I’ve Changed My Mind
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
June 24th, 2009
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…
The seeds for my turnaround were planted when I finished that sentence:
…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.
I’ve thought a lot about that since then and here’s the deal. We’ve been telling everyone we can think of about the importance of being out and being visible to our families, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers — everywhere and to everyone. The power of our presence as real live human beings rather than ill-informed stereotypes has made a huge difference in what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past few years. It seems to me that wherever there is an opportunity to make our presence known in the flesh, we should take that opportunity and run with it.
And when that opportunity extends to meeting with the President of the United States, it becomes less an opportunity and more an obligation. Presidents have a tendency to become ensconced in a bubble surrounded by like-minded aides and sycophants. As much as I believe this President is trying to keep that from happening, it’s just a natural consequence of the office. He has obviously been told by those around him that our concerns can wait, that we’re just happy he’s there, and we’ll hang in there no matter what. If nobody’s there to tell him otherwise, how is he to know any different?
True, he can turn on television and watch the talking heads, but I think we all know how well television reflects real life. Not very well at all. And if we’ve learned not to believe everything we see on television, I’m sure the President has learned that too.
No, we’ve been talking about the importance of person-to-person conversations and sharing of our lives with others. Why is it now suddenly acceptable to say that we will refuse to do so with the President?
There appears to be three main arguments against attending the White House cocktail party. The first argument is this: that those who will attend will be co-opted into a White House photo-op of Obama surrounded by His Friendly Gays. That could happen, but I doubt it. Remember all those cocktail parties that Obama threw to try to open up dialog with House and Senate Republicans? Do you remember many photographs from those events?
The second argument actually seems to run counter to the first, that because the cocktail party hasn’t been publicly announced, it’s signaling that Obama doesn’t want to be too public with His Friendly Gays. “Why the big secret?” they ask. But if it’s a big secret, then it can’t be much of a photo-op, and if it’s a photo-op, then it can’t be much of a secret. What’s the point of being surrounded by His Friendly Gays if he’s not going to show them off? But the real answer to why it hasn’t been publicly announced may be found in precedent: The previous cocktail parties weren’t big public productions either. We only started to learn about them after they occurred.
The third argument concerns His Friendly Gays themselves, and builds on the much-hated image of “A-Gays” drinking and schmoozing and not getting much done. That’s a hard image to knock down, but we do have to remember that in a town like Washington, D.C., relationships are formed and messages put across over exactly these kinds of activities. This is true in D.C. much moreso than in anywhere else, where these events are typically little more than non-work social hours.
And as for His Friendly Gays, it appears the gathering will be much broader than that. Some of those invited include some of the administration’s harsher critics on LGBT issues. One of those who will be there is Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, who is about to be fired from the Air Force for being gay. He’ll be there as a guest of the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network. The invite list isn’t limited to those from inside the Beltway, which is exactly what’s needed to punch through the Presidential bubble. They aren’t the get-along-to-go-along usual suspects, although I’m sure some of them will be there also
And besides all that, there this final point: this is the President of the United States, in capital letters. When the President calls, you go. If you have access, use it. I think Mike Rogers — and no one is going to call him a get-along slouch — put it best:
We have had 8 years of “yes men” in the White House with no dissent. No one is suggesting that people should bow before the president, but this is what we wanted, ACCESS. THIS IS PART OF THE ACCESS.
Call me SHOCKED, but I did not get invited to the Bush White House. If I was, I think I would have said the same thing. When the President of the United States says “hey come on by,” you go. Invitations to the Oval Office or the White House are not supposed to be used to get up in the President’s face, it’s the time to compellingly present your case.
I wasn’t invited either. But it wasn’t just a couple of hours after I posted my first thoughts that I began to think differently about it. Yes, if someone from the White House were to call me and invite me to get on a plane bound for Washington to meet with the President of the United States, I’d scape my jaw off the floor and go. It’s not a cool invite to the hottest party in town. It’s a call to duty as a citizen. To not take up that call is to be less of a citizen. And when we are fighting for our full rights as citizens, we should exercise our duty as citizens wherever we’re called. And now that we are given access, we either use it or squander it. Seems the choice there is pretty simple.