Stick in the Eye

LGBT people understand political pragmatism, but not why Obama has dumped us on employment discrimination

Whether or not we are hard-core political junkies, most of us in the LGBT community share some common understandings about politics as it relates to our lives. We know that the stances and actions of the politicians who support us are still influenced by overall political strategies that are designed to win votes and elections within the broader, so-called ”mainstream” community.

This is why, while we mock President Obama’s stance that his position on marriage is ”evolving,” we do it with the wink-and-nudge knowledge of the political calculation. The White House doesn’t want marriage equality to take center stage in the upcoming election and risk galvanizing and increasing Republican voters. We don’t have to agree with the strategy, but looking back at Bush v. Kerry in 2004 we can at least trace out the logic behind the argument.

Look also to Obama’s deliberate — or plodding, depending on your perspective — approach to the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I happened to be someone who, in general, supported that approach; others, like the activists behind Get Equal, loudly opposed it. But no matter which side we were on, we all understood the actual strategy that was being argued from the White House.

So it’s with a certain level of realism and experience that so many of us are looking at Obama’s decision to quash a federal order banning employment discrimination against LGBT employees of government contractors and asking, ”What the hell?”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking with people and trying to tease out the political calculus of the White House poking the LGBT community in the eye. I can’t find it. The best guess that anyone has is that some strategists somewhere deep within the internal workings of the Obama campaign have decided that the executive order would be too risky for an election year.

Simply put, that makes no sense. Obama already oversaw the repeal of DADT, an accomplishment met with celebration by the gay community, a shrug of ”about time” by most of the straight community, and booing of an openly gay soldier by that vocal minority that will always oppose anything acknowledging the humanity of LGBT people. Despite the president’s hemming and hawing over his personal ”evolution,” his Justice Department has declared a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and is no longer defending it against lawsuits.

The political consultants who would exploit anti-gay animus already have their ammunition for focus-grouped attack ads. Extending an existing nondiscrimination order to include LGBT people is frankly small potatoes in the larger political scheme of this presidential cycle.

Making matters worse are the laughable antics of the White House as it contorts itself to explain the inexplicable. Suddenly, a president who took administrative action to ease the burden of DADT while pursuing repeal in Congress — and who has publicly said that such actions are a valid approach to LGBT equality through the executive branch — now believes that administrative action is inappropriate.

Suddenly, a president who watched as Congress slipped into more ironclad control by a Republican party pledged to derail any action by the White House has decided that ”the time is right” for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Suddenly, a president who can rightfully claim to have done more to advance LGBT equality in this nation than all of his predecessors combined has decided to play political punching bag with a community he apparently feels has nowhere else to go come November.

I have an immense amount of admiration for President Obama’s approach of governing from careful consideration. Caution is a political value to be respected. Fear, however, is not.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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