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White House Changes LGBT Civil Rights Commitments On Web Site

Jim Burroway

April 30th, 2009

Several readers contacted us to point out that there was a radical change to the White House’s page of Civil Rights commitments for LGBT people. Where once there was a detailed eight-point commitment to improving LGBT rights in America, there is now only this three paragraph statement:

CIVIL RIGHTS
Progress

  • The President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.

President Obama recognizes that our civil rights laws and principles are at the core of our nation. He has spent much of his career fighting to strengthen civil rights – as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, Illinois State Senator, U.S. Senator, and now as President. He knows that our country grows stronger when all Americans have access to opportunity and are able to participate fully in our economy.

Strengthen Anti-Discrimination Laws
On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act to ensure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. The President is committed to expanding funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that voting rights are protected and Americans do not suffer from increased discrimination during a time of economic distress. President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Lead Criminal Justice Reform
The President will lead the fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. He will seek to strengthen federal hate crime legislation and will work to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies do not resort to racial profiling. He supports funding for drug courts, giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior. President Obama will also improve ex-offender employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling so ex-offenders can successfully re-join society.

On Inauguration Day, we were pleasantly surprised to see a much more comprehensive list of objectives. The latest updates represent a deep dissapointment. Missing from the new page is any mention of promoting meaningful AIDS prevention and the enactment of the Microbicides Development Act to empower women to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The latter, strictly speaking, isn’t necessarily an LGBT issue. But given all that we’ve been through the past quarter century, I think it’s safe to say that the LGBT community is very sensitive to how HIV/AIDS affects everyone. And given the neglect from many previous administrations to domestic HIV/AIDS initiatives, many in the LGBT community look at commitments like this as a possible bellwether.

Also gone from the web page is Obama’s campaign promise to repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” This was one area in which then-Sen. Obama set himself apart from Sen. Hillary Clinton during the race to capture the Democratic nomination. Obama was among the few who called for the full repeal of DOMA. Sen. Clinton, for example, only advocated a partial repeal. Seeing DOMA missing altogether from the re-vamped web site is particularly disturbing.

And then there’s the mention of “changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in a sensible way.” That looks like a clear backtrack from his earlier promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This critical change only serves to reinforce growing suspicions that the administration is backing away from this important, high-profile promise. [Update: The line has now been changed to "He supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way..."]

It’s unclear how much of this represents a genuine policy shift, or just a reshuffling of the web site’s focus. A letter sent to Joe.My.God suggests the latter. But whatever the case may be, we will continue to hold the Obama administration accountable to the promises he made throughout his campaign and confirmed on Inauguration Day. In case there’s any confusion as to what was originally promised, I’ve reproduced those original commitments below.

Support for the LGBT Community

“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

– Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.

Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma — too often tied to homophobia — that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

Comments

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Stefano A
April 30th, 2009 | LINK

Call me a cynic, but I’m not particularly impressed by the reason Rea Carey probed to Joe Jervis.

I’m particularly unimpressed that the news was relayed “second-hand” about something the White House should have released a statement on directly to the public.

I think this is a good indication of what is to come from this administration in terms of back peddling on its campaign and initial promises of commitment.

As far as the Carey provided “reason” for the change, I find it rather lame on the part of the White House if that is the actual “reason” for the change. It would make much more since to leave the original goals and then add an additional section for “progress”.

I had great hopes for this administration regarding LGBT issues, but I’m quickly becoming disillusioned and returning to the belief that any progress made will not be because of White House administrative support and placative administrative position appointments but will be the result of continued high-intensive lobbying of legislators directly.

David C.
April 30th, 2009 | LINK

It’s unclear how much of this represents a genuine policy shift, or just a reshuffling of the web site’s focus.

Yup, it’s hard to tell what’s happening.

I had great hopes for this administration regarding LGBT issues, but I’m quickly becoming disillusioned and returning to the belief that any progress made will not be because of White House administrative support and placative administrative position appointments but will be the result of continued high-intensive lobbying of legislators directly.
—Stefano A

One of the things about being President of the United States is that you aren’t King. You can’t really make (or unmake) laws, you have to depend on Congress to do that. The shift from being candidate Obama to being President Obama may not have been adequately reflected in the original make-up of the Obama administration website. in the euphoria following the election of the president, I’m certain there was a lot of “candidate Obama” idealism reflected in the public electronic face of the new administration.

Now, the first 100 days of the Obama presidency have been marked. The president himself has confronted the very sobering reality of Washington politics. Certainly, the staff charged with maintaining the web presence of the administration doesn’t act in a vacuum. Whatever these changes reflect, it’s at least likely that those responsible for them have begun to approach gay rights in a manner consistent with the President’s growing experience with actually being the President.

President Obama is no doubt beginning to internalize and practice the statecraft necessary to actually govern. That could mean a lot of things, but it certainly means taking a dispassionate look at what has to be done and which compromises will be needed to make the deals that actually result in progress for the administration’s legislative agenda. Part of that could be re-crafting campaign promises into a more general framework, and for example, developing a comprehensive civil rights policy that includes a wider range of individuals and not just gay people, but other groups whose involvement helps to build wider support for the principals that underlie it. The result is a rising tide that lifts all boats including those of gay people and the allied interests of other groups with a common cause.

We are too often ready to abandon hope of change and those that want to support us. We have been a repressed and often persecuted minority for more than a millennium, and it is unreasonable to expect that we will gain all of our freedoms and redress all wrongs done to us in a few months. The modern gay rights movement might reasonably trace its beginning to the Stonewall riots of 1969—a “mere” 40 years. We have been in this fight for a long time, and I suspect it won’t be over even in my lifetime, certainly not everywhere in the world, and in the United States we may still be looking at decades before the last vestige of legal discrimination against gay people is removed from the books.

It’s hard to be patient when the goals seem so few, so close, and the time seems so right. When we see the progress of the last few weeks on the same-sex marriage front, we are heartened and think that our time has come. Becoming disillusioned just because a website changes a bit is no reason to give up on a leader that has had the courage to speak up for us, and risen to the Presidency in a near landslide in spite of his support for a minority that many Americans still revile out of ignorance or “tradition”.

We will of course have to persist in our efforts to bring about change, because it is our elected representatives that will ultimately make (or unmake) the laws that grant us the full rights due all citizens of the United States. That will require patience, determined and dedicated work, and giving of our substance to accomplish. There are enough enemies arrayed against us and the courageous leaders that work with us. Let us continue to support and encourage those that are on the right side of history and freedom, adding our voices to theirs as they bespeak reason and justice.

Dan
April 30th, 2009 | LINK

I understand all the differences between candidate Obama and president Obama. However, times are different, we now have blogs, viral activism, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, actually most of MSNBC.

If the above decide to shine a light on this it could force the white house to address this issue instead of them acting in the dark without anybody calling them on it.

That’s how things should be done in the 21st century.

David C.
April 30th, 2009 | LINK

If the above decide to shine a light on this it could force the white house to address this issue instead of them acting in the dark without anybody calling them on it. —Dan

I’d say that’s happening, and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks at whitehouse.gov, too.

I would hesitate to say the change to the Civil Rights page of the Obama administration legislative agenda was made “in the dark”, perhaps without fanfare, but not in a way meant to deceive. The language has changed there, most certainly, and opponents of DADT have reason for renewed concern.

I do think we should continue to let President Obama know what we think about his positions as they evolve, but the real engine of change is Congress, so make sure to let your representatives know what you think, too.

cowboy
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

David C., Your comments make me have hope and optimism. Thank you.

ravenbiker
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

I’m extraordinarily skeptical of this administration. My friends assumed since I am gay that I would vote for Mr. Obama. One-third of us LGBT people did not vote for him. And being one of those gay individuals who is a fisical conservative, I must say that this “bailout” stinks to high heaven!

I digress—the bottom line is, I’m guessing that Mr. Obama is like any other cynical Democrat—backpeddles to the polls when it comes to social, civil and human issues.

And yet, because of the wisdom my liberal friends seem to posses, I’ve adopted a “wait and see” approach to Mr. Obama like I do to any other elected official. I also know that 100 days is too short of a time to gauge how this administration will do for us LBGT Americans. And no, he is not a “king” like Dubyuh was (but with a Democrat Congress, he can be!). After all, talk is cheap and his “statements” have that “feel.” I do, however, have the “audacity of hope” that Mr. Obama isn’t just any mamby-pamby liberal and that he actually walks his talk.

I’m watching Mr. Obama. I’m watching.

Stefano A
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

WhiteHouse.Gov has tweaked the page, it now reads:

Strengthen Anti-Discrimination Laws
On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act to ensure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. The President is committed to expanding funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that voting rights are protected and Americans do not suffer from increased discrimination during a time of economic distress. President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

So instead of support a repeal of DADT, now he supports “changing” DADT.

What I ask, is what does that mean, exactly?.

Either you include gays openly in military services or you don’t.

Priya Lynn
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

Dissapointing but not surprising. In any event I’m waiting until 4 years are up before passing judgment.

David C.
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

Apparently our vigilance has paid off. Much of the original wording has now been restored.

Ephilei
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

David – I see the newer, sadder version. Maybe you’re still seeing the cache of the old version. (In Firefox, press Ctrl+F5 to clear your cache.)

Websites aren’t totally representative of a person or organization. Nor are campaign promises. Matter of fact, a politician’s own words aren’t representative. Only actions matter.

John
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

I voted for Barak Obama. I contributed to his campaign. I am a liberal Democrat. So far he has done nothing but anger me by inviting a despicable bigot to speak at his inauguration.

I can’t imagine that the Republicans will produce a person that I am willing to vote for during my lifetime, but I sure as hell am not going to vote for Obama in 2012 unless he produces tangible results on the gay rights goals he set for his administration. There is no reason for me to support him, if he doesn’t support me and my family.

Obama Seems to Be Backing Off Promises to Gays « Deanna’s Ramblings
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

[...] Gay Rights, WordPress Political Blogs, Civil Rights by deannaizme I’m quite disturbed by this.  The White House has changed its Civil Rights page quite substantially, removing most of the [...]

Stefano A
May 1st, 2009 | LINK

Apparently our vigilance has paid off. Much of the original wording has now been restored.

Yes, I’ve noticed re: DADT they’ve tweaked it again so that instead of “change” it now again says “repeal”.

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