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Why This Black Gay American Still Supports President Obama

This is a guest commentary, and does not necessarily reflect the views of other authors or contributors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Earl D. Fowlkes, Jr.

February 19th, 2010

(Editor’s note: When President Barack Obama took the oath of office, the LGBT community was hopeful that significant change would be coming on our issues. This hope was felt by supporters and non-supporters alike. Since then, there has been considerable disappointment over the pace of action (or inaction, as some would say) on DADT, ENDA, and DOMA. We offer this guest commentary as a counter-argument and point of discussion. — Jim Burroway)

In late August 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the Democratic National Convention. I listened carefully to the speeches of Michelle Obama, Mrs. Clinton, and President Bill Clinton. On August 28, 2008 , I listened to Senator Barack Obama outline his soaring vision for America. I heard him speak on how he would address the sinking economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan , health care reform, clean energy technology, and job creation. I felt like Senator Obama was speaking directly to me when he said, “I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination”. In my opinion that statement was his promise to millions of LGBT Americans that we were part of his plan to make America a better place and that eliminating those vestiges of discrimination would be an important part of his agenda. Like millions of Americans, I decided that I would work hard to help elect Barack Obama President of the United States .

Fast forward to today, a little over a year since Barack Obama was sworn in as our President; and there has been much discussion in some quarters of LGBT communities questioning whether or not his administration has the stomach to move “our” agenda forward. There are those who believe he is moving too slowly on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act, and that he has not done enough to push the passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). Many of those same voices have called for the LGBT community to withhold support and money from the Democratic Party, based on their belief that President Obama has not kept his word to our communities. But for this Black Gay American, this rhetoric contrasts greatly with the reality of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues during his first year in office.

In only one year in office, the Obama Administration has extended benefits to same-sex partners of Federal employees; signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the existing US federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or disability; lifted the HIV Entry Ban; extended the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act; reversed an inexcusable US position by signing the UN Declaration on Gay Rights; has spoken out forcefully on Uganda’s repressive treatment of its LGBT communities; endorsed the Baldwin-Lieberman bill; hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including over ten Senate confirmed appointments; and in the summer of 2009, the Administration released the first Presidential PRIDE proclamation since the year 2000. In addition, the Obama administration has sought out input from the LGBT community on hundreds of proposed policy changes affecting all levels of the Federal government.

Recently Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee, ”Speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape the … facts that we have a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens”. Anyone who understands how the Pentagon operates must realize that the Obama Administration had a strong hand in moving the military establishment to support the repeal of this odious law.

I believe that advocacy and applying political pressure for the LGBT agenda on both the Obama Administration and Congress are fundamental tenets granted to all citizens of this Republic. While our great nation still has a far ways to go before LGBT Americans will enjoy all of the promises and benefits made to us in the Constitution, I do believe that the Obama Administration has been subject to unfair criticism from parts of the LGBT community, who, for whatever reasons, refuses to acknowledge the many accomplishments in the first year of this administration. I have faith that our President will continue to make good on the promises made that warm summer evening in Denver , Colorado and, this Black Gay American will continue to support the Obama Administration as one of our best hopes to bring about equality for LGBT Americans.

Earl D. Fowlkes, Jr. is a resident of Washington, DC and is a Member at Large on the Democratic National Committee.

Comments

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Aaron
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

One of the reasons I love this site is the author’s willingness to post views that balance his own.

Obama has a LONG way to go before he is right with the GLBT community again, but if he does all that he promised, then I will be the first to hail his accomplishments.

DNC
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

“…and because I’m conditioned to march lockstep with the DNC”

Scott P.
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

Dribbles and drabs, dribbles and drabs. Give us your money and don’t ask for anything more.

Federal employees? Good for them. How many does that effect? Hate crimes legislation? Again, how many will this actually help? Even a simple executive order allowing HIV+ people to enter this country took major pushing from us.

ENDA, DOMA, DADTDP, even with public support and a Democrat majority in both House and Senate NOTHING is being pushed for on these major issues. In fact conservative Democrats are standing in the way to equality for our community. and yet we’re STILL expected to give our money to the DNC?

Dribbles and drabs. So much for being fiercely advocated for.

Ray
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

The expert witness testifying in the Prop 8 Trial gave us good advice. He said that a President who believes marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman is “not a reliable ally.”

The President has helped us and there’s no doubt about that. But every time he reserves marriage for heterosexuals he HARMS us. His efforts on DADT are appreciated by his position on marriage UNDOES the good. He cannot be *partly* for equality. He must be ALL for equality and we can never allow him to forget it. When he calls for civil unions instead of marriage quality he HARMS us and he HARMS the institution of marriage by offering something of less significance as an alternative. I can just hear my homophobic siblings saying,

“Oh. You got that *civil union” thingy and that just shows how unserious you are about your commitment to your SEX PARTNER. Who wears the dress? Do you wear women’s panties? Are you the wife?”

I’m not giving our President or Congressional Democrats a pass. The albatrose of anti-gay bigoty must hang over their heads until we are equal under the law. I don’t mind funding a campaign, but MY litmus test is that the candidate MUST conform to MY equality or they are just another gay-bashing, pandering good-for-nothing.

CPT_Doom
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

My own personal decision to forgo direct financial support for the DNC, DCCC and DSCC is not solely about the Obama administration’s timidity in regards to LGBT equality, but is also based in the refusal of the Congressional leadership or Democratic majority to make good on their alleged commitment to equal rights. For too long the LGBT community has been treated as a convenient source of funds, but not as a serious constituency deserving of Democratic time and attention.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely and totally understand the political realities of the current DC situation – the anti-gay hate crowd on the right is simply not going to rest until they destroy the Obama Presidency. That means we are not going to get the quick action we would like.

But where is the moral leadership from the Democrats? Do they really believe that LGBT Americans are inherently equal, or are our rights a gift handed to us by the majority when we’ve been “good enough”? If the party truly believes in our equality, why are they silent when our rights are unConstitutionally voted on at the ballot box (see Romer v. Evans for the Constitutional issues surrounding such referenda)? Why are anti-gay hatemongers allowed to spew their hate with nary a word from the Democrats who claim to support us? Why is the DNC supporting the nomination of a known homophobe in the Indiana Senate race?

lurker
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

um, and didn’t we learn on this very website that the administration is moving on DADT mostly because of the threat of having to defend a lawsuit from a gay advocacy group? (http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2010/02/01/19993)
So we’ll only get “fierce advocacy” if we threaten to sue the administration.

Also isn’t this the same administration that submitted a brief to uphold DOMA hauling out every old chestnut in the book?
(http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/06/12/12023)
As in “you can always marry someone of the opposite sex!” and “we have to preserve our scarce government resources for straight people, so no benes for you.”

To paraphrase our guest blogger “Anyone who understands how the (office of the Attorney General)operates must realize that the Obama Administration had a strong hand in (drafting that odious brief).”

This is not what we were promised when we sent in our contributions for “hope” and “change”

truthteller
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

Editor, you say: “This hope was felt by supporters and non-supporters alike.”

That may be your opinion but it is not fact. I did not support Obama because I knew his record. He reads speeches well but doesn’t have a backbone to make decisions and take action, so I had no hope, I saw reality.

Either prove your statement with facts or say it is your opinion.

As to Mr. Fowlkey’s article, BS. Those are nothing but talking points from the DNC who behaved immorally during the primaries.

Obama has a mandate, a majority in both houses and he can strike DADT with a signature, but he doesn’t because he does not support your equality as a person.

Empty promises. Did Mr. Fowlkey forget Terry McClure and Rick Warren?

I don’t buy the DNC’s lies. In fact I am now a registered Ex-Democrat.

Jason D
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

“Obama has a mandate, a majority in both houses and he can strike DADT with a signature,”

Actually he can’t. Or rather, he can strike it with a pen and the next president (which might be in just 3 years)can undo that penstroke.

It took an act of congress to create DADTDP, it’ll take an act of congress to undo it.

Sure, you can live in your car, but wouldn’t you rather buy a nice warm house instead?

but he doesn’t because he does not support your equality as a person.”

Or, he wants to make sure it’s not a pen strike away from coming back via President Palin, Cheney, Prejean, or whoever is the next social conservative.

If we learned ANYTHING from Prop 8, it’s that equality can be undone if we get too comfy and assume that progress can’t be taken back.

truthteller
February 19th, 2010 | LINK

Oh please, Jason D.

Your arguments fall flat. The “fierce advocate” of the gay community has defended DOMA twice. Not only that, the DOJ briefs compares being gay to INCEST.

Links:
http://www.towleroad.com/2009/06/doj-defends-doma-says-good-for-budget-invokes-incest.html

http://www.topix.com/news/gay/2009/09/justice-department-again-defends-doma

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2009/06/doj-defends-doma.html

Now you are just being intellectually dishonest here. Which one is it?

“Actually he can’t. Or rather, he can strike it with a pen and the next president (which might be in just 3 years)can undo that penstroke.”

Your argument is wishy-washy, just like Obama. He can clearly strike it down now or press congress to do it. He had a super majority, for crying out loud. Even the armed forces are now calling for its repeal, and the public is in favor of repealing it. Bill Clinton spent a lot of political capital in trying to end discrimination and allow G&L to serve openly when the Republicans, the armed forces and the public were against it. DADT was the best he could accomplish under those circumstances, and he never claimed to be the “fierce advocate” to GLBT people.

“If we learned ANYTHING from Prop 8, it’s that equality can be undone if we get too comfy and assume that progress can’t be taken back.”

This is in no way comparable to prop 8. I live in california and it was the public who voted for prop 8, not the governor.

It’s time to wake up and stop drinking the cool aid. Obama does not support equality for the GLBT community. His actions contradict his speeches.

Your “logic” is more twisted than a pretzel.

Fred in the UK
February 21st, 2010 | LINK

Just few thoughts from my perspective.

What is the alternative to supporting President Obama? Who are you going to support instead? (Supporting no-one instead is just political sulking.) President Obama is likely the most gay-friendly President for the foreseeable future, so his Presidency is an opportunity not to be missed.

Of course support should be conditional on continued political action in your favour. But then that should apply to all politicians at all times.

truthteller
February 21st, 2010 | LINK

Fred in the UK.

I owe no one my support, they have to earn it.

This is your fear talking:
“What is the alternative to supporting President Obama?”

This is exactly why politicians fool the gay community time and again. I have lived under Reagan and both Bushes and survived, I will not be manipulated nor fooled through fear or other tactics.

“(Supporting no-one instead is just political sulking.)”
Who told you I support no one? Aren’t you assuming things you don’t know?
There are other options; doing the same thing expecting a different result is INSANITY! Accusing me of sulking without even knowing my political involvement is a way to try and shame me into supporting Obama and his pandering and bamboozling of the gay community. No thanks, I pass.

“his Presidency is an opportunity not to be missed.”
His presidency has already missed the opportunity, favor and mandate the citizens of the US gave him. It is done and the one who missed it is Obama, himself.

Fred in the UK
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Truthteller,

Thanks for your reply. It is not my fear that is talking when I ask the question, “what is the alternative to supporting President Obama?”, it’s simple logic. The process of politics will go on, as usual, regardless of the opinions of the gay community.

Withdrawing support from President Obama to do nothing instead removes influence in that process, and is, I believe, political sulking. It may feel better than choosing the ‘least of many evils’ option but it doesn’t advance your cause. I don’t believe that political support is ‘earned’ (that implies that a politician’s political history is worthy of current support), I believe that political support is, effectively, auctioned to the highest bidder, the politician who credibly promises to do the most to advance your interests gets the support.

My intention was to challenge you to state what/who you are supporting instead of President Obama. I used the term political sulking to illustrate my view that it defies political self-interest. I did not intend to accuse you personally of political sulking, as you rightly point out, I do not know your political involvement. I apologise for any offence.

I believe that the gay community has, too often, failed in the past to effectively make its political support conditional. Support for the Democratic Party is difficult to make conditional, as it couldn’t realistically be given to another party, which is why I think the gay community should only support individual politicians not their party.

truthteller
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Fred in the UK

I think our way of thinking is closer than you think, and so I will answer your question.

“what is the alternative to supporting President Obama?”

The alternative is to make those who lie to you pay a political price for their falsehoods. Politicians are politicians as you imply, and the only thing they understand is the loss of power. If Obama loses the next election the DNC will pay attention.

“Withdrawing support from President Obama to do nothing instead removes influence in that process,”

I couldn’t disagree more with you on this point. Obama is doing nothing for the equality of Gay Americans, so no influence will be lost. It has been the status quo of the Democratic party to think people don’t have anywhere to turn and it is for that reason that they do what they do. Obama does not support equality for Gay people, period. He dangles the proverbial carrot in front of the community and reads feel-good speeches. He then equates gays to incest when defending DOMA.

You erroneously assume that the gay community is my cause. I have many causes. Like his flip flop of FISA.The continuing of the Bush doctrine, the lies that he would not allow lobbyist in his administration and then stacking it with them. The fact that he met with lobbyists from the pharma/insurance companies to draft the so called health care reform bill. It is not reform, it is a gift to the greedy pharma/insurance companies.

“…It may feel better than choosing the ‘least of many evils’”

Obama is not the least of many evils. He is now worse than Cheney who is on the record supporting marriage equality. The Green Party, the Libertarian Party, Ralph Nader and others support full equality for GLBT people. Obama not so much, but he will read pretty speeches to maintain support and fatten up that piggy bank for the next election.

“I believe that the gay community has, too often, failed in the past to effectively make its political support conditional.”

I couldn’t agree with you more here, and the gay community needs to grow a pair and make sure he is thrown out of office. Only then will an ally have a chance.

Priya Lynn
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

“truty”teller said “Obama is not the least of many evils. He is now worse than Cheney who is on the record supporting marriage equality. The Green Party, the Libertarian Party, Ralph Nader and others support full equality for GLBT people.”.

Cheney wasn’t running against Obama for president, Mccain was. Obama was certainly the lesser of two evils there and he will almost certainly be the lesser of two evils when the republicans pick their next presidential candidate.

anteros
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

As a mere observer…

I think all this bitter disappointment isn’t really because of poor performance, but rather high (perhaps unrealistic) expectations.

Yeah, he made lotsa promises, raised hopes and set high expectations, but did he promise to wave his magic wand and turn America into Gay Utopia within his first year in office?

It’s barely been a year. I seem to remember Obama talking about change being a process involving everybody… wouldn’t that include powerful opponents to LGBT rights?

If you remember the mess he inherited from Bush (he had a full plate of burning issues to address, not just LGBT concerns) then you might reconsider how much time would be appropriate to start drawing conclusions.

In the months that he’s been president, has he done absolutely nothing for LGBT Americans worth appreciating?

I wonder… half way through his first term in office, will LGBT Americans be a little, a lot or much better off than before he became president?

Change is a process… everybody has good reasons for being “impatient” (for lack of a better word)… but it’s a process that requires the patient and persistent involvement of all those who want change. If Obama’s LGBT supporters and LGBT activists were to throw their hands up in despair and frustration, be assured that the powerful homophobes won’t rest.

…just my opinion as an observer.

truthteller
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

to Prya Lynn,

“Cheney wasn’t running against Obama for president, Mccain was. Obama was certainly the lesser of two evils there and he will almost certainly be the lesser of two evils when the republicans pick their next presidential candidate.”

We’re not talking about the election here, we’re talking about where people stand on policy now. If you want to talk about the primaries let’s address how the DNC shoved Hillary out of the way and denied her the roll-call vote every single candidate has had at the National Convention. That is just one issue, and I really don’t want to rehash the primaries.

To Anteros,
“Yeah, he made lotsa promises, raised hopes and set high expectations, but did he promise to wave his magic wand and turn America into Gay Utopia within his first year in office?”

You should really read my posts before you reply. I stated various issues with which I have a problem with Obama, not just the fact that he won’t act on DADT and is defending DOMA, which he says he disagrees with, by comparing being gay with incest. He doesn’t have to defend it, there is a precedent for it, with Republican and Democratic presidents.

Obama said he would bring the troops home within a year and instead increased the troops in the middle east.

He ran on hope and change and has triangulated to the Republicans before starting negotiations on the Hellth “reform” Bill to try and get Snow on board then she does what Republicans do, she says no way.

‘Change is a process… everybody has good reasons for being “impatient”.’

Here’s the heart of the issue. He is not creating change, he is continuing the Bush doctrine.
Here:

http://www.geneveith.com/obama-continues-bush-policies/_2359/

wapo:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/21/AR2009052103680.html?hpid=opinionsbox1&sid=ST2009052103723

I see a cult of personality with Obama where people defend him even when he is acting against their best interest-in many issues.

“It’s barely been a year. I seem to remember Obama talking about change being a process involving everybody… wouldn’t that include powerful opponents to LGBT rights?”

Petraeus, Colin Powell, the current Generals and the public support the repeal of DADT. Where is the opposition you speak of?

And finally, I don’t want a “Gay Utopia,” as you say. I want all citizens treated equally under the law!

I’m discussing with people who state opinion as fact and fail to quote facts.

Jason D
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

I’m inclined to agree with anteros. The deck was stacked against Obama A year ago when he came into office. his detractors were already vicious, and after 8 years of Bush — the last one being a dozy — people were so hungry for change that when it didn’t show up IMMEDIATELY they thought it wasn’t coming at all.

I joked, at the time, that the anti-obama folks expected him to be sworn in, and then immediately pull out at semi-automatic weapon and go on a killing spree. Ludicrous, of course.

But I feel like some supporters expected something as swift, and direct, and as impossible as that fantasy only in a positive sense.

Has any president ever immediately fixed all the problems he discussed in the campaign?

I’m not an apologist, I’m still glad Bush is gone, I’m still glad I voted for Obama. I wish things were moving faster, but change takes time.

John
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Politicians don’t feel a sense of urgency unless their constituents give them a sense of urgency. If Obama’s gay constituents are willing to patiently sit on the sidelines forever, our issues will never come to the top. Fortunately for gay Americans, many gay people are becoming more and more impatient.

Obama won in a landslide (relatively speaking). Most of our presidential elections have been far closer than that one. Obama cannot afford to alienate a particularly loyal group of voters.

If Obama were to lose in 2012 by a very narrow margin, and instead of getting 90% of the gay vote, he got less than 40%, the Democratic Party would take notice. The message coming out of that election would be that he betrayed his base and lost the election. Future Democratic presidential candidates would be very nervous about making the same mistake.

If you don’t think that politicians internalize these lessons from past elections then you are ignoring the lessons that George W. Bush learned as a result of his father’s loss and the lack of enthusiasm on the part of conservatives in coming out to vote for his father.

Timothy Kincaid
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Actually, Obama got 73% of the gay vote, not 90%. McCain got 27%.

Burr
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

I think this obsession with the President is a bit distracting from where the pressure really needs to be put, which is Congress obviously. Everyone should focus on electing proven allies where the votes matter. The only thing the President really can do directly is not veto progress, so on that sense Obama is really all we need from the executive despite how much he can do with the bully pulpit. Losing the presidency means all legislation is automatically off the table again.

Priya Lynn
February 22nd, 2010 | LINK

“Truth”teller, I can guarantee you that when 2012 comes around the Republican candidate for president won’t support equal marriage. So its irrelevant where people like Dick Cheney are now – no way is someone with his views on marriage going to be acceptable to the Republican powers that be.

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