Karen Ocamb

Obama's Vision - He Doesn't See Us

Filed By Karen Ocamb | December 18, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bob Hattoy, David Mixner, HIV/AIDS, LGBT politics, Prop 8, Rick Warren

There's a saying in the 12 Step programs about being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It's at this point - generally your own personal version of rock bottom - that you surrender and admit something has been screwing up your life.

Well - I guess that's where I am now. I'm sick and tired of hope.

I was in the room in 1991 - before there were drugs to help "manage" HIV/AIDS - when candidate Bill Clinton went off script and said to a theater full of angry and pained gays and people with AIDS, "I have a vision and you're a part of it." Even without close advisors David Mixner or Bob Hattoy whispering in his ear - Clinton wanted and sought and got the LGBT/PWA vote - because things were soooo bad under Reagan/Bush.

And then he included us in the Inauguration - gay families on the family float - panels from the AIDS Quilt - a LGBT viewing corner along the parade route - meetings between LGBT and AIDS activists with transition team members - including Hattoy - who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and Tim Westmoreland.

As everyone knows - Clinton screwed up royally over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA - and tons of other points of triangulation. But everyone knew he was more conservative than LGBT/PWAs wanted. And at least he saw us. He seemed to "feel our pain." We weren't people who happened to be gay - we had been officially shut out and he knew it. And so did those around him - like Maya Angelou whose poem on Inauguration Day "Good Morning" still fills me with - well, the possibility of hope that we can at some point see each other for all our differences and celebrate that with civility.

Today - when it was revealed that Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation - I felt sucker-punched. I mean - after the (on-going) devastation of Prop 8 - this Inauguration was supposed to be something akin to breathing again. But instead my mind drifted to the opening graph of the famous book by Ralph Ellison - "The Invisible Man."

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

At the end of the book, Ellison writes: "Perhaps, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you."

Yes. It's not that Obama thinks of this as a "Sister Souljah" moment as I first thought. The fact is - Obama doesn't think of us at all. The gays who might be near him are staffers who happen to be gay and for whom being gay is apparently not an issue. He doesn't see them as gay - and therefore he doesn't see us at all.

What to do? Well, for one - expect nothing from this new president. Let the national organizations push to their hearts content. But the real work will be on the ground - locally, statewide and through grassroots networking and coalition building. Through the Victory Fund and electing our own. Through the political clubs and electing delegates to rise up through the ranks to start running the parties. There are as many options as there are creative imaginations among us. Let us be the visionaries. At least we see each other.

Now that's a cause for hope.

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You are correct that some of us need to move out of the shadows and into more elected offices but there is also power in being behind the scenes.We are in tough times and moving past the arguments of the religious right or wrong needs to be a priority.Ignoring they exist or pushing them out of the media or just getting angry about it, I don't think would serve us well.I believe we should be pushing as hard as we can for the medical answers proving we exist not because of some medical or mistake of nature but because we are part of nature and for those who believe in god because he chose to love us enough to allow us to live as well.Working to remove the fear, anxiety and disappointment that a heterosexual parent might feel if they could know thru a test that their child would be born being lgbt and muting the arguments for those who would consider aborting that child.There is a lot of work to do.

I'm so with you. Visible or behind the scenes. In science, in politics, in business. Whatever it takes. If we get a seat on the school board, it's a win. If we get an ally appointed Dead Animal Pickup Officer, we count it as a win and move on to the next win.

No more asking. No more settling for "all deliberate speed." No more "separate but equal." No more patience. We don't come to Obama. He comes to us. He'll have to, because we'll win, with him or without him.

Really, I'm wondering what went on with his gay staffers. Had they just not heard about Rick Warren? Or did they just not care? Or were they ignored?

Alls I know is, this scandal won't kill a bunch of people, so we're still dealing with "better than bush." but that standard is so low.

Amazing that you're still giving Clinton a pass. He was very high on symbolism and hurt us terribly on substance (DADT and DOMA). The Warren selection tells us that Obama is not scoring points on some important opportunities for symbolism, but it's not at all clear that this portends a lack of substance on our issues. Give him a chance to govern and then talk to me about giving up hope.

I really don't understand why everyone is so upset. Maybe I'm too young to understand (I'm 20) and if you really want to explain it to me, please do. But here is my piece....

I understand that it kind of sucks that Obama has picked someone who has an anti-gay stance for this honor. But he said that while they disagree on somethings, he picked Rick Warren because they agree on other issues. I mean, not everyone is going to agree on every issue all the time. Also, Obama has recognized us many times in his speeches and during his campaign and just because he does one thing that could be seen as anti-gay (if you twist it, in my opinion), doesn't mean he hates us or is ignoring us. The LGBT community is only one group he has to consider. We can't expect him to do everything according to our stringent standards all the time.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 19, 2008 3:12 PM

Ever heard the term "lip service"? Obama seems to say some -- not all -- of the right words but to persist in doing things counter to them. "Unity" seems to be achieved all too often at our expense with inadequate explanations as to how these decisions on the side of antigay bigotry have been made and with no evidence that there have been negative consequences for doing so.

And the sort of firm consistency and openness of process to keep the ameliorating balm of real policy change in our favor a real possibility just isn't happening in a way thta would counter these "unity" gaffs -- to reassure us that these periodic insults are mere newbie hamhandedness instead of telegraphs of what our future with this administration will be like when we move beyond the symbolic to policymaking that affects our more tangible needs.

It is a given, because of how the religious political extremists think about us, that outreach to the RPErs may well cross lines with us and other people of goodwill (such as those pro-choice people who understand the symbolism of selecting someone as stubbornly and vehemently antichoice as Warren for such a visible, prominent honor) -- and there seems to be no substantive care taken to avoid crossing them or even to show that they give a damn that they might.

Even if you're not prepared to take this insult to you and your own people with the seriousness it deserves, consider for a minute what this says about how this administration might handle a sensitive foreign policy matter involving their desire to enhance relations with a rogue state at war a small nation we normally have friendly relations with. In the debates, Hils was right about HOW such outreach is done is more important sometime than whether it's done -- that it requires a level of finesse Obama seems not yet to have grasped...

...That is, if he gives a damn about us in the first place beyond taking our money and our votes when he needs them. The signs are out there that pink is the new black and that says that we will be able to "expect" to be ill-treated by this administration -- either overtly as in this case or by having our needs ignored or their remedies postponed -- to the depth that we permit it and that we must be our own hope. The first rule in that game is that there is no slight too small to ignore -- that inches must be interpretted as portending miles. In other words, your take on it is diametrically in opposition to the best way to handle this.


He's anti-gay. He doesn't want gay people to have equal rights. He doesn't want gay people to have their full civil rights. That's it in a nutshell. He's going to have a huge, international stage that day so it's a win for him and he gives up absolutely nothing. We, on the other hand, do not have our civil rights or equal rights and we get nothing from his speaking. He gets more legitimacy and coverage and we don't. He wins. We lose. It sucks. We supported President-elect Obama and now, by doing this, he's not supporting us.

oh, the whining of you white gays - pretending you know all about "discrimination" when really you only have a vague idea of what it really means! SO WHAT if Barack Obama picked the religious hustler Rick Warren to say a prayer at his inagural? Quoting Ralph Ellison - I mean, imagine the nerve of that! Obviously he only picked the hustler to please the hillbillies who feel they've been "ignored" by the Obama campaign - who cares? All he's going to do is say a prayer, big deal! Its not as if he's being given a position in Obama's administration!
Wars in Iraq and Aghanistan, neither of which are going well, the economy is in disarray, and THIS is what some you are upset about? Grow up!
Obviously a lot of you complaining white gays are financially well off, otherwise you'd have other things to worry about! Im black and gay and I DO have other things to worry about!

First, you assume we're white: "all you white guys".

Second, you assume we're "financially well off", both of which ain't necessarily so.

To repeat:

Rick Warren is anti-gay. He doesn't want gay people to have equal rights. He doesn't want gay people to have their full civil rights. That's it in a nutshell. He's going to have a huge, international stage that day so it's a win for him and he gives up absolutely nothing. We, on the other hand, do not have our civil rights or equal rights and we get nothing from his speaking. He gets more legitimacy and coverage and we don't. He wins. We lose. It sucks. We supported President-elect Obama and now, by doing this, he's not supporting us.

If you're black and gay, this is your issue, too, whether you know or acknowledge it or not.

Is it the biggest thing on my plate, so to speak? Heck no but it's an issue and this, pointedly, was a mistake on President-elect Obama's part, period.