally dodged the question. The best we got was:
Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s was that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally. So this is not a situation in which with a stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy.
This doesn’t answer the question and is only a half-truth. While it’s true that the President cannot “simply end the policy,” he can simply end implementation of the policy for as long as he is President. There is no good reason that he cannot use an executive order to suspend discharges until he accomplishes repeal. He has refused to address this as he did again in this answer.
He also shared some of the same bunk from the DOJ’s application for an emergency stay filed earlier today:
And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy. It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now. But this is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end and it will end on my watch. But I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.
In addition to the same old bogus claim that we gays are suddenly going to make the military so disorderly, this is also another falsehood.
Not only does he have the choice not to enforce and defend laws he finds unconstitutional, there is a very relevant precedent for it. John Aravosis already beat me to making this point this evening, but let me refer to his other post from earlier today:
I’ve just been sent a White House transcript from 1996 showing the Clinton administration, explaining in detail, how it was not going to defend in court any cases kicking HIV+ service members out of the military because it believed the law requiring such discharges to be unconstitutional.
Did you get that? The President (President Clinton) did exactly what The President (President Obama) refused to do today.
I know John’s really frustrated this point isn’t getting enough attention, so I’m happy to reiterate it here today. President Obama is unnecessarily maintaining discrimination against gay people, lying about it, and ignoring the trans community entirely. Apparently, he thinks he’s doing a good job.
I wonder who keeps giving him the wrong impression…?
Kudos to the young people pushing Obama on these issues. He really needs pushed. Here’s a clip of the Q&A: