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.
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.