talking points

What Should Barack Obama Say at HRC’s Dinner Tonight? A Lot.


When Barack Obama addresses the “formal and festive”-dressed attendees of the Human Rights Campaign’s thirteenth annual D.C. dinner, he’ll have the ears not just of the queers munching on hors d’oeuvres, and not just LGBT America, but on the entire nation: Not only is C-SPAN airing the dinner live beginning at 8pm, but the national news media will be there covering the president’s every word. (We would know: Too many of them applied for press credentials, which meant HRC cockblocked Queerty.) This means lots of Rachel Maddow soundbites, Jon Stewart mashups, and YouTube remixes. But most importantly, it will be Obama’s much needed platform to address the elephant in the room: Our fierce advocate has not only been snoozing, he’s been sticking our hands in warm water while we’re sleeping, too.

Tonight, the president has a chance to smooth over nearly a year’s worth of bad chemistry between the White House and the gays. (That is different from “the White House and Gay Inc.”) We fully expect the skilled orator to leave the stage with rounds of applause. What we do not expect is that he’ll make any concrete promises to us — leaving things as status quo, “committed” to our cause, but unwilling to do much for it.

But maybe he’ll surprise us?

Maybe he’ll actually step up to home plate not with a baseball bat, but a two-by-four aimed squarely at all the laws and politicians and “values” groups trying to keep us as a second-class?

It’s a leap, but if we were writing Obama’s speech, this is what we’d include.


Let us know there’s a firm plan to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And that until it’s dead, you’ll stop applying it.
You say you want a legislative repeal of the 1993 law. But you’ve done visibly nothing to encourage lawmakers to kill this policy. Even when asked. You let your Defense Department talking heads continue giving excuses why even easing DADT is impossible right now. You must declare what you’ll do, legislatively, to kill DADT. You must call on Congress, and then commit to following up ad nauseam, to repeal the law. Let them know you’re willing to use political sanctions (read: vetoes) if they don’t. And until you can get enough lawmakers to see the light, declare you will issue an executive order halting investigations under DADT. We understand you’re low on political capital right now, and healthcare is your big to-do. But never has there been such a groundswell of support to repeal this law. Ride it, B.

Voice your support for marriage equality at the state level.
Your own home state of Illinois just introduced full marriage equality legislation, but you were silent. Just like you were when New Hampshire and Maine and Iowa declared gays must be allowed to marry. But those hard won victories now face challenges from religious-backed fights. In Maine, voters will have a chance next month to kill gay marriage rights; in Washington, they’ll have a chance to kill domestic partnership rights. Come out swinging for us in these states. Assure us you’ll lobby voters in these two states to do the right thing. We know it’s hard to do, given your public position on gay marriage (read: you think it’s only for men and women), but say something about state sovereignty and the will of lawmakers to make your point. These voters who elected you will listen to you again. But maybe not for long.

Call on Congress to hand you the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Without discrimination protections, nearly every adult queer in this country faces some possibility of losing their job, or home, or social service, because they are not straight men and women. Declare this way of life to be incompatible with American values, and go on the record (name legislator’s names if you want!) with a commitment to lobby the hell of of lawmakers to pass a law that just makes sense. You want to be our fierce advocate? Then help keep our livelihoods and families safe from wanton disregard for equality.


The Matthew Shepard Act? Get ‘er done.
We’re almost there with this one. The House passed it. The Senate is en route (next week?!). And then it’ll arrive on your desk. Tell us you’ll sign it immediately. Make federal funds available for hate crimes investigations. Help create a federal statute that says it’s not OK to attack LGBTs, even when state laws don’t go that far. Send a message to conservatives that protecting queer Americans has nothing to do with speech or a “special class,” and everything to do with freedom and liberty.

Stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. And help us kill it.
Nothing gets us more angry than seeing your Justice Department flacks defending discrimination. But that’s what you’ve let happen, bud, and it’s time for it to end. This law allows the federal government to legally treat gay Americans as second-class, even when states opt not to. Since 1996, Clinton and Bush have found ways to slap us across the face thanks to DOMA. Don’t be one of them. Let relationships and American families thrive. Promise us you’ll discontinue letting your legal experts denounce our “lifestyles” and commit to pressuring lawmakers to get behind the Respect for Marriage Act.

Lay out a plan to fight school bullying.
You’ve got two daughters of your own, Mr. President. Imagine if they were taunted in school? How that would make you feel? Untold tens of thousands of queer-identified (and sometimes not even) youth are the targets of school bullies, who make learning an impossible task. Vow to protect these children so there are no more Lawrence Kings or Carl Joseph Walker-Hoovers. Reach into those coffers and provide cash to so organizations like GLSEN can further their reach into school hallways, so Billys and Tanias and Sarahs and Maliks can focus on biology and algebra, not their plan to escape this world.

Invite a gay couple get married at the White House.
We know we’re pushing it with this one, but imagine: Washington D.C. Councilman David Catania just introduced a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital. It’s expected to pass easily. Then Congress can choose to take a whack at it. Obama, tell lawmakers to leave it alone. And then, when the bill becomes law? We want to open up the White House to just one gay couple and, if you’re so willing, marry them. We cannot imagine any greater a symbolic or substantial move than the president of the United States backing up his commitment to be our fierce advocate than inviting us into his — America’s — home to celebrate a joyous union. Bonus for you, Obama? You could use it as a chance to reverse course, and come out in full support of marriage equality.

Stop trying to be our friend. And start trying to be our president.
You see like a good guy, Mr. President. But your platitudes, once welcome, are growing increasingly annoying. We don’t need you as our buddy. We need your as a human being who happens to be in a position of power. Continue attending fancy galas thrown by Gay Inc.; we’ll poke fun, but we understand it’s part of the game. Just stop relying on HRC to be your only source of communication with the gays — especially because we hear you understand Facebook and Twitter. You know what we want. You know what we need. So quit this bullshit practice of having us over the White House as some sort of crowd pleaser. Only until you help fulfill, or at least show a serious commitment to enacting all of the above will we feel at home in the White House. And then we’ll have that beer with you. Maybe even a Camel, too.

We’ve certainly missed a few promises Obama could make tonight. What else do you think the president should cram into his speech? Or should Obama’s speech be about something other than promises he may or may not keep?

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