Cathy Renna

Welcome to Your White House

Filed By Cathy Renna | June 30, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics, The Movement
Tags: politics, president obama, stonewall, White House

The title of this post is one of the first things President Obama said yesterday at the Stonewall commemoration at the White House yesterday. Were there cocktails? Yes. But this was not a typical cocktail party. Were there many "A-listers?" Yes. But this event should not be easily dismissed as an "A-list gay event."

In the past few weeks, there has been a firestorm of debate and discussion about how we move our community forward under the current leadership. I have personally been very vocal about how our impatience should be a motivator, something to be channeled in a smart, assertive and effective manner.

Yesterday was another opportunity to do that the best way I could, so I did. Want to get past the sounds bites and headlines, as well as what I think is the less productive intra-community attacking that is happening?

Read on.

I had the singular honor or working with some of the White House staff to secure some Stonewall veterans for this event. Through our firm's work with SAGE and other groups and individuals, we have spent the past few months doing a lot of work related to the 40th anniversary. We were fortunate and thrilled to have two real Stonewall veterans step forward and attend - Jerry Hoose and Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt.

CR and Jerry @WH.JPG

They are decidedly not A-listers, but got treated better than the A-listers and with tremendous respect by all.

Their contributions were recognized by the President - along with others like Dr. Frank Kameny, who was also present.

Leah and I were even asked to take them back to meet with the President and First Lady prior to the speech.

It was, in the words of Jerry (pictured with me on the left), "one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life."

For someone who helped get this pioneer and still involved activist - who by the way got into the White House using his government-issued Food Stamp ID - it meant a lot to us to be part of helping make that happen.

Even though I felt like I was actually working and not really getting to take in for myself the full impact of so many diverse members of our community being in the White House (my apologies to my wife, who bears the brunt of my ADHD and workaholic nature), it did not sink in until after the event.

But listening to the President speak, to hear the words in that room with those present, to feel the sincerity behind them and the understanding that were were impatient and wanting more and pledging to do so, did not just give me the hope for change I want, but the inspiration to keep doing the day-to-day work that will make that change happen.

The President said something striking in this speech:

And I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that.  It's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago. ??But I say this:  We have made progress and we will make more.  And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.

We will, Mr. President, we will. It is my firm belief that President Clinton grossly underestimated the backlash in the early 90's and, through impatience, created some of the very challenges on our plate today (DOMA and DADT for starters).

Mr. Obama is a different kind of president and politician, more measured, more cautious. We need to help him understand that the culture and public opinion have changed enormously in the past 15 or so years and that it is time for the folks "inside the Beltway" to catch up, grow some spine and do what needs to be done.

The progress we are making on the state and local level indicates that reality, and the on-going discrimination and prejudice we face demands it.

After the event was over I found myself in front of the White House with some media and a group of folks that could never have imagined in their lifetime that they would be standing in the spot where Frank Kameny protested in 1965, being asked what they thought about a speech by the President at an event they had been invited to attend.

Jerry Hoose. Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt. Madeline Alk and Renee Rosenfield were among those on that spot. Madeline is 88 and Renee is 91. They have been together for more than twenty years, and are long-time active members in SAGE.

I know this event and the speech will be picked apart in the coming days and I pray for two things for our community:

1) That we focus our energy, passion and constructive criticism in the right direction.
2) That we all commit to doing the hard work that need to be done to pressure the President, Congress and other elected officials to do what they need to do to ensure we are no longer second-class citizens.

I for one am frustrated by the personal attacks and the need for more and better focus on the big picture. My resources are directed at the targets in my line of sight and today it is back to the day-to-day work of activism and education that moves the ball forward.

As I said during a radio interview yesterday, of course our community has a wide diversity of opinion on strategies, tactics and tone, but our end goal must be the same: full equality under the law for all.

Can we at least agree on that?

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we absolutely can agree on the end goal, Cathy.

I also think your point about diverse people from our community meeting the President is a good thing- personal stories and connections are always good motivators for change.

While we may not agree on the importance of the actual speech and promises vs the actions taken, we can agree that we need to focus our energies in reaching our goals, using every tactic at our disposal, whether it be access to legislators or creating discussion with in the community. Impatience, moderation, anger, and calm are all needed to move our cause forward.

Thanks for sharing your experiences!


Sei sempre precisa. Brava.


Michael Buchanan | June 30, 2009 12:23 PM

If you've finished patting yourself on the back.Wwe are not angry at the speed. We are angry at the actions themselves.

Have you considered that after your 20 years of working on gay rights, getting a Stonewall veteran to the White House in 2009 is the least you could expect from the connections you've made with democrats? Are easter eggs rolls and cocktails parties what we have to show for 40 years of struggle? I, for one, am not impressed.

Why can't we put all these issues together, DOMA, DADT, ENDA, MSHA, in one big omnibus bill, then just camp out on the capital steps until it passes? Tell me what is wrong with that strategy Cathy? Too much audacity? Too much hope? Gee, I wonder where we got that from? And I wonder why you don't seem to have it?

Michael Buchanan

summersgill | June 30, 2009 1:31 PM

If you think that will work, then go for it. Who are you waiting for? Do you need someone to do it for you?

Or perhaps there is something more involved in getting legislation passed by the Congress than a sit-in.

Angela Brightfeather | June 30, 2009 12:49 PM

Was there a Transgender veteran of Stonewall on that invite list? According to the veterans of Stoenwall who I have talked to personally, the inn was full of people who would have identified as Trans had the term been invented back then.

While finding the President's words encouraging, I still find that diveristy to some gays and lesbians means "no Trans identified persons allowed to the party."

I wonder what the President and his wife thought when they looked around and saw no Transgender people evident or identifiable? I wonder if they tought that the GLBT was represented? Or perhaps they wondered if an inclusive ENDA is such a big deal for GLBT people when some of them (Trans)seem not suitable enough, even though they were the reason why Stonewall happend in the first place.

Cathy, now that the message of hope has been relayed fromt he President, when are the A-listers going to wake up and understand what he means by inclusive and stop acting ashamed about Trans people in the GLBT community? Did anyone even look for a Trans veteran of Stonewall to be there?

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 30, 2009 1:21 PM

Angela -

I have a feeling the president was very clear on the diversity in the room

thank you for asking - yes, we did. I was able to pitch a number of transgender Stonewall vets to the media this past month but we could not facilitate the travel or more than the two folks who were there. also, sadly we have lost many of the genuine stonewall vets who identified as trans - like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. I had the honor of chatting with Miss Major, a trans woman now in SF who was able to help me with a number of media interviews about transgender people at the riots.

Tommy, who was at the WH, was very close to Marsha P. Johnson, and spoke of her whenever he talked to the media. As for transgender people in the room, I was thrilled to see Mara Keisling, Dana Beyer, Melissa Sklarz, Diego Sanchez and others....the full guest list is available online.

I agree with you that we need more not less visibility of trans people in the community and of course in the public, but i do not think - and I am repeating myself here - that immediately attacking each other is the way to go......

I think you got it exactly right Kathy. I was excited for all the LGBT folk at the White House and Obama gave a moving important much needed speech. That some people, over and over, refuse to be anything other than bitter and cynical is human nature and unsurprising.

Kathy Padilla | June 30, 2009 1:14 PM

"I wonder what the President and his wife thought when they looked around and saw no Transgender people evident or identifiable?"

There were a number of trans people attending;

Babs Casbar
Melissa Sklarz
Shannon Minter
Dana Beyer
Marsha Botzer
Mara Keisling
Diego Sanchez
I may be missing someone

I'm pretty sure you know all of us & what we look like Angela - I've known you since the NTAC founding days. I'm 10 years older, sure. But don't look all that different - I hope. Perhaps not.

What was presented as "our" agenda? I'm curious to know if anything besides gay marriage came up at this meeting. I don't think there's much point in being a diverse group of individuals if there's only one agenda being presented, so I'm curious about what you and others discussed. Your post doesn't go into specifics.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 30, 2009 1:42 PM

overturning DOMA
hate crimes

Kathy Padilla | June 30, 2009 3:02 PM

I can say that Babs & Dana were drafters of the Dallas Principals & I signed on board with both that & the to expand the 1964 civl rights act - and many people expressed those or similar views. But it would be innappropriate to say any presentation was made of an agenda in an organized fashion. This was a reception, not an political meeting - it was an official recognition & celebration of an important part of our history. It wasn't a political strategy session - and I'm surely not an A list gay. And I wouldn't use the word gay to describe myself

That said - the biggest applause of the evening was when repealing DOMA was mentioned. I'd rather see people able to get work & to be able to keep a roof over their heads & feed themselves & their families as the first priority. It would save a lot of lives.

Rick Sours | June 30, 2009 2:40 PM

I agree, we need full equality for all members of
the LGBT community.

I'm glad we were so well represented at this gathering. I had many friends in that room. Friends I trust to speak truth to power.

And while I agree that we should have patience on the larger issues of DOMA, DADT, ENDA and Hate Crimes, there are real consequences for this patience that need to be remembered.

Military personnel getting discharged before DADT is reversed, another "spouse" not being allowed benefits or visitation, another person losing their job because of who they are and finally, being beaten by cops in Ft. Worth, Texas for being in a gay bar where an actual life is at stake.

Patience is one thing but it has a very large cost.

Rick Sours | June 30, 2009 4:15 PM

RE: "Patience is one thing but it has a very large cost."

I agree, but how much longer should the LBGT community be patience?

Stonewall happened 40 years ago.

Mary Hayes | July 1, 2009 3:51 PM

"I agree, but how much longer should the LBGT community be patience?"

Maybe until a significant number stop being mega-impressed by pretty speeches and getting angry at people who aren't? Just a thought.

karen in kalifornia | June 30, 2009 3:24 PM

Thanks for the first hand report.
I was unimpressed by the speech.
Actions speak much louder than words.

Angela Brightfeather | June 30, 2009 3:34 PM

"I'm pretty sure you know all of us & what we look like Angela - I've known you since the NTAC founding days. I'm 10 years older, sure. But don't look all that different - I hope. Perhaps not."

That's great Kathy. And you always looked lovely.
I am glad to hear that there were Trans people there.

Knowing that you are from Philly and must have traveled to DC for the invite I am happy they are reaching out more to our community.

I hope that I am not getting to picky, but that list appeared to be comprised of 100% of one kind of Trans person. Is that a coincidence or on purpose? Not to diminish the importance or my respect for anyone who did attend, or their political gravitas and committment to our community, but is it a requirement that one live 24/7 before they get an invite or that they produce ID consistent with their gender expression before they can be admitted?

As Cathy said, "I agree with you that we need more not less visibility of trans people in the community and of course in the public".

I know all those who attended and have met most of them myself, or like you noted, have worked with them in the past. I know they do not get involved in the petty disputes between TS's who want nothing to do with being called TG, so I find it somewhat disconcerting that other people who do identify openly and freely as Transgender are not included in any of these parties or in pictures with the President there. I am sure that had our community (in general) been asked to help Miss Major with some of the costs invovled (never heard a word here in Raleigh, NC) we would have scraped up the money to get at least one Transgender veteran of Stonewall to the party if that was the only barrier. I, and I am sure many others, feel a bit left out of the loop on that request, considering that many of us do contribute volntarily or when requested.

Lets hope that at the next party (45th Anniversary of Stonewall), we might be to able to represent more than one variety of Transgender person in a community that professes to be so diverse in nature and that we may take another step towards maturing as a community, by showing that we respect each other more and are willing to include and recognize all of us.

Once again, another historic meeting, another freeze out of the African-American transgender community.

Once again, another historic meeting, another freeze out of the African-American transgender community.

And no Angela, you are not being too picky.

And that's coming from a member of the ethnic group that always seems to get 'accidentally' left out of these historic events.

Kathy Padilla | July 1, 2009 10:57 AM

As far as I could tell - Monica is right - but I'm only reporting on the people I saw. I didn't see everyone there, nor did I see a guest list.

I'm pretty sure there were some non transitioning trans identified folks there. I know Mark Davis from Philadelphia identifies as such (Mark is also known as Ms. Altered States)- but I might not have recognized non-transitioning folks as the dress was Business & they would be wearing what they would to an important business meeting. Similarly - I may have seen other transitioned transgender people there but not recognized them as such if I didn't know them.

And, no crossdressers, no gender queer people, no openly intersex people, and no African-American trans people. I guess you have to be a transsexual to be invited to the White House, and preferably post-op. We sure come a long way, baby.

Granted there were no African-American transpeople there, but I believe Diego Sanchez, who is certainly a transperson of color, was present. I know it's not the same thing, but perhaps it was felt (by whoever in the Administration did the invite list) that 1 out of 8 was enough, just as 8 out of 200 was enough.

Angela Brightfeather | July 1, 2009 1:28 AM

"And that's coming from a member of the ethnic group that always seems to get 'accidentally' left out of these historic events."

I hear that loud and queer Monica.
I guess that if you have a room with 200 people in it that are GLBT except for the President and his wife, then having 8 Transgender people, pretty much fills up the quota for Trans people.

Maybe in a few years when some people have been to enough of these things, there might be more diversity allowable.
But don't hold your breath waiting.

A. J. Lopp | July 2, 2009 1:43 AM

Wow! LGBT leaders get to meet with the President at the White House! How exciting!

And what a milestone! Why, the first time this ever happened was only a few years ago --- if I remember correctly, the meeting was arranged by a White House staffer named Midge Costanza and the president at that time was a guy named Jimmy Carter. And I think some of the things they discussed then were gay/lesbian employment protections and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military.

And now, another summit meeting! Wow! We've come such a long way in such a short time! It's so difficult to measure the results that such meetings produce!

Congratulations, Cathy and all!

Erich Riesenberg | July 2, 2009 5:26 PM

I think you are purposefully ignoring the Easter Egg Roll!

A. J. Lopp | July 3, 2009 4:03 PM

Oh Erich, I missed that! ... You're so right!

Maybe sometime around 2040 we will be invited to participate in the Halloween Apple Bob, too!