On Aug. 28, 2008, I listened to Sen. Barack Obama outline his soaring vision for America. I felt like he was speaking directly to me when he said, ”I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.” In my opinion, his statement was his promise to millions of LGBT Americans that we were part of his plan to make America a better place and that eliminating those vestiges of discrimination would be an important part of his agenda.
Like millions of Americans, I decided that I would work hard to help elect Barack Obama president of the United States.
It has been a little over a year since Barack Obama was sworn in as our president, and there has been much discussion in some quarters of LGBT communities questioning whether or not his administration has the stomach to move ”our” agenda forward. There are those who believe he is moving too slowly on the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and that he has not done enough to push the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Many of those same voices have called for the LGBT community to withhold support and money from the Democratic Party, based on their belief that President Obama has not kept his word to our communities. But for this Black Gay American, this rhetoric contrasts greatly with the reality of the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues during his first year in office.
In only one year in office, the Obama administration has extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees; signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the existing U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or disability; lifted the HIV entry ban; extended the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act; reversed an inexcusable U.S. position by signing the United Nations declaration on gay rights; endorsed the Baldwin-Lieberman bill; hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including over 10 Senate-confirmed appointments; and in the summer of 2009, the administration released the first presidential Pride proclamation since the year 2000.
In addition, the Obama administration has sought out input from the LGBT community on hundreds of proposed policy changes affecting all levels of the federal government. With Adm. Mike Mullen publicly stating his support for the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” anyone who understands how the Pentagon operates must realize that the Obama administration had a strong hand in moving the military establishment to support the repeal of DADT.
While our great nation still has a far ways to go before LGBT Americans will enjoy all of the promises and benefits made to us in the Constitution, I do believe that the Obama administration has been subject to unfair criticism from parts of the LGBT community, who, for whatever reasons, refuse to acknowledge the many accomplishments in the first year of this administration. I have faith that our president will continue to make good on the promises made that warm summer evening in Denver, and this Black Gay American will continue to support the Obama administration as one of our best hopes to bring about equality for LGBT Americans.
Earl D. Fowlkes Jr. is a Washington resident and a member at large on the Democratic National Committee.