The President's interview with The Advocate was enlightening for me on a couple of fronts. When talking about disillusionment and disappointment in the LGBT community, Obama said:
I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.
On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.
And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.
Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.I guess the President is saying to us, "Look, I'm doing the best that I can. I know you want me to do more, faster, but I want to get this done right. I'm your FRIEND. Look at what I have done so far! Saying that I'm not that good of a friend is wrong, and kind of hurts my feelings." OK, I read the feelings part into the President's response, but I think it's true.
So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.
What has President Obama's Administration actually accomplished for the LGBT community since taking office in January 2009? Here's a list:
- Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
- Supported legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—which has passed the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee—including sending the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman to testify before the Senate in favor of repeal.
- Lifted the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status.
- Ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to guarantee medical decision making and visitation rights to LGBT couples.
- Expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to ensure that LGBT parents and partners can take leave from work to care for their child, parent, or spouse just as any family member could.
- Committed to ensuring the Housing and Urban Development Department’s core housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and clarified the department’s definition of “family” to include LGBT people.
- Removed a common barrier to safe housing experienced by those in the LGBT community by including gender identity and expression in the Fair Housing Act.
- Led a successful international effort to gain recognition of LGBT organizations at the United Nations.
- Reversed an inexcusable U.S. position by signing the United Nations Declaration on Gay Rights, which condemns violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide.
- Signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act.
- Changed State Department policy so that transgender Americans can more easily obtain passports that reflect their true gender.
- Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the federal government.
- Endorsed the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 to provide full partnership benefits to federal employees.
- Eliminated the discriminatory Census Bureau policy that kept LGBT relationships from being counted, encouraging couples who consider themselves married to file that way and urging transgender Americans to identify their true gender.
- Hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including several transgender appointees— the first president ever to do so.
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Billie Jean King and the late Harvey Milk.
- Sent an administration official to the Senate to testify in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the first time any official of any administration has done so.
- Hosted the first LBGT Pride Month Celebration in White House history, and after eight years of silence under the Bush administration resumed the tradition of issuing Presidential Pride proclamations.