Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

What Full Equality, Quite Frankly, Will Require: White House

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 06, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

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

The interview at the White House with Melody Barnes last week lasted over an hour. The full transcript would be quite long and quite dense, so I've broken it into a series of more digestible pieces.

These are quite revealing, I think, about the thinking going on in the White House about the LGBT community.

For example, who is it, quite frankly, that is responsible for equality legislation not moving forward?

I use the term "quite frankly" both because it is a term used by Melody Barnes in her answer to one of the questions that I am discussing today, and because the term signals a step up in the level of candor of the speaker. It is used to note that, although what the speaker has previously said is true enough, what is about to come is perhaps a bit disturbing but said in the name of frankness.

Here, Ms. Barnes is quite frank about what the community needs to do in order for full equality to move forward.

I am of two minds about her statement. On the one hand, I feel as if the community is being "blamed" for lack of progress. On the other hand, I sense that we have been handed a really, really golden piece of advice by a highly intelligent, connected outsider who can view us objectively.

I'm both angry at events and thankful to Ms. Barnes for her candor, and wondering how to make use of this advice, which you can find after the jump.

This section of the interview begins with a question from Kerry Eleveld of The Advocate:

"A lot of the things that you guys have done, especially at the agency level with executive actions taken, seem to me to be what I would think of as "fixes" for not full access to marital rights and the workaround for DOMA and I'm wondering when the President is going to move beyond separate but equal fixes to embrace basic issues of full equality, and specifically on marriage. We're seeing some serious challenges to DOMA in the judicial system, as well as the Olson-Boies Proposition 8 case. Those are all going to be working their way through the pipeline and I'm wondering what the President is going to do in the next couple of years with regards to those issues, when is he going to move past the fixes to embrace full equality?"

Barnes: Well, I think two things I would say in response to that. One, that the President has consistently called for the repeal of DOMA, and one because he thinks it's discriminatory, and two because he thinks it is necessary as we try and make sure that same sex couples have access to the full range of benefits, which is why he has called for activity on the federal level and in the federal government, in his cabinet and agency heads to try to use their authority to see how far they can go and to go as far as they can. I think that between the repeal of DOMA and asking the feds, and within his executive authority to incorporate and to make sure that benefits are available, that's a course he has identified, that's a course that he has supported.

I would also add that even Congressman Nadler, who's the sponsor of the DOMA repeal, that he's also said there's more education, more work that has to be done to move this forward, but with his leadership, I know of his work from my time in the House of Representatives, and with the President also calling for this to be done, and in partnership, quite frankly, with the community to provide that education to move this forward to repeal, then that sets the stage for the opening of great benefits.

Eleveld: But just to reiterate, he still supports civil unions, and he still signals that -- that's a separate but equal institution -- and I'm wondering if he's has any point going to embrace full equality rather than these smaller steps that I'm talking about.

Barnes: And I understand what you're saying, but that's the course that he has set forth.

That last sentence in the block quotation above is, I think, key:

...in partnership, quite frankly, with the community to provide that education to move this forward to repeal, then that sets the stage for the opening of great benefits.

Why did she feel it necessary to add the parenthetical statement "quite frankly"? About what was she being "frank"?

The public, despite all that we have done, despite all our insiders and despite all our campaigning in California and elsewhere on the issue of marriage equality -- they are largely uneducated about the issue.

What I take this to mean is that we have made incredible strides in reaching out to insiders. Being gay-friendly is pretty much de rigeur for anyone who wants to be perceived as a sophisticate. That includes Congressmembers (except for those on the extreme right, of course). But the electorate, on average, is not interested in sophistication. The hoi polloi want what they want -- which is to be left alone by the nosy Government with a decent job and their friends and family and some decent entertainment. They don't want to be told that they ought to support LGBT rights or anything else not in their vocabulary.

So how then, are we supposed to go about building the gay rights vocabulary of the electorate?

That is called education.

And that, quite frankly, is what Ms. Barnes was pointing to as the missing ingredient in the full equality equation.

Of course, the first thing that came up when I transcribed this Rhett-Butleresque "quite frankly" comment -- I got my back up. Doesn't she know how much time and effort we have put into education?

Then I realized that, of course, she knows. She's been part of the educators on this issue who have helped to transform the political insiders from largely homophobic to largely gay-friendly.

She's saying more is needed.

Here's an analogy I always use with my students who come in complaining about their grades. They want to know why I gave them such a poor grade. I suggest to them that they think about a college class like a sports team. When the ball comes to them, and they drop it, and the coach says "you dropped the ball," they don't get mad at the coach. I mean, you can get mad at the coach, but it makes no sense. The coach is there to help you catch the ball next time, and it doesn't help to get mad when they notice you dropped the ball. When I give a bad grade, it's saying they dropped the ball. Getting mad at me doesn't help anything. It's better to focus on how not to drop the ball next time.

It's the same here. We can get mad at Melody Barnes: "how dare she tell us we need to do more education, doesn't she know blah blah blah"?

But I think the smarter course is to acknowledge that we have mastered the insider strategy, but not the outsider strategy.

I remember the time someone made a loud, rude comment to me in the beginning of my transition in a public restaurant in 1998. I turned on my heel and left, embarrassed and mortified. I couldn't stop thinking about it all day. I was burning with shame and embarrassment and righteous indignation. Gradually, after thinking about it for hours, I had the thought that here was someone, more honest than the average person, who specifically pointed to the very thing that I needed to address in order to be accepted more fully. I thought to myself that I ought to thank that woman. Everyone else thought their thoughts, pointing and laughing in their minds, and kept it to themselves -- and from me. Now I knew what I needed to work on, and I did, and I overcame that obstacle. Thank you, anonymous woman from 1998.

What I take from what Melody Barnes said is that we have dropped the ball. We haven't yet accomplished the education of the public that is needed. What would that look like? TV ads? Social networking? Facts and figures? Emotional appeals?

I don't really know -- wish I did. But you can be sure I'm going to be thinking about it pretty hard in the next few months.

Is she right that education is the missing piece? If so, how do we accomplish it?

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 post in the series can be found here.

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Sadly, in this post, you dropped the ball.

I know for some lgbT rights are exhausted when one speaks of DOMA, Olson-Boies Proposition 8 case, but why do you speak of full equality and not mention ENDA?

Is she right that education is the missing piece? If so, how do we accomplish it?

The education piece is simple, for Americans, when speaking about lgbT rights, one must speak of lgbT rights: this means, at the very least, an inclusive ENDA--otherwise, all that's being spoken about, all that's being educated about, is LGB rights.

And for some, that's quite all right!

Its surprises and disappoints me, that you would play into this bias, Dr. Weiss.

Oh, I see how you might think that, Jessica. Let me explain. I broke the interview into a series because it's so long and dense. In my first post on the issue, I told of my question on ENDA. Then I backed up to the beginning of the interview, and discussed Melody Barnes' intro. The next post discussed Lou Chibbaro's question on ENDA, and this one discussed Kerry Eleveld's question on full marriage equality.

Thank you for your response, Dr. Weiss.

I have, as I'm sure you've noticed, been following your other posts in this series.

I still believe that for many, even many who read Bilerico, LGBT rights are exhausted when same-sex marriage is discussed, or DADT, or DOMA.

Education, as I'm sure you'll agree, must be constant. Every T** person in the world is well educated on what gay/lesbian people think, believe, need; clearly, the reverse isn't true.

When T** people hear Obama, his aides, such as Barnes, Frank, Nadler, and all the others only speak about DADT, DOMA, marriage, etc, etc, with no mention of an inclusive ENDA, for example, and seem so comfortable doing so, we might be excused so doubt as to their overall commitment.

This is particularly egregious during the time of [Gay] Pride when the leaders of [Gay] Pride speak so passionately about ending homophobia throughout the world, but fail to mention the status of T** people right here at home: as the head of Toronto [Gay] Pride. Sandilands, did quite recently, when she managed not to speak about the reintroduction of Toby's Law in the Ontario Legislature.

A quibbling detail for gay/lesbian people, clearly; especially when they actually know about these things; how could Sandilands not know.

A matter of life and death for T** people; apparently a minor detail to some.

It is precisely people such as yourself, Dr. Weiss, from the position you have achieved, the status you have accomplished, people such as yourself must constantly repeat the message about T** people, so those who manage to be so comfortable in NOT speaking about T** people will realize that if the talk about LGBT rights they really have to reach beyond their own personal benefit--just as T** people, including yourself, have always had to do.

This is something that's been on my mind for a very, very long time. Quite frankly (heh), I think our successful insider strategy may have hurt us in a way: now a lot of regular Americans think of gay-friendliness as an elite thing. It dovetails with the Republican talking points of "left-coast liberal elites who hate America" etc. etc. Being anti-gay becomes almost a badge of honor, or at least a signal that you're not one of THEM.

It is getting better, albeit slowly. It all comes down to knowing an LGBT person. We can't just do some huge marketing campaign because that reeks of propaganda. And anyway, the right wing has more money and better messaging. But it's getting better slowly, the more people come out. GLAAD is also a good help, getting the media to accurately report on gay issues and especially convincing the entertainment media to feature more realistic LGBT characters. If you don't have a queer friend or family member, a fictional character you like will do.

I really like this Tell3 thing: www.tell-three.org

I think that's how it's got to be done: one-on-one conversations, in our communities.

I agree Samwise. I like this new website for getting out the word to our communities: http://www.friendfactor.org/ It's extremely cool. Check it out and let me know what you think of it.

Oh my God!!! I was literally thinking about a website just like that yesterday! How awesome that someone actually made it! I can't wait until it launches - I'll sign up immediately.

Dr Weiss said:

"to be left alone by the nosy Government with a decent job and their friends and family and some decent entertainment"

Uh, yeah, that's pretty much all *I* want too...and perhaps I will have it when we have full rights as GLBT folks and as women.

One thing I have started to point out several times in this serious, but didn't b/c it didn't seem to fit the topic, was something obvious that seems to rarely be brought up: All these 'wonderful things that Obama has done for the community' are ephemeral. They are all executive orders, rather than laws (yes, Andrew, I know that Obama cannot make laws, it requires all those homophobic Sens), and when a repub Pres gets back in (most likely in 2012), all those nominations and GLBT-friendly 'advancements' will go poof the first day that Pres (Pres Palin?) is in office.

So everyone, enjoy it while you can. Unless we get something harder to undo in place, we're going back to the 1950's in a couple of years...

Lie to me (an interesting TV show). When someone says "let me be honest with you" or "quite frankly" it is a dead giveaway that you are being subjected to a con.

"That is called education. And that, quite frankly, is what Ms. Barnes was pointing to as the missing ingredient in the full equality equation."

Friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers.

It's not so much that we've "dropped the ball," instead we gave the ball to HRC (and the rest of Gay Inc.) and the Democrats. WE need to do the education one-on-one until WE persuade enough fellow citizens to support our full equality.

Gay Inc. has spent a lot of money lobbying politicians and it hasn't worked. WE need to lobby our fellow citizens. When WE enroll them, WE will own the politicians - and their votes.

WE are the path to Victory.

Along those lines, what do you think of this site, Andrew? http://www.friendfactor.org/

I think it's a very good start in the tradition of Harvey Milk. We need to come out and to share with our friends.

I think the goal should be equality and not "equal rights," but they apparently understand the need to "change minds" by enrolling our fellow citizens. If we applied math to their strategy we would see real, sustainable results - something absent in politics. I think they're smart.

You'll have to forgive me, I can be a bit slow at times, Andrew. What do you see as the difference between equality and equal rights?

George Byrd | July 6, 2010 11:43 AM

More gay people are out to their families than ever before. Pride festivals around the world are at record attendance. Mainstream media portrays LGBT people in a positive light during practically every hour of television.

Explain to me again where we're failing to educate? How can you even be having this conversation?

Now, I'm not saying we can't educate even more, but I feel here the implication is that somehow the gay community itself has failed to educate, and that's patently absurd. HRC is a big, national organization with local offices here in Columbus, but the main movers and shakers in this town are the local movements who spend the majority of their time educating.

True to everything you say, George, and we are working like the devil, but we have failed to catch the ball. We need to do something different, even though we don't know what that is. (If we knew what was needed, we'd have already done it.)

Sadly, this is precisely my point:

LGBT=Gay people

This may not be the failure to educate, but it is certainly the failure of education.

George Byrd | July 6, 2010 12:24 PM

No, LGBT = Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender (and Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirited, Intersex, etc.)

One of the most active and fastest growing groups in the area is TransOhio (http://transohio.org). TransOhio has created one of the largest Trans-oriented symposiums in the country in just a few short years. This year, it is 3 days long with over 70 presenters, and TransOhio just announced yesterday the formation of a new, national coalition of Trans organizations to promote education, awareness and help each other achieve common political goals by sharing advice and experiences with each other.

TransOhio is a proud member of other LGBT leadership groups and is well respected and is out there getting its message across just like the gay groups as well.

When *I* say LGBT, I mean *LGBT*, and increasingly, so does everyone else. I'm still not personally a fan of HRC, but I do believe they've learned a lesson from the whole ENDA fiasco and from what I've seen they're reaching out and sticking their tail between their legs.

You name every population under the sun, yet, you still manage to erase transsexual people.

Although there are those who refuse to recognize the existence of those whose struggle is neither with their gender--that which society imposes upon them--or their sexual orientation--there is little understanding of those who struggle with the sex of their bodies.

This continued refusal to recognize transsexual people takes some, obviously absent, understanding when one can see that gay/lesbian people, in their lives of same-sex sex are, unsurprisingly, gender non-normative, that is, transgender; this is quite different from those whose quest is for boby congruity.

So, analytically, LGBT has become precisely what I have described above, gay/lesbian people, and those people who, like gay/lesbian people, are gender non-normative.

It seems clear, the dominant discourse is to exclude transsexual people because their/our lives are incomprehensible for our challenge is not to societally imposed gender norms, but to the physical dissonance of morphological sex.

LGBT=sexual orientation and consequential challenge to gender norms
transsexual=physical dissonance with anatomical/morphological sex with no necessary challenge to gender norms

This is why it is so obviously inconvenient even to say the word, let alone demonstrate the understanding; it is something quite different from sexual orientation and gender non-conformity.

Quite frankly I think if anyone from any identified group wastes my time trying to educate me about their issues I'll gag! Followed by NOT helping them politically with their issues.

See if you can pick up my theme below.

Activist group member (spoken to me): "Let me spend the next thirty minutes telling you how bad things are for me and my group in the USA. Oh, you were recently fired? Let me tell you how that relates to the problems of my group. Oh, your Mother just died? Gosh does that remind me of another problem my group has! Oh wait, before I get into that let me show you a community award I just won for my activism."

Group member buddy: fun to hang out with, full of life, well read, interested in what is going on in my life. Open about problems they and their group has but not nauseatingly so.

I'll go to the voting booth to help out a buddy. I'll join their groups to fight for their rights. I'll donate money to help them if I have the funds available. Get my drift?

Clearly my point is education is counter-productive if provided by self-centered, boring, activists. How anyone expects someone else to care about their issues when they don't give a flip about who they are speaking to eludes me!

By all means we need to educate people on our issues. But we need to do so as reasonably interesting people in our own right and as interested in them. A rule of thumb: if you would not look forward to spending time with someone enjoying life with them don't waste your time and theirs educating them.

Well said, Nerissa! My incredibly ingenious son was saying something similar to me just last night, after I told him that he does not understand the trans communities' problems.

He said that Martin Luther King did not win civil rights by being self-righteous and indignant or telling people that they should understand the plight of African-Americans. (He took a class on the 60's recently.) He won people over by creating a grand vision of society that appealed to the majority, despite their privilege, self-absorption, and lack of concern about the welfare of others.

Your point is well-taken, Nerissa. I had a conversation several months ago with the head of a large state organization, with whom I was supposed to cooperate because of their expertise in grassroots organizing. I listened to their boring, self-righteous, micro-managing, unreflective monologue for several minutes, before I interjected that the size of the brand on the email was not important, and that we had more important issues to address that would be more fruitful. I was then subjected to another monologue about how I failed to appreciate the expertise of others, and that I would have to learn how to cooperate if I expected to get anything accomplished. I made my excuses about other work (which were in fact true enough) and got off the phone.

The campaign with the right-sized brand failed miserably.

I'm with you, Nerissa. It has to be spontaneous and community based and grassroots and authentic and, most importantly, fun. We may be suffering, but no one gives a crap about our suffering. We won't win allies among the public by pitching discrimination statistics, although that is appropriate for insider policy work. Another reason why insider policy wonks shouldn't be allowed to touch politics.

Shame on Weiss and this blog for carrying such Uncle Tom nonsense. Did blacks, Jews and women have to prove that they were worthy of equality before they were "generously" awarded the Civil Rights Act of 1964? The other day it was suggested that ENDA is likely another 5 years away..which is as good as saying never unless the LGBT community continues to kiss Democrat ass. This White House and its majority party leaves gay Americans with a choice between Republicans who demean us or Democrats who deceive us. The third choice is rage and mass civil disobedience; and it is the third choice that has delivered equality since the American Revolution. The education that is needed is within our own gutless community.

It is to laugh. Rage and mass civil disobedience? If I could get rage and mass disobedience, I'd be in front leading the charge. That hasn't happened since the mass draft during Vietnam threatened most young men. How would you create rage and mass disobedience?

>> "the President has consistently called for the repeal of DOMA"

He has? News to me.

If anything, he's been singularly quiet about *any* LGBT legislation since his SOTU speech -- and even then it was used as a "get the troops excited" kind of thing with zero teeth behind it.

Education? Why do we need to be doing this? When countries all over the world have seen the light and our own sits there mired in what are increasingly Third World attitudes about this topic? If Congress is so adamant about putting its head in the sand, even as it sings La la la la la I cant hear you, then all the educating in the world seems more than a bit pointless.

If Obama truly wants to see the repeal of this and DADT, let's hear it from his own lips, not from some flunky whose message wont be picked up by the evening news.

hear, hear, Sean. Yes I agree, let's hear it from his lips. Until it's heard.

Actually, I don't think recommending more education is ever wrong. Even our own side needs more education when it comes to many areas of advocacy work. The more educated we are in the community (and I mean individually), the easier it will be for our side to respond to questions, claims, and misinformation from everywhere outside our community.

I'm fairly big on the education piece myself.

Anyone, anywhere. Formal or informal.

Education requires patience. It requires understanding your opponents. It requires not positing them as enemies. It takes remembering things that many have forgotten.

I will travel anywhere to do it. I have different classes for Trans people, for cisGLB folks, for cis/straight folks, for mixed groups.

I do them in two hour, 4 hour, 8 hour, and two day seminars. I use all the familiar tools, and it's usually pretty exhausting to me physically.

Education also requires a willingness to learn, however.

And without that willingness to learn, there's little effect that education can have.

I've long done this, as well, online and offline. Each effort is different, each is adapted to the person and the situation and the beliefs involved.

Sometimes it's fire, sometimes it's rain, sometimes it's earthy, other times its like wind.

I don't charge for it. All I need is a place to stay and a way to get there. I've done it in homes, in movie theaters, in cramped rooms in the back of a non profit, in large hotel spaces.

I've done it on buses, at the airport, in a sports arena, in comments and forums, and yes, even on a blog or five.

I've also educated all those congress critters. I've had them ask good questions and answered them -- on the spot. I've had them listen and smile and nod and then thank me for the time and watched the words drizzle out their ears and even seen them ball up their notes and throw them away.

I don't educate merely about trans issues, either.

Nor am I tired of it. Any of it.

This is an indictment on the entire community, though, not one or two people. And to be frank, not everyone is going to have the patience, the endurance, the confidence, the ability to freely embrace all of it.

And that is where this becomes a flawed argument, for what they are doing is the same thing we see in countless threads and onblogs and in heated arguments.

We, as LGBT citizens, are not *required* to educate them. Their assertion that we are is based in their privilege, and is sued as a wedge to separate us.

So I have to say that after 150 years of hard effort on the part of the LGBT communities that it is not *our* fault there is not enough "education", but it is their fault.

It takes two to tango, not just one. HAd I been there, I'd have asked her, flat out, *who do we educate*.

Names. If they truly support such, they will arrange the meeting. If they are allies they will work to ensure those contacts are made. And I would have had no problem educating them on why those things are important.

So no. I'll not allow them to escape their own complicity in this discrimination and accept that statement.

John Buie | July 9, 2010 1:25 PM

Last year I had the opportunity to lobby Senator Feinstein's staff regarding the Uniting American Families Act (equal immigration rights for foreign national permanent partners of American citizens). I spoke directly with Feinstein's Judiciary staff Director, who told me that the Senator had "problems with the possibilities for fraud as the legislation is currently written."

I asked what could be done to move things forward, and her answer was, "Tell your stories." (i.e., Educate!). Now, I'm slow, but over time I figured this scene out! *The very single person in the whole world whose job it is to write 'language that works,' for the Senator we need, in the bill we want,* was telling me it was my (our, the community's) job to fix the broken thing she was holding in her hand!!

I'm sorry Dr. Weiss, but Deena, above, nails this. And so this post gets it precisely backwards.

1) DADT repeal polls 70-80% favorable.

2) ENDA polls about 70% favorable.

3) Support for either marriage or civil unions (DOMA repeal as a matter of provided benefits) polls favorably at between 60-65%.

The fact is that in the last 50 years our community has, quite successfully, educated the American people on our issues and the 'rightness' of legally treating us as equals.

It is the "insiders", and our inside the beltway strategy, who have failed us. 100%. Delivering on promises to us, in the insider view, destroys our motivation to give and vote for the Democratic establishment. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that we will never secure our due from these people.

I do not take anything away from the level of hatred of those opposed to our humanity, but they are a small minority. They serve only to give cover to our 'friends' for their inaction.

You ask the right question, though. What are we to do?

1) Cut the funding.
2) Stop the voting.
3) Publicly and loudly call the insiders' on their hypocrisy.
4) Label the 'con' for what it is.
5) Hold our leaders publicly and relentlessly accountable for their failures, across the board.
6) Bake Anthony Kennedy cakes (buy him liquor, whatever!)
7) Recruit the next generation of Republican leadership, who will, just as pragmatically, see us as a strategic asset to advance their personal interests. (Marriage equality, if not delivered by the courts, will come only in 15-20 years and only from the pen of a Republican. God help us.)
8) Pray for the early demise of the over 50 demographic (I can say that, I am there). OK, kidding!!