Get Rational

The movement has momentum, but infighting and petulance hinder

Get Equal, which specializes in direct actions like heckling our allies with demands for Total Equality Right Now, has at least one like-minded boor in the blogosphere: John Aravosis, editor of Americablog.

Aravosis wrote on April 22 (at the bottom of a post by colleague Joe Sudbay), “It’s astounding how badly this White House has f*cked over our community.” This vulgar hyperbole referred to a report by an unnamed activist that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, at a Feb. 1 meeting with activists, said the president would not recommend attaching repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the defense authorization bill. In his State of the Union address five days earlier, the president had said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal” DADT. David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign and lobbyist Robert Raben said Messina was noncommittal.

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic defended Messina’s pro-gay credentials on April 23: “Messina … convinced the military to start the process to end the gay ban … orchestrated the compelling testimony of Gates and Mullen … worked with the Pentagon to relax the rules until the ban is ended … coordinated the drafting of the executive order preventing hospitals from banning gays from visiting their partners [and] made sure that the HIV immigration ban was rescinded.”

Aravosis responded by calling Ambinder a White House shill. He accused Obama of wanting to put off DADT repeal until expected Republican electoral gains make it impossible.

Aravosis is the same blogger who on Oct. 3, 2007, during arguments over transgender inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, wrote that many in the gay rank and file were privately asking “when [it was that] transgendered people became part of the gay community?” This ignored trans people’s involvement in such pre-Stonewall incidents as the sit-in at Dewey’s Lunch Counter in Philadelphia in 1965 and the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966. Our cause is not helped by questioning one another’s movement credentials. Nor is it helped by cries of betrayal at every disagreement over strategy or timing.

Considering that Aravosis would exclude trans people from the movement, it is ironic that one of the servicemembers he videotaped as they handcuffed themselves to the White House fence last week was transgender veteran Autumn Sandeen.

Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told Kerry Eleveld of The Advocate last week that only two or three more votes are needed to add DADT repeal to the defense bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need the president to become actively engaged in this vote, not unlike the way he is engaged with financial services reform right now,” Sarvis said. I agree with him, as well as with David Smith, who sees no conflict in repealing DADT while a Pentagon working group studies the matter. The exclusion of Sarvis from the Feb. 1 White House meeting after he was publicly critical is troubling.

Despite such pettiness and a crowded agenda, President Obama has already signed LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation; signed memos ordering federal employee benefits and hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners; and completed the abolition of the HIV immigration ban. No, that is not enough; but what sense does it make to treat anything short of instant perfection in a proven ally as justification for streams of bile? This impulse is irrational and destructive.

If our message is grounded in patriotic indignation rather than entitlement-fueled rage, it might persuade more people. Amid so much political anger, a calm, disciplined and compelling message could mark us as the grown-ups in the room.

It comes down to the difference between demanding respect and commanding it. We are winning, but we have much more work to do. We need resolve, not petulance.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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