Karen Ocamb

GetEQUAL's Robin McGehee Reports on Her Meeting at the White House

Filed By Karen Ocamb | November 21, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Brian Bond, GetEqual, Joe Sudbay, Robin McGehee, White House

On Monday, Nov. 15, GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee and 12 others were arrestedGetEQUAL-Robin-yelling-on-WH-fence-199x300.jpg (photo by Sean Carlson/Talk About Equality) after having chained themselves to the White House fence to protest the possible failure of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The demonstrators pressured President Obama to get engaged, as he had promised to do. Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement, had invited McGehee the week before the arrests to come to the White House on Wednesday to discuss DADT - after which McGehee was interviewed by AMERICAblog Gay's Joe Sudbay about the meeting.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not just another interview with just another frustrated and disappointed activist! The meeting and this interview are important for several reasons:

  • First, McGehee refused to abide by the common practice of having such meetings be "secret" and off the record. This interview therefore stands as a record of what exactly was said directly to the Obama administration. The administration cannot say, "We didn't know" or "No one told us that."
  • Second, as she notes, this meeting shows that taking bold action to express disappointment does not mean the end of access, which apparently leads to self-censorship - and perhaps a sense of privilege and elitism - at the expense of the LGBT community.
  • Third, McGehee broadened the discussion beyond DADT to also include immigration reform, the trans-inclusive ENDA, and marriage equality - not only expressing frustration, but offering solutions or "fixes," as well. For instance, a "stop-loss" order if DADT repeal fails and bi-national visas so foreign partners of same sex couples will not be deported, even if LGBTs are stripped out of the immigration reform bill, as happened in the healthcare bill.

McGehee also says that by his re-election in 2012, Obama needs to have a better answer about marriage equality. McGehee says she told Bond:

"As a person of faith, I do not like his religion to trump my religion and having that used as a reason he was arguing his stance. I'd like him to explain that to my 7 year old and my 4 year old that the family that lives next door to them is deemed to be more worthy of equality and dignity.....[Obama needs to] change that publicly and immediately."

But there are also revelations in this interview that may require some follow up. At two points, McGehee indicates that Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, apparently misread the political situation. McGehee says that Solmonese told her that Obama "never promised" to do more than repeal DADT - which both McGehee and Sudbay refute. She also recalls that the night before the National Equality March, Solmonese appeared on CNN and said, "We have time with this administration. He has until 2017." Hearing that, longtime activist David Mixner replied, "The reality is that by 2017, I might not be living." McGehee says she carries that and the gay teen suicides as a burden of responsibility.

McGehee says she hopes the national organizations learn from her experience of being invited to the White House, even though administration officials were angry with her and also tried unsuccessfully to bully her into a secret meeting. "There's no rule book that says you cannot go up there and stand for your dignity."

There are some fresh insights into Brian Bond, as well. When McGehee says the LGBT community deserves an LGBT in a Cabinet or some other senior position in the administration, Bond told her that he didn't know that the Victory Fund had asked for that during the transition. Bond noted all the LGBT appointments, to which McGehee replies: "Appointments were good enough for the Clinton Administration." This is 2010 and "we're way past being spoken about," referring to LGBTs invited to the White House. To be honest, McGehee says, the "advisorship" to the administration "is most reflective of 1993 - and maybe that's part of the problem. But there are ways to fix that."

Sudbay asks what she felt leaving the meeting and McGehee tells of how she choked up seeing a photo of Obama, recalling how much she had done to help get him elected in "red" Fresno, California. She hopes that what she expressed is taken to the next level because "if it's not, then I've lost hope in the same political system I've asked my son to believe in."

"Can Brian Bond adequately translate that to the people that are above him?" she asks, rhetorically. "I don't know."

Please watch these tapes.

Part One:

Part Two:

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Angela Brightfeather | November 21, 2010 12:15 PM

I have a new hero and a GLBT advocate who finally doesn't put ego first, which allows her to speak truth to power.

Thank you for getting the message out in a clear and strong way. My hope is that we will see some results.

It wasn't a "meeting." People have conversation at meetings. Brian Bond told Robin he didn't trust her, but said he would listen. She then rambled on about topics Bond and the White House already knew plenty about. Nothing was taught, learned or accomplished.

Was anyone else from GetEQUAL at this meeting? Any photos?

For those that are unaware, this is not a difficult meeting to get. The White House has thousands of these meetings (that probably have actual conversation). Spending $700,000 to talk to a low-level White House aide seems extravagant if not just plain stupid.

I understand the desire of a few activists to want to sell this non-event as a "victory." GetEQUAL is trying to sell it as a reason to contribute money for their $30,000-per-month in salaries.

If you want to consider contributing, ask yourself if anything GetEQUAL has done these past 10 months actually changed any minds or garnered any support for our community. That would be worth a donation.

Plus, it would be interesting to hear Brian Bond's recollection of Robin's speech. He could tell us what she said and if there was anything of value.

AndrewW, did the news articles fail to mention that you attended the White House meeting with Bond and McGeHee? And if you weren't there, then how are you so sure about what transpired? I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that this confrontation was at least more meaningful than the last White House Easter Egg Hunt.

I do believe that people being willing to be arrested for a cause is a powerful indication to our government that the issue can't be shoved onto a back burner. This is true whether we are talking about DADT repeal, or objecting to the full-body scanners at the airports.

I'm sorry A.J. but our issue is not "being pushed to the back burner." DADT repeal has been a big story without circus-styled publicity stunts.

Getting arrested as means to get attention is not courageous or brave, especially when it is self-serving.

I have had meetings at the White House. During those meetings we had "conversation." According to Robin McGehee "Brian Bond refused to talk but said he would listen." Robin then repeated what they had already heard. They didn't need a "speech" about issues they're already very familiar with.

Conversation helps us, not confrontation.

... They didn't need a "speech" about issues they're already very familiar with.

New political information and good ol' political pressure are not necessarily the same thing and you, AndrewW, are failing to make the distinction between the two.

In light of the way the WH, the Pentagon, and Congress have all been dragging their feet every way they can, apparently they did need a "speech" on an issue that they're already familiar with ... and on which they may intend to do absolutely nothing ... if they think they can get away with it.

Conversation helps us, not confrontation.

In response I quote Frederick Douglass:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will."

Maybe someday we will find our right to serve as mundane as buying a bag of carrots in the local Safeway. But until then, someone among us must have whatever it takes to plow the ground and get our hands dirty.

A.J., Fred died in 1895. Can't you come up with something a little more "fresh?" Or dare I say "relevant?"

Robin didn't provide any "new political information" for the White House or apply any "pressure." DADT Repeal (and other LGBT-issues) require 60 votes in the US Senate. That has been the problem. How has anything GetEQUAL has done changed a single vote in the Senate?

More importantly, how have any of these childish publicity stunts changed any "minds."

I understand the frustration that leads all of us to want to scream out loud, but we have to determine if that helps us or hurts us. It IS a struggle, but effectiveness is not determined by "volume," it is determined by results. We create results by engaging people, not enraging them.

Here's a quote from Shakespeare (from the late 1500s):

"Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood."

andrewW you have been in the White House

I crafted an unique and innovative Program, born out of my frustration, to provide a special binational VISA program, to help foreign partners gain entry to the USA on legal Visas that could keep them here for extended period of time until they are able to obtain green cards via UAFA or Immigration Reform changes. I have 1800 signatures and need 1800 more by year’s end on the Change.org Petition that I created to further its progress until I can take it to our members of Congress.

Thank you for this interview and a special BIG thanks to Robin for bringing up the Binational
Please read my follow up piece which explains the Program as many will not know what it is. I am available for interviews about it. Melanie Nathan