The LGBT community has a long, hot summer ahead. The last election put avowed allies at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, yet the midterm election approaches with much of our legislative agenda unfulfilled. Those of us inclined to be angry can find ample justification.
Andrew Tobias, the openly gay treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, came in for abuse from the gay left recently when he listed President Obama’s pro-gay record, which includes signing the transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill; requiring hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds to allow LGBT visitation rights; signing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act; banning anti-transgender discrimination in the federal workplace; providing diplomatic passports and other benefits to the same-sex partners of foreign service officers; lifting the HIV immigration ban; and reforming the Census to improve the counting of gay couples.
Critics like blogger John Aravosis scorned Tobias for padding the list with symbolic gestures like signing the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; hosting the first LGBT Pride Month celebration in White House history; awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King; and speaking out against discrimination at the National Prayer Breakfast.
A reader named Jonathan responded to Tobias on May 19, ”If you are gay and remain a committed Democrat, you are an Uncle Tom. A house slave. No thank you. I don’t care who winds up in Congress or the White House, I will never vote for another Democrat.”
Tobias replied that our agenda will prevail sooner if we support Obama and the Democrats while continuing to push for change. ”By contrast, the more [we] manage to spread a message that diminishes and demoralizes, and that persuades good people … that the smart or principled or politically correct thing to do is not vote and not volunteer and not provide resources, the bleaker become our chances of winning the equality we deserve, and the slower it will come.”
The rejectionist option took a hit last week when Bil Browning at Bilerico.com turned his lens onto Get Equal, which has raised its profile by heckling President Obama and other allies. Noting that Get Equal co-directors Kip Williams and Robin McGehee make $72,000 and $89,000 respectively, Browning writes, ”Instead of a radically different, transparent and community-focused direct action organization, I got HRC Lite….” So much for this bold alternative to ”Gay Inc.”
Of course we can never be satisfied with ENDA not being passed and the Defense of Marriage Act not being repealed. Sen. McCain’s threatened filibuster might even sink repeal of the military gay ban, despite our having gotten closer than ever before. But the fact is that we are winning, as polls and demographic trends show, although not nearly fast enough. Impatience is a useful motivator, but rashness can set us back. Those among us who cry betrayal urge that we ”Remember in November” — meaning we should abandon our imperfect allies, thereby helping to elect more of our adversaries.
With the considerable advances we have made in the past 40 years, are threats really the best tools available to us? Is our smartest option to pull the house down upon ourselves?
No. Effective political relationships are not about mere hostage-taking. Creating change that endures is hard, and requires more than transactional rewards for good behavior. We will prevail by the truth and integrity of our lives as part of the national fabric, as Americans claiming our birthright of equal protection under the law.
What we need is not rage that makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but faithfulness that engages our fellow citizens in conversation open to discovery. Setbacks should drive us to persevere, not withdraw. We follow in the footsteps of others. Let us be confident and resolute and act like winners.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at .