Brett Abrams

Get A Backbone!

Filed By Brett Abrams | February 14, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual, lesbian, Obama Administration, transgender

The opening session of the 16th Annual American University Conference on Lavender Languages and Linguistics challenges gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and queers to believe in our rights and push politicians.

The discussion, "Is 'Hope' Enough? Anticipating the LGBTQ Discursive Landscape of the Obama Administration" featured five panelists and a lively audience of fifty people. IMG_2575.jpgThe opening declaration by conference organizer Professor William Leap, called for the academics to make their thinking resonate more closely with the political and social conditions that affect all our lives. Michelle Marzullo, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropolgy organized, recruited panelists for, prepared, and publicized the event. The panelists included Matt Adler, President Obama's Deputy Regional Field Director for West Broward County, Florida; Sadie Baker, a community organizer with the DC Trans Coalition; Loraine Hutchins, am adjunct professor of LGBT Studies at Towson University and author of Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out; Bilerico Project contributor Cathy Renna, a national recognized media relations expert and leader within the LGBT community; and Che Juan Gonzales Ruddell-Tabisola, the senior research manager of the Center for the Study of Equality at the Human Rights Campaign.

The group analyzed the Obama Administration's website with its statement on Civil Rights: Support for the LGBT Community. Noting that this appeared on the first day in office, several also observed that this is one of the few areas on the Administration's websites that spell out specific aims and action items. However, several noted that the language was stronger when applied to actions against gender and racial discrimination, then toward GLBTQ issues.

One panelist noted that the points of LGBTQ concerns are not re-articulated in other areas, such as the overturning of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is not mentioned under military. One audience member stated she was concerned that the Administration might be participating in "narrowcasting," aiming information out only to certain groups while not mentioning it in other channels.

The event circled around four questions:


  1. whether the discourse has shifted between the campaign trail and the White House;

  2. what is remarkable about the Administration's Civil Rights website;

  3. what ways might the administration improve their policy aims to serve our diverse, local constituencies rather than a generic "LGBTQ community;"

  4. and how can linguists focus our research to elevate LGBTQ concerns to policymakers.

Renna observed that the Administration offered a horrible response to the Rick Warren controversy, seeing LGBTQs as a social issue instead of the people we are. While Ruddell-Tabisola saw LGBTQ concerns in the issues of broken politics and other campaign rhetoric, Adler saw the inclusion of Rick Warren as juxtaposing LGBTQs with someone who does not like us much; we need to pressure him to act to our advantage. Don't be adversarial but don't be a doormat either. Baker noted that the inclusion of "gender identity" in the Civil Rights for the LGBT Community document shocked her and that it is a step toward realizing that gender and sex are separate things that are interwoven in complex ways but that explicit statements of non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity are vital in the Trans Communities fights.

The panelists and most audience members agreed that distinct differences exist among the LGBTQ community and that policies would be helpful if aimed to aid specific groups. Hutchins called for acquiring more and definitive data to share with people and policymakers about the various memberships in the community. Renna noted that we are woefully behind in knowledge about several different groups in the LGBTQ world, such as families. She and Ruddell-Tabisola observed the effort to improve the Census so that our community can have the detailed data about its composition to use when holding discussions with politicians.

Two prominent areas became the focus on academics and their efforts to elevate concerns. Hutchins insisted on the value of the Kinsey scale, illuminating that by showing the number of people that fall between 2-4, or even 1 and 5, would demonstrate that the sexual orientation and gender behavior are not binaries but are spectra. Adler reiterated the notion of mot seeking legitimation but to proudly own our behaviors and reach out to potential supporters on the basis of shared ideals, such as civil rights to show politicians that it is in their interest to back LGBTQ concerns.


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Any panel with Cathy Renna on it has to be interesting!

I wish I could have been there! I find these issues endlessly interesting.

Michelle Marzullo | February 17, 2009 10:42 AM

I organized this event and am interested in feedback on the four questions posed to the panelists and the audience. This was designed to be a community forum, so I am very interested in your feedback. Please email me at marzullo@american.edu.
Also, a podcast of the event is forthcoming and I will post it here when I have it. With hope, Michelle

What is remarkable about the Administrations Civil Rights website is that it neglects to say that the government and adminstration should amend the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964 to include sexual orientation. If it did, all the other language written there would be obsolete.

That is fascinating point.
Don't you think making that change would be politically dicey at this time, or not?