Power That Doesn’t Listen Fails/The Starving of the LGBT Community

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With all the lame-duck kerfuffle over repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I’ll admit I’ve been a little uninspired when it comes to what exactly to write. I like to use this space to make sense of things, but so much of what’s happened has felt so superficial. Did Senator Collins wait until after she knew the vote would fail to vote Aye last week? Maybe. Do General Amos’s comments about Marines losing legs if DADT is repealed amount to insubordination? Probably.

But there is nothing left to say about whether DADT should be repealed. There are no more arguments that need to be made about whether it affects unit cohesion or whether now is the time or whatever. We’re past that, and the rest has been largely political theater.

So as we continue to struggle to make it actually happen, we have to make sense of why it hasn’t yet. As I wrote last week, we always have to hammer home that Republicans are quite responsible for obstructing a number of important and worthwhile measures. But that answer doesn’t help us make sense of things, because we already knew to expect that. It’s like running right into the goomba and wondering why you died. You know the goomba’s role; the question you have to ask is, “Why didn’t Mario jump?”

The issue that wears down on our community isn’t necessarily blame so much as it is disappointment. If we look to President Obama or Senator Reid or HRC or whomever we were counting on, we need some kind of answer as to what went wrong. We need confessions of responsibility for missteps. We need apologies. We need something that resolves the conflict we have.

Power is so often misunderstood. When individuals attain power in a democracy, there are assumptions of trust. There are assumptions of authority and responsibility. We’re giving them this power because we have confidence that they will use it on our behalf. If our situation doesn’t improve, then they have to explain how they’ve let us down, and if they don’t take responsibility for that, then their leadership is compromised, because they no longer represent the constituency they claim to.

That’s why Pam Spaulding’s call for Joe Solmonese’s resignation last week made sense. In exchange for the community’s financial support, HRC made specific promises and commitments to achieving equality. Instead, they acted largely unilaterally, pandered to the very leaders they needed to apply pressure against, chided all criticism from the community, and ultimately failed to deliver on their promises. That is failure of leadership.

Power needs to listen. Power does not get to assume it can do no wrong because it has the power. Power is entrusted, and it must honor that trust. It must continue to listen.

If President Bush’s legacy was repeating false statements over and over in hopes of them being perceived as true, President Obama’s legacy will be ignoring true statements over and over in hopes of them being perceived as false. He continues to disregard cries from the LGBT movement that he has failed to be the fierce advocate he committed to being; in fact, he takes umbrage in response to such accusations. But now even Democrat leaders are calling him out on this, as Senator Levin did earlier this week. Until the President is truly willing to expend political capital on our behalf, he will continue to be a disappointment.

In this light, I have a bit more respect for Nancy Pelosi. At Netroots Nation over the summer, she told us that she agrees with us, but now we need to make her act. At the time, I was quite put off. Make you do it? It’s your job. Do it. But in some ways, what she said makes sense. She was calling for the same accountability from progressives that inspires the President’s umbrage—inviting it, in fact, and welcoming it. She was listening. She was appreciating. She was validating. Perhaps her hands were tied until other leaders were willing to take the same action; maybe she needed us to push others in the same way we were pushing her. But she was at least listening. (Why the House couldn’t have pushed through an ENDA in the same way they’re pushing through a stand-alone DADT Repeal this week is still beyond me.)

What I think these leaders do not fully appreciate is that as long as the LGBT community is treated as legally inferior, our health and well-being are not stagnant. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backward. We are starving. Feeding us a few baby carrots might sustain us a bit longer, but it doesn’t save us from our condition. In fact, we might get worse; we might face new complications. Our young people might not have the fortitude or endurance to persevere until it gets better. Those fighting the most on our behalf might falter; friend of the blog Dan Choi has recently been hospitalized, worn down by the sacrifices he has made at war and as a truly fierce advocate for our community. We wish the best for him, but his situation reminds us that continuing to push and continuing to fight are sacrifices; there are consequences.

In some ways, the bigger picture of the progress we have made over the past half-century doesn’t matter. To continue the metaphor, we’ve been fed a number of times and in some important ways, but our overall circumstances are still short of sustenance. The hope of equality is not the same as equality, and the disappointment when that hope isn’t honored adds stress to an already stressful situation.

We need leaders who listen. We are not gnats; we are real people with real concerns. Our calls for accountability are not attacks; they are measures of our leaders’ success. Our message of what we need hasn’t changed nor have our own goalposts. If our leaders want to shorten the goalposts so they can call themselves effective, they can certainly try. We, however, know what true victory looks like. We know what we need to see before we can confirm success, and we will not go quiet until we see it.

Until we have leaders who are committed to listening and honoring the needs of our community as we define them, we will continue to flounder. We will continue to starve for equality.

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