This was a revelation that began to dawn on many gay rights advocates sometime in 2009. I’m not exactly sure why we were one of the first progressive constituencies to conclude that we needed to make our voices heard loud and clear to President Obama and Democratic lawmakers — that we needed to let them know in no uncertain terms that we weren’t going to sit by quietly while they abandoned campaign promises only to reemerge like an impulsive suitor come 2012.
Maybe it’s because we were tired of paying the same taxes and not being able to pursue our happiness with equal fervor. Maybe it’s because for decades we had been told by Democrats, “Elect us and we’ll help you,” yet we had only seen discriminatory measures like “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act enacted into law. Maybe it’s because once your intelligence has been insulted flagrantly enough and your humanity denigrated deeply enough, you’ve got nothing left to lose. Whatever it was, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans had had enough.
And that’s why LGBT activists started handcuffing themselves to the fence that forms the perimeter around the White House, showing up at presidential events and sometimes shouting down Obama — even at fundraisers for progressive allies like California Senator Barbara Boxer. In fact, nothing seems to provoke the president more than being challenged by the progressive base. After studying Obama as a member of the press corps for nearly four years, the only time I have seen the fire of true indignation flare in his eyes is when he feels as though the left is questioning the authenticity of his progressive ideals.
It turns out the “change we can believe in” must come from within. It starts, by necessity, as a yearning that gives rise to a voice, which gives way to disenchantment, and even to unrest, if unanswered.
When the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” repeal was finally certified on September 20, queer rights advocates had at least the beginnings of an answer to their yearnings. Make no mistake — it is only a speck of light on the horizon for the movement. But it felt like the beginning of dawn — the start of a new era fulfilling the promise of America for the GLBT movement.
And as young as that day is, at least it has begun for us. Many of our progressive sisters and brothers are still groping in the dark.