The title of this post is one of the first things President Obama said yesterday at the Stonewall commemoration at the White House yesterday. Were there cocktails? Yes. But this was not a typical cocktail party. Were there many "A-listers?" Yes. But this event should not be easily dismissed as an "A-list gay event."
In the past few weeks, there has been a firestorm of debate and discussion about how we move our community forward under the current leadership. I have personally been very vocal about how our impatience should be a motivator, something to be channeled in a smart, assertive and effective manner.
Yesterday was another opportunity to do that the best way I could, so I did. Want to get past the sounds bites and headlines, as well as what I think is the less productive intra-community attacking that is happening?
I had the singular honor or working with some of the White House staff to secure some Stonewall veterans for this event. Through our firm's work with SAGE and other groups and individuals, we have spent the past few months doing a lot of work related to the 40th anniversary. We were fortunate and thrilled to have two real Stonewall veterans step forward and attend - Jerry Hoose and Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt.
They are decidedly not A-listers, but got treated better than the A-listers and with tremendous respect by all.
Their contributions were recognized by the President - along with others like Dr. Frank Kameny, who was also present.
Leah and I were even asked to take them back to meet with the President and First Lady prior to the speech.
It was, in the words of Jerry (pictured with me on the left), "one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life."
For someone who helped get this pioneer and still involved activist - who by the way got into the White House using his government-issued Food Stamp ID - it meant a lot to us to be part of helping make that happen.
Even though I felt like I was actually working and not really getting to take in for myself the full impact of so many diverse members of our community being in the White House (my apologies to my wife, who bears the brunt of my ADHD and workaholic nature), it did not sink in until after the event.
But listening to the President speak, to hear the words in that room with those present, to feel the sincerity behind them and the understanding that were were impatient and wanting more and pledging to do so, did not just give me the hope for change I want, but the inspiration to keep doing the day-to-day work that will make that change happen.
The President said something striking in this speech:
And I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago. ??But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.
We will, Mr. President, we will. It is my firm belief that President Clinton grossly underestimated the backlash in the early 90's and, through impatience, created some of the very challenges on our plate today (DOMA and DADT for starters).
Mr. Obama is a different kind of president and politician, more measured, more cautious. We need to help him understand that the culture and public opinion have changed enormously in the past 15 or so years and that it is time for the folks "inside the Beltway" to catch up, grow some spine and do what needs to be done.
The progress we are making on the state and local level indicates that reality, and the on-going discrimination and prejudice we face demands it.
After the event was over I found myself in front of the White House with some media and a group of folks that could never have imagined in their lifetime that they would be standing in the spot where Frank Kameny protested in 1965, being asked what they thought about a speech by the President at an event they had been invited to attend.
Jerry Hoose. Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt. Madeline Alk and Renee Rosenfield were among those on that spot. Madeline is 88 and Renee is 91. They have been together for more than twenty years, and are long-time active members in SAGE.
I know this event and the speech will be picked apart in the coming days and I pray for two things for our community:
1) That we focus our energy, passion and constructive criticism in the right direction.
2) That we all commit to doing the hard work that need to be done to pressure the President, Congress and other elected officials to do what they need to do to ensure we are no longer second-class citizens.
I for one am frustrated by the personal attacks and the need for more and better focus on the big picture. My resources are directed at the targets in my line of sight and today it is back to the day-to-day work of activism and education that moves the ball forward.
As I said during a radio interview yesterday, of course our community has a wide diversity of opinion on strategies, tactics and tone, but our end goal must be the same: full equality under the law for all.
Can we at least agree on that?