On Monday, Nov. 15, GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee and 12 others were arrested (photo by Sean Carlson/Talk About Equality) after having chained themselves to the White House fence to protest the possible failure of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The demonstrators pressured President Obama to get engaged, as he had promised to do. Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement, had invited McGehee the week before the arrests to come to the White House on Wednesday to discuss DADT - after which McGehee was interviewed by AMERICAblog Gay's Joe Sudbay about the meeting.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not just another interview with just another frustrated and disappointed activist! The meeting and this interview are important for several reasons:
First, McGehee refused to abide by the common practice of having such meetings be "secret" and off the record. This interview therefore stands as a record of what exactly was said directly to the Obama administration. The administration cannot say, "We didn't know" or "No one told us that."
Second, as she notes, this meeting shows that taking bold action to express disappointment does not mean the end of access, which apparently leads to self-censorship - and perhaps a sense of privilege and elitism - at the expense of the LGBT community.
Third, McGehee broadened the discussion beyond DADT to also include immigration reform, the trans-inclusive ENDA, and marriage equality - not only expressing frustration, but offering solutions or "fixes," as well. For instance, a "stop-loss" order if DADT repeal fails and bi-national visas so foreign partners of same sex couples will not be deported, even if LGBTs are stripped out of the immigration reform bill, as happened in the healthcare bill.
McGehee also says that by his re-election in 2012, Obama needs to have a better answer about marriage equality. McGehee says she told Bond:
"As a person of faith, I do not like his religion to trump my religion and having that used as a reason he was arguing his stance. I'd like him to explain that to my 7 year old and my 4 year old that the family that lives next door to them is deemed to be more worthy of equality and dignity.....[Obama needs to] change that publicly and immediately."
But there are also revelations in this interview that may require some follow up. At two points, McGehee indicates that Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, apparently misread the political situation. McGehee says that Solmonese told her that Obama "never promised" to do more than repeal DADT - which both McGehee and Sudbay refute. She also recalls that the night before the National Equality March, Solmonese appeared on CNN and said, "We have time with this administration. He has until 2017." Hearing that, longtime activist David Mixner replied, "The reality is that by 2017, I might not be living." McGehee says she carries that and the gay teen suicides as a burden of responsibility.
McGehee says she hopes the national organizations learn from her experience of being invited to the White House, even though administration officials were angry with her and also tried unsuccessfully to bully her into a secret meeting. "There's no rule book that says you cannot go up there and stand for your dignity."
There are some fresh insights into Brian Bond, as well. When McGehee says the LGBT community deserves an LGBT in a Cabinet or some other senior position in the administration, Bond told her that he didn't know that the Victory Fund had asked for that during the transition. Bond noted all the LGBT appointments, to which McGehee replies: "Appointments were good enough for the Clinton Administration." This is 2010 and "we're way past being spoken about," referring to LGBTs invited to the White House. To be honest, McGehee says, the "advisorship" to the administration "is most reflective of 1993 - and maybe that's part of the problem. But there are ways to fix that."
Sudbay asks what she felt leaving the meeting and McGehee tells of how she choked up seeing a photo of Obama, recalling how much she had done to help get him elected in "red" Fresno, California. She hopes that what she expressed is taken to the next level because "if it's not, then I've lost hope in the same political system I've asked my son to believe in."
"Can Brian Bond adequately translate that to the people that are above him?" she asks, rhetorically. "I don't know."