Joe and I got back a few hours ago from Mike Signorile’s gay townhall meeting he held in Washington today. It was quite interesting. Mike assembled the leaders of NGLTF, HRC, SLDN and NCTE, and a few advocates (Pam Spaulding and Richard Socarides), and had a two hour discussion about our groups and our movement, with an audience.
It was interesting. Much of the time was spent on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which doesn’t surprise me. For whatever reason, that issue has risen in importance in the community, even passing ENDA and DOMA in the gay public mind (I think). Much of the discussion was focused on the President, and the fact that he isn’t keeping his promise to help us pass repeal this year.
It began with Mike asking the panel to give the President and the Congress a grade. All I remember was the presidential side. Pam gave Obama a D. Aubrey at SLDN gave him a C. Joe Solmonese at HRC gave him a B. The Task Force’s Rea Carey gave him a D. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s executive director Mara Keisling gave him a B. And Richard Socarides gave him a D.
Many, if not all, of the hard questions were for Solmonese at HRC. Honestly, it was two hours of talk, and they made us turn off our phones, so I couldn’t take notes (I use my iphone to take notes). But one bit of news that I found particularly interesting was that the White House has apparently been ostracizing SLDN, our lead “gays in the military” group. I know far more about this issue than what was said today, but much of what I know was gleaned in confidence, so I’ll only share what was public today (I’m only saying this to let you know that SLDN wasn’t lying, the White House has been playing games with them for a while).
In a nutshell, the White House got angry at SLDN last year for advocating just a bit too strongly (in the White House’s view) for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. You see, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina made clear last year that he wasn’t terribly interested in moving ahead with the repeal of DADT. Aubrey Sarvis, who heads up SLDN, somehow got the notion in his head that Barack Obama was serious when he said that he planned to be our fierce advocate and fight for the repeal of DADT. So Aubry took the White House on, held a protest outside, and ran an ad in one of the big Capitol Hill papers. Unaccustomed to gay rights groups who actually fight for gay rights, the White House decided to cut SLDN off. (Again, I know much more about this story from a variety of sources – the story is true.)
One of the biggest FU’s they gave SLDN was refusing to invite them to a key meeting with Messina earlier this year. That would be the meeting at which Messina made clear, only five days after the President promised in his State of the Union to repeal DADT this year, that he wasn’t very interested in proceeding with DADT this year either. (At the meeting, Messina lectured our groups about the US “being in two wars” – yes, he used the GOP talking point that is often used to oppose DADT – apparently implying that somehow our fight for civil rights is unpatriotic, or at best an inconvenient distraction from the important business of our nation.) HRC was at the meeting, but not SLDN, our lead group on the issue. From what we hear, HRC didn’t exactly object to what Messina said.
And we wonder why the DADT repeal effort is so screwed up. The White House cut off our top group on the issue, and only dealt with those they felt they could manage. And manage they did.
People weren’t terribly thrilled to hear this news at the townhall today.
It’s just another example of how the Obama administration, and the Democratic party overall, feels about gay and lesbian Democrats, and our friends and families. The President makes a promise, Jim Messina breaks the promise, one of our groups stands up and demands the promise be kept, so the group is sent to political Gitmo.
That kind of strong-arm tactic might work when it’s a secret (or when the group is a push-over more interested in access than actually doing anything), but now that the entire community knows that you’re dicking around with their leaders and their civil rights, it tends to really tick them off.
Heckuva job, Messina.