Dustin Kight

Here Come the Eye-Rollers: Milk, King Honored by Obama

Filed By Dustin Kight | July 31, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk, Medal of Freedom, president obama

I'm probably not the first to say that the LGBT community sounds (and acts) like a broken record sometimes. Ever since the President didn't wave a magic wand on Inauguration Day, we've largely been reacting to anything the Administration does positively for LGBTs with eye rolls and aggression.

I'm all for holding people accountable, but updating your Facebook status to say something like, "President honors Milk and King -- gee, did he pass Hate Crimes yet? Did I miss that?" isn't indicative of an organized, politically savvy community poised to get its way.

Did he pass sign Hate Crimes protections into law? If it mattered so much to you, wouldn't you know? Wouldn't you know that an atrocious death penalty extension amendment was added in the Senate recently? Shouldn't your status update link to some kind of call-to-action?

Justice and equality for LGBT people (and many others) is long overdue. The arguments, generally speaking, are plain and clear, and Democrats, at least, should have heard them all by now. I understand the frustration, feeling like we have to continue to push when we've been pushing so long.

But push we must. And with the most receptive Congress/Administration in history -- a combination we might not keep after the next few years -- now is not the time to rest on our laurels and say our work is done. The measure of any successful organizing campaign is having the people/politicians you target do what you want them to do. There can be progress along the way -- and progress we've had -- but "success"? That's action. If we were doing everything we need to get our bills passed, well, they'd be passed. Until that becomes our collective measure, we're not likely to get a whole lot done.

Which is why it bothers me to no end when the President does something positive, and some among us roundly reject it as "crumbs." (In fact, I could never hear the word "crumbs" again after the last few months and be perfectly happy with that.)

It's quite possible to say that honoring Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is historic, wonderful, a great opportunity to educate our fellow Americans about their accomplishments and contributions, etc., without feeling like we're "giving cover for" or "taking too little" from the President.

Swatting at everything the Administration does positively for LGBT people makes us look petty and petulant even as we're asking Congress to pass significant legislation on our behalf. I can think of no community or social movement that ever got its way by being petty and petulant.

My message to the President on a day like this? "Thank you, Mr. President, for honoring two of our community's great heroes. Now honor their important legacy by addressing Congress, calling for passage of critical legislation that provides equality for LGBT Americans. Keep the pressure on your colleagues the way Harvey and Billie Jean would."

The difference in tone might seem insubstantial, and maybe it is, but I have a hunch that a lot of people rolling their eyes out there aren't doing nearly enough to actually pass the legislation we've been organizing around for decades. And when people criticize the LGBT community for being elite-driven and privilege-motivated, it's this eye-rolling and dismissive attitude that confirms a lot of their criticism for me.

Just because some powerful LGBTs are back-room buddies with some powerful pols in DC doesn't mean we should or will get our way. All of our legislators need to hear from all of us all the time. And we need to be better organized and better allies to others who share our interest in justice and equality.

We need a collective attitude adjustment, or we're going to squander the biggest opportunity we've ever had to make positive change.


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John Shields John Shields | July 31, 2009 9:45 AM

I'm with Dustin on this (as we shouldn't look and act like a bunch of brats), but I am also tired of *waiting* for crumbs.

Note to President Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress: DO SOMETHING, or we're going to target you - to pick up *our* bread crumbs.

Goodwill and cocktail parties only go so far, and that time passed long ago. Time for you to *pass* something (actually 3 or 4 things).

Show us some action, otherwise it's all just talk. And I, for one, am all talked out.

K. Travis Ballie | July 31, 2009 10:22 AM

Thank you,

The overwhelming experience that I have had in the LGBT political community is the sentiment that our issues exist in a vacuum and that the votes being present are all that matters.

There's very little coalition building, to support immigration reform, health insurance reform, stimulus funding. Imagine if we pushed in the stimulus funding along with POC and women's groups to demand funding allocations for businesses owned by under-represented communities. What if we had been pushing for immigration reform much earlier, just laying the groundwork for immigration advocates to actively support us on The Uniting All Families Act? With the talk of Health Insurance Reform, I have yet to receive an email about the medical needs of the transgender community, HIV positive individuals or lower income members of our community.

Within the tunnel vision of Hate Crimes, ENDA and DADT, the LGBT national political leaders are increasingly distancing themselves from the present needs of members of our community all over the country. As a last note, that is not to discount the present and crucial need for reform around DADT and ENDA, but they do not have to be our only avenues for political success.

I agree with you. It's hard to celebrate those little steps when there is a long road in front of us, but we must do it anyway.

You're not wrong and I think your best point comes from:
"My message to the President on a day like this? "Thank you, Mr. President, for honoring two of our community's great heroes. Now honor their important legacy by addressing Congress, calling for passage of critical legislation that provides equality for LGBT Americans. Keep the pressure on your colleagues the way Harvey and Billie Jean would."" which is the attitude we should be taking.

At the same time, I know exactly where the eye rollers are coming from because, given the things Obama has said and (not) done these past months, it really DOES feel like some sort of pat on the head type of move. It's unfortunate that something this good would come off that way but that's how it appears when looking at everything else.

Good observations and points.

err didn't obama promise to repeal DOMA and DADT as part of his election campaign?
And didn't he recently sat that neither could be repealled at this time? I could understand the greater priorities argument of his first six months, even longer, but not at this time? What's changed? We were at war before the election so nothing's changed in the army. and DOMA existed in the same way it does now, so why suddenly are parts of it worth having?
I don't remember promises about honoring Harvey Milk or giving us Gay Pride Month during his campaign and I think if he had we'd have told him it wasn't gonna be enough.
So why are we supposed to be grateful now?

fuzzygruf | July 31, 2009 4:32 PM

*rolls eyes*

Name one previous Presidential Medal of Freedom winner that you knew about before yesterday. Any? That's why I don't believe this gesture is really educating anyone.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 31, 2009 6:53 PM

I suppose he had to do something. After all Obama's spent the last year and a half insulting us, torpedoing our chances for same sex marriage and cynically cementing his ties to the christian right.

For some odd reason Obama forgot to honor Emma Goldman, Cochise, Malcolm X, Big Bill Heywood, Mother Jones and the soldiers who refuse to aid genocide in Obama’s wars to steal oil in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Or maybe that’s not so odd at all.

( The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan by Dahr Jamail, Haymarket Books http://www.haymarketbooks.org/product_info.php?products_id=1773 )

Obama, the perfect Clinton clone, imitates Clinton in this as well. In 2000 Bill Clinton, who like Obama is a bigoted pigheaded religious opponent of same sex marriage, proclaimed that

"Too often, however, gays and lesbians face prejudice and discrimination; too many have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities. In recent years, we have made some progress righting these wrongs. I am proud of the part that my Administration has played to achieve these goals."

I suppose only a Democrat could look at DADT and DOMA as 'progress'. Look at it this way, if they weren't constantly trying to excuse and apologize for their bigotry to fool those willing to be fooled we wouldn't call them Democrats.

Democrats are Republicans in drag.

With Democrats like these who needs Republicans.

Rick Sours | July 31, 2009 7:20 PM

The LGBT community supported Democrats with both
our money and our votes. We are still Second
Class citizens in the United States of America. It has been forty years since
Stonewall.

A. J. Lopp | August 1, 2009 5:23 PM

Sorry, Dustin, but I am one of your eye-rollers.

It is good that HM and BJK got the awards, but it was also an obvious case of political pandering on Obama's part. I am as embarrassed as I am gratified.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 1, 2009 7:31 PM

Is there an ophthalmologist in the house? I think we have an emergency pandemic of uncontrollable eye spasms in the making.

Does anyone know the number for the CDC?

A. J. Lopp | August 3, 2009 1:44 PM

Don't worry, Bill --- I think all us eye-rollers are doing so under total voluntary control.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 3, 2009 5:51 PM

I'm not worried at all, AJ.

I'm all grins. I'm gald, if a bit surprised that some Democrats get it too.

beachcomberT | August 1, 2009 8:03 PM

What's wrong with holding a president accountable for the grand promises he made during his campaign? Especially when he has a solid Democratic majority in Congress? Strange that a president who should be very sensitive to tokenism is so quick to dole it out to the LGBT community. Poor Harvey Milk must be rolling in his grave/urn, to be used posthumously in such a hypocritical way. I will keep up the chant -- where is the "change we can believe in" ???

LindaHRCvolunteer | August 3, 2009 8:47 AM

I am about to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I *clearly* remember President Clinton enacting DADT and the aftermath that ensued. Clinton attempted to do something historic and positive for the LGBT community, but did not have the political capital to do so effectively. We are all aware of the results.

President Obama is *smart*. He is deliberately, pragmatically, starting the conversation. We cannot afford another DADT, and that is why I support President Obama's actions towards equal-rights legislation.

And an FYI: Senator Bayh (IN) is a cosponsor of the Matthew Shepard Act. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with his aide in northeast IN. He stated that 95% of the calls his office has received have been AGAINST S.909, and while Bayh strongly believes in LGBT equality, if he asks how the calls have been going, the numbers are appalling.

It bears out the fact that, if we want them to listen, first we must SPEAK. And sometimes those words need to be, "Thank you."