Understanding LGBT disappointment with Obama

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly penned a post yesterday about all the pro-gay and pro-trans things President Obama has done this term. Steve concludes by implying that gays who are still somewhat unhappy with the President don’t really have a legitimate gripe. And I’m sure it looks that way to an outsider. But to those of us who work these issues, we know that a key factor in these accomplishments happening at all has been our very public displeasure that Steve seems to dismiss.

First, here’s Steve’s conclusion:

I realize there are still a sizable number of people in the LGBT community who are unsatisfied with the pace of change, and consider President Obama someone who has ignored, and even betrayed, their interests. Some have even vowed not to lift a finger to help with the president’s re-election effort.

I suspect many social-conservative activists, furious with the steps Obama has already taken to advance civil rights for the LGBT community, must find this inexplicable.

I’m sure it seems inexplicable if you simply look at a list of accomplishments that the Obama administration provides you.  But it’s really not that inexplicable when you know the facts about what actually happened.  If someone from the administration simply hands you Andy Tobias’ seriously-fluffed list of pro-LGBT accomplishments, it will look like a big deal.

Take the “new” federal benefits that the Obama administration granted the gay partners of federal employees. Big deal, you might think.  Sadly, it’s not true. And we proved a good two years ago, and the NYT reported on it (and credited us). The “new” benefits already existed, and were even being provided by the Bush administration.

From the NYT:

Earlier, John Berry, the administration’s director of personnel management, noted that the memorandum would extend some health-related benefits to same-sex couples. For instance, Mr. Berry said, United States medical facilities overseas would now be open to the partners of State Department employees.

But during an occasionally contentious conference call with reporters, Mr. Berry acknowledged that some federal supervisors were already conferring some of the benefits the administration was presenting as new. He did so after a blogger on the call, John Aravosis, told him about a note on his AmericaBlog Web site from a Defense Department employee, Lisa Polyak, who said the Army had allowed her to take sick leave to care for a same-sex partner, and nonbiological child, under existing provisions.

Imagine how it annoys our community when the administration keeps spinning this “accomplishment.”  It feels like they’re trying to trick us, like they’re trying to trick the Steve Benens of the word.  Even after they were called on it by the NYT, they still to this day claim this as an accomplishment.  (And note that those “new” benefits were only announced after Joe and I broke the story of the administration’s legal brief that invoked incest and pedophilia to justify the constitutionality of DOMA – the administration admitted as much – so, it was our ire that made them act (though as I point out, they didn’t really do anything new)).

Then there’s the fact that these benefits don’t include health care.   Steve didn’t mention that.  You see, the administrations claims that DOMA precludes them from providing health care benefits to the gay partners of federal employees. Except that the LGBT community legal groups say that isn’t true at all.  And they tried for months to get the administration to simply sit down with and hear their case – all they wanted to do was explain to the Obama administration why the law would permit them to provide gay partners with health benefits.  What happened?  The administration refused to meet with them until this blog (along with Greg Sargeant at the Washington Post) reported on it and blew the story up.  Do you think that unwillingness to even talk to our community’s leaders, while at the same time bragging about the very issue they refused to talk us about, might leave people with a legitimately bad taste in their mouth?

Then there’s DADT. Yes, we are finally, hopefully, on the verge of ending DADT once and for all. And had we followed the administration’s and HRC’s plan, which was to repeal the legislation this year, in 2011, it would have never happened because of the GOP congress. Fortunately, GetEqual, Dan Choi, the Netroots and a number of others raised quite a public fuss and forced the President’s, and the Congress’, hand. We worried, publicly, early last year that pushing this off until 2011 was a fatal mistake.  We were dismissed.  So we acted up and things changed.

So yes, we’re on the verge of ending DADT, and that is a wonderful thing. But to suggest that it’s proof that the community’s complaints about the President are somehow invalid is to ignore the very facts as to how the legislation passed, and nearly didn’t pass but for the grace of God before the Senate went out for good.

Then there’s ENDA. Well, no, then there isn’t ENDA. Nothing happened on ENDA. And there was no effort by the administration to move it one iota, even though it was one of the President’s top three promises to our community.

How about DOMA? Steve points out, correctly, that the White House is publicly supporting the DOMA repeal law in Congress.

And today, the president has offered his well-timed endorsement of the Respect For Marriage Act.

It might have been better timed two years ago when we had control of the House and Senate. And in any case, the President is already on record as supporting the repeal of DOMA. We need more than a reiteration fo the same position we already heard four years ago.

Speaking of DOMA, Steve notes that the President is no longer defending DOMA in court – another Obama win! And yes, it’s great that the President is no longer defending DOMA. Of course, what Steve doesn’t tell you is that the only reason he’s no longer defending DOMA is because people like us beat the bejesus out of the President and DOJ for two years on the issue, while we were repeatedly told by the administration (incorrectly, as we repeatedly pointed out) that they legally had to defend the anti-gay law. While we’re of course pleased that the President is no longer defending the law, and no longer implying some kind of legal relationship between the rape of small children and gay marriage (yes they did), is it that difficult to understand how two years of stonewalling on this issue might just leave a somewhat bitter taste in some people’s mouths?

I could go through the rest of Steve’s (aka Andy Tobias’) list.  Such as the fact that gay marriage itself is missing from the list.  An odd fact, since the President was for marriage equality in 1996, but somehow became un-for it when he decided he wanted to run for federal office.  How do you think it makes gays and lesbians feel when they see the President playing politics, and flip flopping, on one of our most basic human rights?

Then there are things on the list like the White House holding a reception to honor Stonewall – the one where none of the community leaders who criticized the President were invited to, or recording an “It Gets Better” video (only afte
r Hillary recorded one first).  Not to mention, are we seriously that pathetic of a civil rights community that someone holding a reception for us is now considered an amazing accomplishment?  I’d argue that we are such an important core Democratic constituency that they’d better hold a reception for us, and more.

My point is not to suggest that there is nothing the President can do to earn our praise, nor that he has done nothing of import for our community.  Rather, my point is that far too many of these accomplishments only happened because of the community’s ire.  Many of these accomplishments were so mishandled, that by the time it was all over people were so angry, and so dispirited, it became increasingly difficult to put on a happy face and pretend none of it ever happened.

Like so many things in life, the facts are more complicated and more nuanced than Andy Tobias’s list.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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