The White House Wants To Buy Us A Drink
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
June 22nd, 2009
Last week, word went out that the Justice Department will meet with LGBT groups to try to iron out how the Justice Department can go forward with future litigation with DOMA without insulting a key group of fellow Americans. I think that has the potential of being a very good move, and I’m glad LGBT advocacy groups are being invited to this working meeting. But we are also learning that the White House plans on inviting LGBT leadership to a cocktail party of some sort later in the week. I can’t think of anything more inappropriate than that.
I think Michelangelo Signorile sums it up just right. I agree that it was important for LGBT leaders to be on hand when President Barack Obama signed the president’s memorandum providing for very limited benefits for gay employees. It was, as Signorile points out, LGBT business, and we expect LGBT leaders to be on hand whenever LGBT business is being conducted. And it’s good that LGBT leaders will be meeting with the Justice Department tomorrow. Again, more business.
But a cocktail party? I can’t imagine that any self-respecting gay person would agree to go to a cocktail party at this stage in our difficult relationship with the current administration, although I have to concede that House and Senate Republicans, even some of the most conservative ones, have taken the White House up on similar invitations.
But still, I think that attending a cocktail party sends two wrong signals. One, serious business like what we’ve gone through over the past week calls for serious and frank meetings. What we need is actual movement on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and (this one was supposed to be “easy”) finally enacting the Hate Crimes bill that was supposed to have come out this week but now is more likely before Congress recesses in August, if Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid can be taken at his word. We’re looking for real movement and a plan forward, not drinks and witty reparté.
And there’s another message that I have trouble squaring. The Human Rights Campaign in particular has labored under criticisms of being too cozy with the Washington power structure, and that those cozy relationships have led the HRC to go easy on pressing for important issues like repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s the perception, and it’s one that the HRC may just now be growing sensitive to. This latest flap over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief led the HRC to play catch-up with grassroots anger and suspicion, and they did that by issuing an unusually sternly worded letter to the White House. If the HRC really wants to shed its image of the go-along-to-get-along Washington schmoozing machine, the worst thing they could do would be to take the White House up on this latest invitation.
It looks like, for the time being, our relationship with the Obama administration can be divided into two periods: pre-DOMA brief and post-DOMA brief. In the pre-DOMA brief days, this party would have been seen as a good sign. We would have rejoiced that the White House engaged in this symbolic act, and the HRC would have basked in the glow. But that was before the DOMA brief — and before there were cocktail invitations. That brief changed everything. One way to understand the negative reaction surrounding the presidentail memorandum is that symbolic acts no longer cut it. LGBT leaders need to be cognizant of that or risk their own relevance in the LGBT community.
Update: I’ve changed my mind.