Saturday, June 20, 2009

Due Credit to the Obama Administration: Small Rapprochement with Gay Community

I believe in giving credit where credit is due. And I believe that, if I criticize, I also have an obligation to praise, where praise is merited. I have spent time the past two weeks offering abundant criticism of the current administration's handling of gay rights and gay people. Now I want to note some positive steps in recent days.

A number of sources (here and here and here and here) are reporting that White House officials Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Political Director Patrick Gaspard will hold a conference call with LGBT members of the DNC on Monday, that the White House is seeking ways to count same-sex couples on the next census, and that the Justice Department is going to meet with LGBT legal groups who had asked for a meeting prior to the DOMA brief but were rebuffed. And it appears that at yesterday's weekly press conference, the approach of Press Secretary Gibbs to questions about issues of concern to gay citizens and our supporters was more direct and respectful than has been the case for some time now.

John Aravosis, who has been pushing the administration hard in the area of gay rights, remains skeptical about whether these measures are too little, too late, and whether the administration really intends to cash in its major promises to the gay community.

And I appreciate the skepticism (and share it) even as I give the administration credit for trying to mend fences with a loyal, core Democratic (and progressive) constituency on whom it has been shitting from the outset of the new administration. As someone who has worked in highly charged political environments in church-related schools, I know how frequently leaders can promise to uphold high ideals that they belie over and over again through their behavior. I know that when leaders whose behavior does not match their rhetoric are pressed, they can often engage in machiavellian image-management maneuvers to make themselves appear engaged even as they continue their stonewalling.

I know what is possible. But I still hope. Even though I suspect that much of the turnaround is being driven by concerns about the drying up of gay dollars to DNC coffers as the upcoming DNC fund-raising gala with the gay community is tanking, I want to hold onto hope.

What else do we have, after eight years of Mr. Bush? At least we now have someone with intelligence and seeming integrity running the show, someone who knows how to talk about some of the core values that drive a democracy.

At the same time, blind hope is never effective hope, and blind citizenship, citizenship that turns a blind eye to the gap between rhetoric and reality, is negligent citizenship, so I continue to believe that, as we hope, we also need to watch. And to speak out. And to keep pressure on, particularly when political leaders seem prone to submit moral imperatives to ruthless pragmatic political calculation.

Last September in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Obama told us that, if elected, he wanted us to hold him and our government accountable for living up to the promises of the campaign. I intend to keep on doing that, for my part.