Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

White House Briefing on LGBT Issues: What The White House Has Done For Us

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 02, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: LGBT media, Melody Barnes, White House, White House Domestic Policy Council

It was an honor to attend yesterday's White House briefing on LGBT issues.

Many subjects were discussed, and I think all are worthy of discussion, so I'm going to take them one at a time. Yesterday I discussed the question I had asked on ENDA.

Today, let me start with the initial statement of Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes. She is very knowledgeable on LGBT issues and has worked hard on these issues throughout her long and distinguished career.

She offered a snapshot of the issues on which the Administration has been working.

I'll address the other topics discussed in the meeting in future posts.

The DPC coordinates domestic policy within the White House, offers advice to the President and supervises its execution within the Administration. Ms. Barnes was also the domestic policy adviser to the President's campaign. Before that she was Executive Vice President for policy at the Center for American Progress. From 1995 to 2003 she was Chief Counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before that she was Director of Legislative Affairs for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Assistant Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. She has worked extensively on civil rights, voting rights and women's rights. She knows whereof she speaks.

She started by making a few comments. She noted that we have all heard, in the past week or so, the President talking about the issues that he believes are important, specifically with regard to LGBT rights.

"We believe that within the past 18 months we have taken more steps, and made more progress for the LGBT community than past Administrations have." However, she noted that she would not argue that change has come as fast as they have wanted it to in the area of LGBT issues, and that the same is true in other areas. She gave as an example the fact that it took a year and a half to get a health care bill done.

At the same time, even though the President shares that frustration, they have been able to take many steps forward, advancing the ball through executive action. Some of those have come in collaboration with the community, which they believe is very important. One of the recent examples is the memo the President sent to HHS on hospital visitation with regard to the LGBT community, to make sure that no one who is in a hospital has to go through a difficult or devastating experience without the support of their loved ones. The HHS Secretary then put out a proposed rule and sent a letter to the Hospital Association, and followed up with calls to ask them to move forward with this even as the regulatory process was still ongoing.

Similarly, there is action taking place at Housing and Urban Development with regard to grant recipients being required to follow state and local non-discrimination law. The State Department has taken action on passports for transgender individuals ensuring that a person going through gender transition can get their new gender reflected on their passport with appropriate certification. There was also removal of the HIV travel ban, which resulted in being able to bring a large HIV conference to the United States recently.

These are some the ways in which they have been able to act using executive powers. This has also acted as a signal to the many executive branch agencies, to show them how they can move forward on taking action to ensure that members of the LGBT community can have access to the types of benefits that straight couples are able to access.

At the same time, they have assisted with legislative action, in particular the hate crimes bill, a difficult task considering "what Congress is like right now."

"I'll be honest on this one," she said. "I think a lot of people have kind of banked that one, and said oh that's nice, and we got that done, and moved along. That one is kind of personal to me. I was working for Senator Kennedy when we first drafted the hate crimes bill." She also said "I think we were naive and thought that would be the easy bill, and we would get that passed quickly. We were doing that at the same time I was working on ENDA in 1996. It took a very long time to get that passed, a lot of hard work, a lot of heartbreak, and time and time again trying to deal with the Bush Administration to pass that one. That happened as the result of a lot of hard work and push, and our work with the Justice Department and Congress to get that one done."

She also acknowledged that, "at the same time, there's a lot that remains undone, that we're trying to move forward on. There are, as I referenced before, executive actions that are going through a comment and notice period, and we will move those through to the finish line. There are certainly the legislative initiatives, Don't Ask Don't Tell being primary among them, that we're moving forward on. The House has moved on that, and we're now waiting for action on the Senate floor. The same thing with regard to ENDA and DOMA and the Domestic Partnership Benefits Act that we've been working with Congress on. So the queue is full, but we're pressing forward, but the ball is in Congress's court now."

That is the snapshot she provided of the issues that her office and other executive offices in the Administration have been working on.

As I sit typing this, I wonder how it is that this very perceptive woman and I can have such a difference of viewpoint as to what these accomplishments mean.

To me, the analogy that comes to mind is that of a patient, stricken with some terrible illness, listening to the doctor speak. "I have been working so hard on so many fronts to try to keep it from spreading," says the doctor. "We have been successful in beating it back a little. Your leg, for instance, is looking a little better" "But doc," says the patient, "I need more medicine, more treatments, it's not enough to just beat it back a little. My arms are no better, and I can barely lift my head." "I know," sighs the doctor, "My other patients' are equally frustrated with me. But I've managed to help some others, like John Smith, for example. He's all better now." "What?" says the patient, "why are you telling me about your frustrations and your other patients, doc? Why don't you tell me what else you're going to do for me?" "Well," says the doctor, "you should be more patient and more grateful for the little things. This isn't an easy business, you know."

I'm not suggesting that Ms. Barnes was complacent or glib. She was not -- quite the reverse.

But the patient isn't concerned with the doctor's feelings, and for good reason. The patient is concerned with getting well, and that is as it should be. If my doctor suggested that I be satisfied with only slight progress, I would get another doctor, or at least a second opinion.

Ms. Barnes is a human being, and as such she deserve thanks for the good work she has been able to accomplish. But the LGBT community is a patient neglected for so long and with such damaging results, that we cannot be satisfied with small progress. Our people are going homeless and unemployed and discriminated against in so many areas that we expected to get some sort of special treatment from the doctor.

Perhaps in this we are allowing our own needs to win out over common sense. Perhaps, given the dysfunctionality of Congress, our expectations for receiving treatment from that Dr. Do-Little is ridiculous. But we cannot be expected to say thank you and be grateful while we are suffering under such conditions, and while the doctor is throwing up his hands and shrugging.

There is a disconnect here between the Administration's pointing to its list of accomplishments, which I agree is longer and better than any past Administration, and our sense of suffering under harsh discrimination.

Am I grateful for the actions that the Administration has taken? Undoubtedly the answer is yes. Am I satisfied with the progress? Undoubtedly the answer is no. Is there more the President can do to move the legislative agenda? Probably not until the next session of Congress. I think something could have been done a year ago. But what do I know? I'm just the patient.

This is part of a series of posts based on the White House briefing. The previous post in the series can be found here. The next in the series can be found here.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Dr. Weiss,

You write that there is probably nothing that Obama can do until the next session of Congress. First of all, that is incorrect. He could issue an executive “stop loss” order putting an end to discharges under DADT immediately. He could have done this on day one of his presidency. He would have done it if he were the “fierce advocate” for us that he claimed to be during the campaign. Secondly, he could use the bully pulpit of his office to advocate forcefully for justice for gays and lesbians. For example, he could have spoken out against anti gay ballot initiatives like the one in Maine. Thirdly, he could instruct his justice department to cease defending unconstitutional laws such as DADT and DOMA in court.
Furthermore, the next congress is likely to be much more Republican and much more hostile to any gay rights legislation. The best shot we had was this congress and we achieved precious little. You may feel that going to the White House is an honor, however, I fear that you are being played for the fool rather than honored.

I was speaking of the legislative agenda, Jim.

>I wonder how it is that this very perceptive
>woman and I can have such a difference of
>viewpoint as to what these accomplishments mean

That's easy it is in her interest to deliver what she has been told from someone above her. That is more important than your interest.

There is a perception that ENDA will create LGBT employment no matter the economic conditions. I saw more GLBT prosperity 5 years ago during Bush than today.

At some point this crowd must acknowledge the widespread economic dysfunction in this country if continuing because of this administration’s policies. Perhaps instead of always asking what Obama is doing to help the unemployed in the LGBT community, you might try asking what Obama is doing to help the unemployed in this country.

Sorry, Geena, the aim of ENDA is not to create jobs, it is to prevent the unwarranted loss of jobs of LGBT workers and provide them with remedy when that unwarranted loss occurs. ENDA was around and being pushed long before this current economic calamity and job crisis. Conflating the two issues as if they are one and the same is a figment of your imagination.

I want ENDA passed because I want to put a photo of my partner on my desk just like the girl in the cubicle next to has done with the photo of her and her latest boyfriend. In many states and cities, I can flat out be fired for doing just that and she cannot. ENDA, of course, is far more complex than that, but stripped of all the finery, that's basically what it's about.

>Conflating the two issues as if they are one and
> the same is a figment of your imagination

Not my imagination amigo, just look back over the posts where ENDA was called "a jobs bill" in an attempt to get it passed in the current congressional policy environment.

You are both right, actually. The original intent of ENDA was to prevent the loss of jobs of LGB and now T people, and to cut down on the blatant not hiring of LGBT people. (Here in Georgia, I know of several trans people who were told to their faces in an interview that they won't be hired because of being trans.) And, in Mr.Roboto case, not be fired for having a picture of his partner on his desk.

But, after the economic crisis hit, ENDA has taken on the name of a "jobs bill." It is accurate in some ways and inaccurate in others. It would be easier for some people to get jobs, but no easier for others. Trans people will still not get hired. They just won't be told to their faces it was because of being trans.

"We hired a more qualified person." "You're over qualified." "We'll keep your application on file." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Sadly, the only trans people who will benefit from ENDA (for the first decade) will be the ones who come out on the job, trans men (for the most part) and the trans women who had thousands of dollars to pass perfectly. After ENDA, get your resume and your face up to date.

Good points Monica. Just a minor note to say that facial cosmetic surgery is not a requirement for passing, it's a recent moneymaking innovation for the surgeons. When I transitioned in 98, I knew a lot of transwomen who didn't have facial cosmetic surgery, didn't need it, didn't want it. Dr. Osterhut was the lone pioneer. Now, it seems everyone thinks it's required. I don't think it's healthy for these surgeons to suggest that everyone has to mimic some "feminine ideal." Isn't that what feminism is all about?

"ust a minor note to say that facial cosmetic surgery is not a requirement for passing"

I do not agree with this statement! For some this may be the case but for others it is incredibly inaccurate. Some trans women were blessed with less masculine features than others. Some have overwhelming masculine features.

I kind of think of passing as a point system. For instance, if you are over 6' tall then the rest of your features better damned well be more feminine. Same with the size of your hands...your feet, etc. I have been on hormones for well over a year and while I have noticed a lot of changes there is no way hormones alone will help me to fully pass. I will REQUIRE facial surgery.

I get a bit worked up over the fact that some people put FFS into such an unneeded category. I have to put full makeup on to kinda pass as a female and in no way shape or form could I EVER pass as female without makeup on. No way. So, I NEED FFS!!! Why should I have to wear makeup EVERYWHERE I go!?

I have been thinking of starting a crusade to get FFS taken off the 'cosmetic surgery' list and have it put on the 'gender confirmation' list. Gender confirmation currently only confirms I am female in my pants and not anywhere else. I even think in some cases BA should be included in GC if there are more masculine points than feminine ones.

I rarely disagree with you Dr Weiss but I certainly do on this point.

Jillian, I was being factitious about the "face" comment. Sorry.

I find the analogy you use, Dr. Weiss, both interesting and illuminating, I suppose.

Yet, I am uneasy with it, all the same.

The presidential aide is just that, an aide. What happens or doesn't happen, ultimately, regardless of her fine pedigree, knowledge or grace--and I am sure she is all your describe and more.

But it all depends, ultimately, on Obama and what he actually intends to do.

I agree with your characterization of urgency and of the, well, invidiousness of the comparisons made with others--and regarding TS/TG people all these comparisons are not limited to people of colour: DADT.

But the gravest concern I have with the analogy, particularly as it applies to Obama himself, is it paints a hardworking servant of the people--I really do have a high regard for doctors--who faces barriers not of his own making.

If Obama were the statesman of the campaign, with the convictions he so eloquently declared, then we wouldn't be in all the quagmires we are in; the matter of GLBT, and for that matter, TS/TG rights, out of many quagmires, would at least be on a clear path with momentum.

I have written at length elsewhere regarding arguments that it is not the failure of the progressive base of the Democratic Party, except inasmuch as it has capitulated to the myth of the hardworking doctor.

The veal pen, the analogy created by Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, describes how progressive organizations, unlike conservative ones with respect to Bush, have been silenced.

I look for the historical and contextual analysis; I look for the critical as opposed to the sympathetic critique.

The healthcare bill was in no way LGBT helpful. It was harmful to a number of folks. Health insurance is free to exclude any medical procedure other than some cancer screenings. There is nothing to stop them from excluding things like diabetes. I realize many do now but what is to stop them from excluding anything they deem pricey or non profitable? What if they exclude just because they cannot have a preexisting condition clause? I think that is the language we will be seeing from now on. If I can get coverage but it don't cover what is wrong with me, what the hell am I paying for except to keep from getting fined!

This bill is not a boon it is a disaster.

If they had left it to cover all things deemed medically necessary by APA or AMA, it would have done something. At the moment I can get things covered that are not medically necessary but not things which are.

ENDA would have helped tremendously but that we didn't get and DADT has a side that people aren't seeing. It allows you to serve as gay long as you don't tell and they can't ask. Take it away and they can ask and use that to discharge you. The attention is not going where it is needed.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 2, 2010 4:59 PM

What The White House Has Done For Us?

Basically, squat.

Clinton: DOMA. DADT.

Bush2: 40 state DOMAs.

Obama: Sabotage of same sex marriage.

Defense of DOMA and DADT using vile language.

And Easter eggs, and lying denials by B. Clinton that he's a bigot and Laura Bush that she's a bigot enabler and hypocrite.

And the Congress has done much less.

It's fun to bash Obama, but you disregard the fact that we can't pass anything LGBT-related in the US Senate.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 3, 2010 12:45 AM

No AW, it's not fun and it's not a game.

It's a partisan 'misstatement' to say critics of Obama are bashing him. It's simply telling the truth.

Bashing is when some thug, emboldened by political and religious misleadership literally kicks the face off of some young GLBT person, shoots them, stabs them, or just beats them senseless. That's bashing and don't demean them further by making light of what happened to them.

LGBT working class people are hurt by Obama's rightwing wars, his successful attempt to crush urgently needed health care, by the growth of mass unemployment and homelessness because he squanders trillions in bailouts for the already obscenely bloated rich, his sabotage of our agenda (even when some in Congress try to act on it) and his sabotage of same sex marriage.

BTW, weren't you supposed to be ignoring me? Come on. You promised.

If they used the current approach of civil rights for the LGBT community as they did in the civil rights act maybe blacks would just now be able to vote. Lets just get er' done.

And what, exactly, has Obama done to push gay rights leghislation in the current congress? Little or nothing! We were told he has a full plate and to be patient. After the mid terms, when Dems will lose seats and perhaps one or both houses of Congress, then we'll be told, "well, we couldn't get Congress to pass our legislation." Let's wake up a bit here. The phony DADT "repeal" bill that is yet to be voted on was noved by Congress to be sure, and Obama only jumped on the bandwagon with it at the last minute. If you go to the White House and buy the crap they they hand you, you're doing a disservice to our community. This presidentg needs to exercise moral leadership on our issues.

I think's it clear from my post that I did not "buy" the argument being made by the White House.

You wrote: "It was an honor to attend yesterday's White House briefing on LGBT issues." ...and the title of your article in part is "what the White House has done for us." After hearing what you heard at the briefing I'd have written "It was frustrating and disappointing to attend yesterday's White House Briefing on LGBT iussues,"...and my title would have read "What Obama refuses do for us." It's no honor to be handed a load of craptrap. Again, we need to demand moral leadership on our issues from this president. Sugarcoating our many disappointments is counterproductive.

I concede your point, Jim. While I did feel it was an honor to be invited to the White House, it wasn't an honor to be told that the President isn't going to be pushing ENDA or our other important legislative issues. I titled it "What the White House Did For Us" because that's what Melody Barnes talked about in her initial statement. I felt that she was implying that we should be grateful for what has been done, and, to some extent, that we shouldn't be disappointed in what has been left by the wayside. I was trying to point up the disconnect between that argument and the disappointment many LGBT people feel. It was perhaps too subtle and understated.

DR. Weiss,

What really concerns me is the seeming disconnect between the gay power elite who have access (like you?) within the beltway, and average gays. The White House is in for a major surprise if they assume that all GLBT peoples will vote for them in lockstep out of fear of the alternative. When they who are in power do little for us, what do we have to fear from our enemies?

Gay power elite? Me? Are you joking? I'm a blogger sitting in my kitchen with my Cheetos and my computer. Yes, The Bilerico Project was invited to the White House for a sit down. Once, and not likely to be repeated after I trashed their peacemaking efforts. Other than that, how am I part of the gay power elite? And tell me about this disconnect. How do I disagree with the "average gays." Did you actually read my post? I don't have a problem if you want to believe that, but your beliefs are seriously at odds with the facts.

The anger of many of us in the gay community is palpable, obviously not on the part of HRC types, but those of us who are fed up with the lies and inaction on our major issues from this president, and the betrayals such as the continuing agressive defense of DOMA & DADT. How is it that these White House briefers don't get a major hot foot from those in our community who get these invites? Don't tell me about the table scraps we've been thrown. Rather, when will this president step up to the plate and exercise moral leadership in defense of gay rights? When will the discharges under DADT end? When will Obama actually do something to move the ball forward on the repeal of DOMA? When will Obama's actions on gay rights match his words? Please, no more cocktail parties, schmoozing, and tame briefings until we see Obama actually become our fierce advocates as he promised, and we see substantive progress on MAJOR issues of concern to the gay community. Until this happens, they should fear to invite any self respecting GLBT person to one of their White House events.

Yes, you are not alone, Jim, many of us are angry. When you say "no more tame briefings," and "they should fear to invite any self respecting GLBT person," however, I am not sure what you are suggesting. What should I have said or done at the meeting when I found that I was not satisfied with the answers to my questions? What would you have done?

DR. Weiss,

What really concerns me is the seeming disconnect between the gay power elite who have access (like you?) within the beltway, and average gays. The White House is in for a major surprise if they assume that all GLBT peoples will vote for them in lockstep out of fear of the alternative. When they who are in power do little for us, what do we have to fear from our enemies?

Maybe if Obama gets reelected he will get some guts to fight for civil rights instead of cowering to republicans and right wing democrats that are worried about reelection.

As a transexual female, I am waiting for the law to be changed for LGBT rights. Executive orders can be changed by the stroke of a pen if a republican president gets in office like Bush did.

Just my feelings.

Stuart Wilber | July 3, 2010 9:49 AM

Dr. Weiss,
Yes it is clear that you did not buy into the arguments made by the White House. And I am very glad that you were among those invited. Is there a list available of the other invitees/attendees at the WH?

Yes, there's a list on the post Pam Spaulding put up here, as well as links to other posts from the attendees at the end.

I for one continue to be unimpressed. The administration is clearly still in "appease and convince the big shots mode", and still operating under the misguided notion that talking to LGBT media elites will address the problem any more than speaking to HRC will be seen by most LGBT's as credibly addressing the bulk of the community.

Once they figure out that the people they really need to speak to aren't the ones with titles and good jobs, but rather those of us who are actually directly impacted by the lack of ENDA and similar laws or their proper enforcement when they already exist, then perhaps they'll finally be able to directly address and confront the real anger in this community toward the Democrats and the way the do business on LGBT rights.

This has been just another well-orchestrated performance, brought to you by your "friends" at the Democratic National Committee. Be sure to donate on your way out the door, oh and please don't touch anything, thanks. We just cleaned the carpets.

Move along, move along, nothing to see here.

I think this nails it for me:

Similarly, there is action taking place at Housing and Urban Development with regard to grant recipients being required to follow state and local non-discrimination law.

What they seem to forget is that in some states - Indiana, for example - we are not covered under state and local non-discrimination laws. Indiana doesn't have a law protecting LGBT people. So if they're requiring them to "follow state and local non-discrimination law," we haven't moved forward at all. We've stayed in the same place.

He said he'd be our fierce advocate and I believe he as been, as much as he could reasonably be. As far as him using a stop loss order, that would look highly partisan, considering Obama has made a commitment to stop stop loss orders of the troops.

LGBT people are better off in housing, hate crimes prosecution, and in many different aspects of government regulation.

IMO, one of the biggest hurdles the LGBT community faces is dealing with the fact that Obama, even at his strongest, can't pass legislation. The bottom line is that DLC/Blue Dog Democrats are the problem, not Obama.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 4, 2010 10:27 PM

It's not Rahm Emanuel.

It's not Reid and Pelosi.

It's not the Senate and it's not the House. It's not the blue doggies or the DLC.

It's not the Republicans.

The rot starts at the top.

Obama is part of the DLC.

"The so-called New Democrats with whom Barack Obama identifies are, next to the House Blue Dogs, the most rightwing of Democratic reps in Congress, with considerable overlap between the two groups."

"According to a well-sourced, but largely unnoticed story in story in Politico early this month, Barack Obama declared in a private meeting with a group of rightwing House Democrats that he was "a New Democrat," volunteraily assuming the discredited brand of the deeply corrupt Democratic Leadership Council."