The Human Rights Campaign announced today that President Obama will address their annual national dinner on Saturday evening. No matter what your thoughts are about HRC or President Obama, it is worth noting that this is only the second time a sitting President has deigned to talk to "teh gays." President Clinton was first, but it was after he'd won re-election.
"We are honored to share this night with President Obama, who has called upon our nation to embrace LGBT people as brothers and sisters," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "It is fitting that he will speak to our community on the night that we pay tribute to his friend and mentor Senator Edward Kennedy, who knew that as president, Barack Obama would take on the unfinished business of this nation - equal rights for the LGBT community, and for every person who believes in liberty and justice for all."
My inbox has been flooded today with activists, community leaders and Projectors complaining that Obama will be addressing HRC's dinner guests and not the march participants the next day. Some have suggested conspiracy theories about HRC and the administration undermining Equality Across America and the march. My take?
People are hung up about President Obama's whereabouts, but he's the wrong adminstration figure to be concentrating on.
There's a kernel of truth to all of the issues people are raising. Yes, it would be more uplifting and empowering for march attendees if the President of the United States addressed them directly. Yes, HRC endorsed the march quickly but has remained unnaturally silent since; I've not had one single e-mail from the org about attending the March.
What's missing from those views though is a little bit of history and some imagination.
No President has addressed a march on Washington by a constituent group. JFK didn't speak at the 1964 March on Washington. Clinton didn't stand on stage to rally LGBT citizens in 1993. Bush didn't speak at all of the anti-abortion rallies that happened during his years in office. The President doesn't speak at these sort of events. He sends a video.
Think about it for a second. You've see the Obama campaign rallies and large events now that he's President. You know about the assassination threats, overt racism, and teabaggers carrying guns. Do you think that President Obama will be sauntering through a crowd of people who've been through no security procedures to check for weapons? There's no way in hell.
What will be interesting will be to see who the White House actually does send to speak to the gathering of LGBT activists. Will we rate the top ranking Michelle Obama, Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton? Will we get second string political celebrities Jill Biden, Eric Holder, or (being gracious) John Berry? Or do we rank the bottom level "Hey! At least I'm gay too!" administration department heads or political appointees?
Beyond all else involving the march, that will show you how much importance the administration puts on our rights.
The best bellwether of how concerned the administration is about keeping this constituency group happy is to watch and see if hate crimes legislation gets passed before Saturday night. The administration is desperate for something LGBT positive to buoy flagging support and and temper increasingly critical voters and community members.
Combine all of the above with the chance for this to look like a gay teabagging party if a bunch of people show up to complain about the President's record on LGBT rights and you've got the media's attention - but not in a good way. With Obama addressing a room that will probably be mostly white gays and lesbians at the HRC dinner, surely the administration isn't dumb enough to let the HRC appearance be the only nod to all the gays in town marching past the White House the next afternoon.
Or else we don't matter at all.