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HRC Just Granted Obama an Absolutely Horrific 7-Year Pass on Gay Rights (Updated)


Sometimes life moves so quickly that you can forget how much is changing around you. But this weekend we will have a powerful reminder: President Obama’s appearance at HRC’s national dinner. His joining us that night says that although last year, we were outsiders to our own government, this year, we are a part of its vision.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see why the president of the United States speaking to the nation’s largest LGBT rights group is a good development for LGBT people. But at this point in time, it is hard for many among us to see. The substance of the feeling is this: he promised us the world, and we gave everything we had to elect him. But what has he done?

I’ve written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I’m not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It’s not January 19, 2017.

That matters for two reasons: first, the accomplishments that we’ve seen thus far are not the Obama Administration’s record. They are the Administration’s record so far. If you ask “is that all” my question to you is “is that all you think we’re going to push for?” It isn’t.

More importantly: today, and for the next seven years and three months, Barack Obama is the most powerful person in the world, with the largest bully pulpit, and the most power to effect change. To do the work, we hav e to work with our supporters in Congress and with the Administration. Whatever you think of the Administration’s first nine months, you don’t pass laws by sitting out. You pass laws by sitting at the table.

And you don’t get to the table at the expense of your principles. You don’t get the President’s ear at the expense of your expectations. In June I wrote a letter to President Obama describing HRC’s disagreement with his decision to defend DOMA in federal court, and with the offensive and inaccurate arguments the government put forth. It’s hard to read such a letter—a public one—from an ally.

But when the President signed a memorandum providing family protections and an inclusive non-discrimination policy for federal employees—policies for which HRC and our sister organizations had advocated—I was proud to be present. Our disagreement about DOMA did not require me to ignore a step forward for transgender federal workers and for same-sex partners. In turn, the President invited me because he recognized HRC’s accomplishments in promoting those fair policies, and because he would not exclude a civil rights advocate for speaking up about our community’s rights.

Those protections were a good first step. Passing the hate crimes law is a monumental one. I continue to believe that with this president, we will do much more. As we prepare to dedicate HRC’s Edward Kennedy award, I know that this president shares his mentor’s commitment to promoting justice for LGBT people.

I predict great things coming out of our work with this President, but that does not mean that I am satisfied today. Our community cannot be satisfied so long as DOMA is on the books and an inclusive ENDA is not. This is something we share with all those who advocate for civil rights. No civil rights advocate can be satisfied as long as there are children who eat their only meals in their failing schools each day. No civil rights advocate should be satisfied until all of us have health care and no one has to declare bankruptcy because of a hospital bill. We are not satisfied until this country keeps its promise to everyone.

Advocates for health care, education, LGBT rights and other civil rights issues are getting used to this new landscape, where passing our legislation is possible, but still hard. We’ve learned that end of life counseling can be twisted into “death panels” and hate crimes into “pedophile protection.” We’ve come to understand that we didn’t win it all in November but that we can win now.

I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will look back on the President’s address to my community as an affirmation of his pledge to be our ally. I will remember it as the day when we all stood together and committed to finish what Senator Kennedy called our unfinished business. And I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will also look back on many other victories that President Barack Obama made possible.