If history has a hobby, it’s making those who assume to know its course look foolish.
At the close of the last decade, somewhat weary of an administration that had done some good while managing to bring out the worst in its opponents (and many of its supporters), I wrote with my tongue not fully in cheek: ”I have to admit, though, I’m finding George W. Bush a little attractive these days (in the political, not aesthetic, sense), or at least his policy of ‘compassionate conservatism.”’
I distinctly remember thinking at the time, Hey, how bad could he be?
While I ultimately voted against Bush — in the end, not that hard of a choice — it’s worth remembering that before his election and even in the early days of his administration, there was some amount of hope that this particular spate of Republicanism would be different for gays and lesbians. His meeting with Log Cabin Republicans was a step up from 1996, when Bob Dole declined to accept the group’s campaign donation, and his friendship with an openly gay man, Charles Francis, seemed to bode well for the new president’s feelings about gay and lesbian citizens.
It would be almost charmingly naive in hindsight had we not actually lived through two terms of such things as the Federal Marriage Amendment and endlessly rehashed culture war propaganda.
The point being that it’s difficult to know where a new decade will take us, no matter how confidently — or cockily — we approach it. Just as our current decade didn’t really begin until a September morning in 2001, we can’t know when or how the next one will truly arrive.
It’s easy to think that the new decade launched early when Barack Obama took office in January. Certainly, from an LGBT perspective, it seemed to be a transitional moment. As long as you were able to ignore the invocation delivered by Rick Warren.
The year since has been a mixed one as LGBT progress has inched forward on some fronts while frustrating and perplexing delays have blocked us on others. Although it’s easy to understand why so many in our community began the year with such high hopes for success, the idea that our goals of equality would be achieved within a matter of months or weeks was misguided, at best. Change doesn’t come easy.
That doesn’t mean we should tamp down all our disappointment or pretend we’re making progress when we’re not. While one year in office can’t define the Obama administration as a failure for LGBT people, it could easily become foreshadowing for future letdowns. That’s why the pushing and prodding and outright anger from some parts of our community are every bit as relevant and necessary as those voices pointing out the progress we’ve seen in 2009.
With such stinging losses in Maine and New York recently, it should be a point of pride for us all that Washington, D.C., delivered one of the strongest and sweetest victories of the year with the passage of marriage equality. Perhaps this will be the moment that, 10 years from now, we’ll look back on as the start of a new decade when LGBT people broke through in the national fight for equality.
Or, perhaps, that moment will come in 2010 when ENDA passes in Congress.
Or when Congress and the president finally work together to repeal the odious ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Or when California’s Proposition 8 is judged to be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection under the law.
There are many opportunities for us to move forward and just as many ways for us to fail. Having political leaders who at least profess to support us is an important element of our future success, but not a replacement for what we can do individually each day: Live our lives openly and honestly, demanding the same respect as LGBT citizens as we give to others.
While we may not know exactly when we’ll get there, with that course set we’ll end up where we’ve always known we belong — on the right side of history.
Sean Bugg can be reached at .