It’s true. If you hang around Washington long enough you’ll get to see history repeat itself.
Back in the early 1990s, the LGBT community started off the presidency of Bill Clinton with a sense of optimism that, finally, things were going to change for the better. It wasn’t long until that optimism gave way to frustration and anger, with the passage of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the continued indifference of too many — both in government and out — to the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS.
Some in the community urged patience; others urged direct action. Activists yelled at the president, staged die-ins and demonstrated at the White House, trying to hold the administration accountable for its promises.
Now here we are in 2010, still early in the administration of Barack Obama, who came to office offering hope and promises to LGBT people. And here we are again, with direct-action activists challenging the president at public events, disrupting congressional hearings and chaining themselves to the White House fence.
It’s tempting to fall back on cliché that the more things change the more they stay the same. Tempting, but not quite true. For our community, the Clinton era kicked off with DADT and it was difficult to recover from there. No similar setback has hit us on the federal level (which doesn’t salve the sting of marriage-equality losses in California, Maine and New Jersey). Obama’s incrementalist approach has yielded a number of small victories — high-level appointments, regulatory changes and such.
But, of course, small victories aren’t all we’re looking for. We’re looking for an end to DADT, an odious policy that explicitly writes discrimination into law. The policy is opposed by an ever-growing majority of Americans, yet is still treated as radioactive by many in Congress and, apparently, the White House.
Others have the same passion for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that languished on the Hill after almost passing under a less-Democratic Congress, yet languishes still under a government we expected to be more supportive of LGBT issues.
Suddenly, we find ourselves exactly where many of us feared: a year-and-a-half into the Obama administration with our primary issues being steadily pushed to the side as the 2010 midterm elections approach. The greater fear, particularly with DADT repeal, is that once Republicans gain even slim control of Congress as expected, the window of opportunity will be closed for at least two years. Or four. Or even eight.
So, I understand the anger. I even share some of it. But, oddly enough, I’m still optimistic. That’s in part because, despite lack of action on DADT, I remain thrilled that after eight years of an appalling presidency I finally feel like the nation is back on track.
Still, moving the nation forward is no excuse to leave LGBT people behind. I’m not dismissive of what has been achieved so far — the new policy that will ensure hospital visitation and other rights for our partners is an important step and those who dismiss it as ”too little, too late” miss the greater point that not every moment in the movement is about marriage.
But it’s good to get a little angry, even if you’re not the type to chain yourself to a fence. If we’re not angry, we’re not involved. And if we’re not involved, we’re not holding all of our leaders accountable.