The White House Office of Media Affairs today held a briefing for LGBT media with Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes.
The subject was the Obama Administration's activities around LGBT issues.
I was there representing The Bilerico Project. It was thrilling to travel to DC and go to the White House. We met in the Secretary of War suites. The walls were intricately carved and there were beautiful old portraits on the walls. The table was a gorgeous antique and our nameplates were set out on the table. I sat with some well known names in LGBT news. And with one of the President's top advisers. She is as beautiful as her picture and as intelligent as her reputation. I felt honored. I felt flattered. But I also remembered that I was there to do a job. Jobs aren't always pleasant.
The highlight of the briefing was finding out that the President is very supportive of ENDA. What is he doing to support it? What will he be doing to drive it? That's after the jump.
The most surprising thing was not getting my question answered. What happened? Well, that's after the jump too. Perhaps you will be as pleased as I was.
Yes, jobs aren't always pleasant. There was a lot of talk there, more than I can give you on the fly as I sit typing this post on my cellphone at the local coffee shop down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I will review my notes and report more fully tomorrow.
Let me tell you what I asked and what she answered. When my turn came, I thanked her for all the executive branch activity in support of LGBT rights, as well as their support of the hate crimes bill. But I handed her the NCTE fact sheet on ENDA and noted that the trans community has 35% unemployment, with 60% of us under $15,000 in income, 26% of us having been fired because of our gender identity, 97% having been harassed on the job, and worse in communities of color. I noted that Congressional leadership seems reluctant to drive ENDA including Rep. Speier's "within 5 years" comment. I pointed up that, as she said, the President has not shied away from the bully pulpit, and pushed the Congressional leadership on DADT in the State of the Union Address, but hasn't mentioned ENDA. I asked how he will push ENDA in the future, or will he leave it up to the reluctant leadership?
She started by noting that predictions of legislative behavior are just that -- predictions, and not reality. She also noted he has mentioned ENDA, and that he believes it should be integrated into the agenda. He has articulated his support and will continue to. "We are not a barrier," she said. But, she continued, "we look to the Senate leadership; they know what we support and if the President were to push issues it would be a long list. It's up to them."
I wanted to ask if this was the "fierce advocacy" he had mentioned, but my turn was up.
I had a chance at a second question later.
I asked if she could make the case for why LGBT people concerned about workplace discrimination should actively focus on the midterm elections to elect Democrats when the Democrats' support of LGBT rights is so passive -- spoken about but not acted upon.
She declined to answer. Her area, she said, isn't politics. It's policy. I was later told that the reason she declined to answer is that Administration officials are not permitted to advocate directly for political parties in elections.
I would have thought the two go together, but perhaps that will be covered in another b riefing.
I enjoyed meeting Melody Barnes. She was genuine, personable, and very, very smart and knowledgeable. I am genuinely thankful for the work she and the other members of the Administration, including the President, have put in on LGBT rights.
But I don't feel like I walked out with any more information than I walked in with. I already knew that the President was letting the legislative branch get away with ignoring LGBT rights.
I'd like to be able to say I was satisfied with these answers. I'm sure you'd like to say nice things too. But it seems we have a fundamental disagreement with the President as to what his job is. Is it to lead -- or to follow?
Oh, he's led on plenty of legislative issues. Health care. Financial reform. And a bunch of others. But not on our issues. On that it's "up to them."
It's not very pleasant top have to report this. But jobs aren't always pleasant.
This is part of a series of posts based on the White House briefing. The next in the series can be found here.