Michelle Marzullo

State of the Union on LGBT Issues

Filed By Michelle Marzullo | January 27, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, HIV/AIDS, International Travel, LGBT, LGBT Rights, Medal of Honor, Presidential Proclamation, Pride, Speech, Tony Kushner, White House reception

I am a President Barack Obama fan. I am drawn to his direct, calm leadership style, and quite frankly I think he's as authentic as a president can be. I also do believe that he is doing right by our communities.

obama_lgbt_logo.jpgOn the eve of President Obama's first State of the Union address, I thought it would be interesting to assess the State of the Union on LGBT issues. The Nation recently interviewed Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Angels In America, asking him to reflect on President Barack Obama's progress regarding LGBT issues one year into his administration. Clarissa León writes,

Kushner is inclined to be 'extremely patient' about seeing change from Obama and the administration. Instead, Kushner's lack of patience is directed towards the LGBT community and their predominant criticism of Obama's progress in his first year. Given Obama's inheritance--two wars; a crippling recession--Kushner '[extends] a tremendous amount of good faith in his direction.'

I agree resoundingly but, of course, not blindly. Below, I have assembled President Obama's track record on LGBT issues thus far. These are grouped below by the headings: Supportive Actions, Signals of Support, and Oppositional Cues. The listing at the very least underscores Mr. Kushner's assertion that, "Obama should get some credit for having a stronger progressive gay rights agenda than any other president." I give Obama loads of credit, while at the same time continuing to expect him to deliver, especially on trans and bisexual issues.

Supportive Actions

11/5/2008 Mentions "Gays" in Third Paragraph of His Victory Speech in Chicago "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference. It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled -- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

Lesbian Couple One of 16 Couples Invited to Ride Obama-Biden Whistle-stop Train Tour
A lesbian couple was included in the train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. The couple, Lisa Hazirjian and her partner Michelle Kaiser were heavily involved in organizing LGBT people in Cleveland during his campaign for president. (Lisa Hazirjian's campaign message on Obama)

Openly Gay Bishop Gene Robinson Delivered an Invocation at Inaugural Opening Ceremonies
The openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the invocation for the inaugural's highly publicized Lincoln Memorial concert on Jan. 18 but his prayer was omitted from the national broadcast. Many LGBT people view the invitation to Bishop Robinson as a concession for Obama inviting the anti-gay, Evangelical Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. Some cite a media black out of the bishop's prayer. The invocation was not covered by the major news networks.

President Obama's Inauguration Day

  • Inaugural Benediction given by LGBT-affirming Rev. Joseph Lowery

  • The inaugural address was closed with words from civil rights leader and African American Pastor Joseph Lowery: "And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance."

  • Gay and Lesbian Marching Band Official Contingent in Inaugural Parade for First Time

  • Melissa Etheridge and her two daughters from her lesbian marriage were invited to the inauguration

United State of America supports the United Nation's statement calling on the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality
United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The United States supports the measure, reversing opposition to it by the Bush Administration.

President Obama issues presidential proclamation declaring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination
This memo allows domestic partners of federal employees to be added to the federal long-term care insurance program and enables LGBT federal employees to use their sick leave to care for domestic partners and their partner's children. It also requests that the heads of all executive branch departments and agencies conduct internal reviews to determine whether any other federal benefits might be similarly extended. These reports are being provided to John Berry, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and himself an openly gay man.

LGBT Pride Reception at White House
The President and First Lady host a reception for LGBT Pride Month in the East Room of the White House. This was the first time that an event like this has taken place in the history of United States.

Medal of Freedom Awarded
Awards the Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk, posthumously, and to Billie Jean King. Harvey Milk was assassinated after being an openly gay politician in San Francisco. Billie Jean King is a tennis legend and came out as a lesbian well into her career.

Presidential Proclamation on National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2009
"Breast cancer health disparities also present a serious challenge. White women have the highest breast cancer incidence rates, and African American women have higher mortality rates than other racial or ethnic groups in the United States. There is also evidence lesbian women are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer than heterosexual women."

President Obama's Delivers Speech at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner

Obama Administration Began Study of Housing Discrimination against LGBT To Ensure Inclusion of the LGBT community in HUD programs

Commissions first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the renting and sale of housing. Proposed rule change to stop discrimination against the most vulnerable in our LGBT communities. Since this is a rule change, it may change when Obama leaves office. The importance of the study is that it may lead to the inclusion of housing protections in ENDA.

HHS to Create a National Resource Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders
The Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced plans to establish the nation's first national resource center to assist communities across the country in their efforts to provide services and supports for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Day by Day, Law by Law, Mind by Changing Mind
Statement by Brian Bond is Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement on the Obama Administration's commitments and plans for moving LGBT rights forward.

Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act
The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama. It was attached to the Defense Authorization Bill and added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to existing hate crimes laws.


Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009
Reauthorizes and extends funding on the Ryan White CARE Act. The Ryan White Program is the largest federal program specifically dedicated to providing HIV care and treatment. It funds heavily impacted metropolitan areas, states, and local community-based organizations to provide life-saving medical care, medications, and support services to more than half a million people each year: the uninsured and underinsured, racial and ethnic minorities, people of all ages.


Obama announced rule allowing HIV positive people to travel to the US
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the legislation removing HIV from a list of diseases "of public health significance" that effectively barred any person infected with HIV from entering the United States." The 2009 rule announced by Obama implements the law beginning in January 2010.

New, shortened LGBT Policy Agenda on White House website under Civil Rights

"Strengthen Anti-Discrimination Laws

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act to ensure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. The President is committed to expanding funding for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to ensure that voting rights are protected and Americans do not suffer from increased discrimination during a time of economic distress. President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation."

Remarks by the President in Remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Let us broaden our coalition, building a confederation not of liberals or conservatives, not of red states or blue states, but of all Americans who are hurting today, and searching for a better tomorrow. The urgency of the hour demands that we make common cause with all of America's workers -- white, black, brown -- all of whom are being hammered by this recession, all of whom are yearning for that spring to come. It demands that we reach out to those who've been left out in the cold even when the economy is good, even when we're not in recession -- the youth in the inner cities, the youth here in Washington, D.C., people in rural communities who haven't seen prosperity reach them for a very long time. It demands that we fight discrimination, whatever form it may come. That means we fight discrimination against gays and lesbians, and we make common cause to reform our immigration system."

Signals of Support

Uniting American Families Act/Permanent Partners Immigration Act
This legislation would add three words--"or permanent partner"--to existing immigration law wherever the word "spouse" appears. Then-candidate Obama supported this bill when he was a senator, saying that he "worked to improve it." This bill would "allow an estimated 40,000 same-sex binational couples currently living legally in the US to make their US home a permanent one. Its major supporters are Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Gerrold Nadler. The Obama Administration is pushing for the passage of overall immigration reform by the end of 2009," writes Julia Preston of the New York Times.

Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act
Obama supports the "Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act," which would extend additional benefits to federal employees - including those that are essentially prohibited by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Human Rights Campaign Dinner

  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Harass, Don't Pursue: Military Policy on Homosexuality
    "I will end 'Don't ask, Don't tell' that's my commitment to you."

  • Defense of Marriage Act Repeal
    "I have called on Congress to repeal DOMA." The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by President Clinton in 1996 and allows all states to not recognize the marriages of lesbians and gays performed in other states.

Oppositional Cues

Consistent from campaign trail through HRC dinner: Civil Unions not Marriage
Obama does not back marriage equality but signals his support of repealing Defense of Marriage Act and supports Civil Unions and equal rights for LGBT people.

LGBT Civil Rights Agenda
Retracted explicit support for an LGBT Civil Rights Agenda by adding then removing an eight-point LGBT rights agenda from Civil Rights page of the White House. After being questioned on the removal, the White house responded that the site was being redesigned and that LGBT issues would be added back in. They were added back in but in a shortened form without the former emphasis on trans and bisexual issues.

President Obama invites anti-LGBT Rev. Rick Warren to give Invocation at Inauguration

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Obama is acting much like his Democratic colleagues. They talk a good game and do a lot of nibbling on the edges, but when it comes to the issues that really impact LGBT American lives in significant ways such as ENDA, DADT, DOMA, all of a sudden they find ways to not talk about or just avoid them altogether. They want to look like they support us to gain our votes and support at election time, but only as long as they don't have to show any real leadership or expend any political capital on our behalf.

It's classic Democratic behavior and a key reason why we can hope things get better, but trusting these people to actually deliver on their promises is still a bridge too far.

I tend to fully agree Rebecca, if the support was really there we would have seen an inclusive ENDA, DADT ended, and DOMA repealed. Talk is cheap. It took about 100 years from the Civil war until the Civil Rights Act to give African-Americans rights they should have had all along. It took almost 150 years from the time the country was formed until Women were even considered as having the right to vote as I recall. How long will we have to wait? We finally got even mentioned in a law. Apparently we are no longer fair game for hate crimes. It would be nice not to have to wait 100 to 150 years to see the rest of the rights to show up.

This list is further proof that Kool Aid causes brain cancer.

Filtering out your confusing mere words with ACTION [which I find AMAZING that even an Obambot could still be fishing in THOSE polluted waters] you're not left with much, and 99% of what's left is riddled with DIScredit.

Ryan White and lifting of HIV travelers' ban: as much as I hate to say it they were created under the Bushies. That BO signed for the continuation of one [while getting a D+ from AIDS activists for his flatlining PEPFAR $$$] and for the implementation of the other is hardly grounds for building a statue to him. So, please, stop circulating the petition.

Hate crimes legislation: again, simply signing it is no reason for renewed adulation. He abandoned his promise to play an active role in seeing it passed, even cancelled a meeting at the last minute with Judy Shepard to discuss it. He did pause long enough for a photo op with her, tho some suspect it was her next to a cardboard cutout of him.

Harvey Milk medal: proof that it was political exploitation so transparent you could read the reviews of "Milk" through it was that the first such medal should have gone to Frank Kameny, whom BO knows well-enough to call "Frank," because, among other reasons, he was picketing outside the White House in 1965 for gay rights at the same time Harvey was still disappointed then right wing icon Barry Goldwater wasn't President.

Pride proclamation: Clinton did it first years ago.

Pride White House Tea: the transparency of this having been merely a last minute attempt at damage control after high profile and high donor gays boycotted the DNC fundraiser the week before is in that it was held the DAY AFTER the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall. If it had been positively planned before, his calendar would have not so filled up that they could only find a spot after the alleged focus of the event.

HRC dinner speech: again, Clinton did it first years before. And, AGAIN, BO's speech was only announced days before....transparently AFTER it became clear that more were going to be in Washington for the National Equality March the same weekend to protest his and the DNC's failure to keep their promises to LGBTs.

And why are the following missing from your token "Oppositional Cues"?

Defending DOMA and DADT in court in language as homophobic as that used to pass them.

Refusing to obey a federal judge's order to allow a lesbian court employee to purchase medical insurance for her partner...resulting in him, in the form of his Office of Personnel Management LED BY a token gay man, being sued by one of the most respected LGBT organizations we have: Lambda Legal.

Not just refusing to use his Congressionally mandated authority to freeze discharges [something no less than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has urged him to do] but pretending he has no such authority.

Asserting that DADT has been declared "constitutional" when it has not. [Pity his former constitutional law students.]

Sending his henchmen to pressure Cong. Alcee Hastings into withdrawing his effort to stop discharges through this year's defense budget.

Indefensibly told Catholic media that he struggles every day between his "faith" and support for gay rights....giving more insufferable ammunition for the American Taliban to quote to defend their own attacks on our CIVIL liberties; right up there with "God is in the mix" forcing him to refuse to support marriage equality.

But, hey, the next White House Easter Egg Hunt is barely two months away. Keep pouring the Barry Berry Kool Aid and you might get invited!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 28, 2010 8:03 AM

The cup is three quarters empty and/or the cup is a quarter full.

DADT must be addressed.

I agree DADT needs to be addressed but if anything we should realize is that Money is power in Washington speak, and Inclusive ENDA would likely impact more widely than DADT. I suspect if we had ENDA pass we would see support come out of the woodwork that is there but are so deep in their closet that they fear even peaking out from it. That in my opinion is the main reason why the right is afraid of it passing. DADT would effect the military but ENDA would effect almost everyone particularly if they removed some of the provisions that they put in it to make the moderates happy. Like exempting the Military and Businesses with less than 15 employees.

Andrew Conte | January 28, 2010 9:17 AM

... and let us not forget Obama cozying up with Rick Warren, known homophobe. Rick, as we all know now, has had associations with leaders in Uganada. These anti-gay pep talks led to the "kill gays bill".