Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Advocate: Obama's interview

Obama granted his second interview with The Advocate published today. Although he said seemingly positive things, his responses were tepid if not evasive. So buckle up for a long ride into the meandering of Obama on gays and lesbians.

Take his biggest claim:

I haven’t been silent on gay issues. What’s happened is, I speak oftentimes to gay issues to a public general audience. When I spoke at Ebenezer Church for King Day, I talked about the need to get over the homophobia in the African-American community, when I deliver my stump speeches routinely I talk about the way that antigay sentiment is used to divide the country and distract us from issues that we need to be working on, and I include gay constituencies as people that should be treated with full honor and respect as part of the American family.

A passing remark here and there doesn't cut it. Take a stand, Barry. Take a stand if you dare.

Talking about "the need to get over the homophobia in the African-American community" doesn't rise to championing a cause nor has he offered a persuasive argument why homophobia is destructive, immoral, undemocratic, and in defiance of the scientific and psychological community's conclusions: gays and lesbians are normal albeit a sexual minority. Neither does speaking about how "antigay sentiment is used to divide the country and distract us from issues that we need to be working on" indicate his commitment that LGBT equality is a democratic issue that we need to be working on. His words are as bland a sentiment as lukewarm toast, no butter. Anti-gay bias isn't a distraction: it is in opposition to our founding principles predicated on equality under the Constitution. Can I hear a, "Yes, we can?"

Obama brags, "So I actually have been much more vocal on gay issues to general audiences than any other presidential candidate probably in history," but that's overly self-congratulatory at best and stretching his rhetoric to the point of absurdity. What gay issues? What policies? Has he rallied his general audiences to back programs of equality? Clinton has spoken about gay issues to general audiences in primary debates, in the Senate, on news programs, and in her book, Living History. But here we go with Obama into the issues with a non-general audience (Advocate questions in bold):

I think the underlying fear of the gay community is that if you get into office, will LGBT folks be last on the priority list?

I guess my point would be that the fact that I’m raising issues accordant to the LGBT community in a general audience rather than just treating you like a special interest that is sort of off in its own little box – that, I think, is more indicative of my commitment. Because ultimately what that shows is that I’m not afraid to advocate on your behalf outside of church, so to speak. It’s easy to preach to the choir; what I think is harder is to speak to a broader audience about why these issues are important to all Americans.

Did he plainly say yes in all those sentences? Jeebus, give me a machete. Who is he kidding? Does he advocate for gay equality, an end to discrimination against LGBTs, federal benefits for "married" gays and lesbians or immigration policies for same-sex couples in his public speeches? Is he outlining specifics at his events? No, he hasn't. And we know why. Obama doesn't want to make waves with constituents he might alienate by explaining what he would do--if he would do it--as president if elected.

On "don't ask, don't tell," he doesn't promise to end it: "I reasonably can see “don’t ask, don’t tell” eliminated." So how Barry? Hillary has explained her approach. Got any plans on how you will eliminate it?

When he speaks about ENDA, he follows Ted Kennedy's latest move to exclude transgendered people, and to be fair, Hillary has equally been timid on introducing gender identity issues into law:

I think that’s going to be tough, and I’ve said this before. I have been clear about my interest in including gender identity in legislation, but I’ve also been honest with the groups that I’ve met with that it is a heavy lift through Congress. We’ve got some Democrats who are willing to vote for a non-inclusive bill but we lose them on an inclusive bill, and we just may not be able to generate the votes.

He also repeated what Hillary has proposed as a co-sponsor in 2006 of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act, a bill that was reintroduced recently, and her endorsement of extending federal benefits to civil unions during her interview with the Philadelphia Gay News:

The third thing I believe I can get done is in dealing with federal employees, making sure that their benefits, that their ability to transfer health or pension benefits the same way that opposite-sex couples do, is something that I’m interested in making happen and I think can be done with some opposition, some turbulence, but I think we can get that done.

And finally, an area that I’m very interested in is making sure that federal benefits are available to same-sex couples who have a civil union. I think as more states sign civil union bills into law the federal government should be helping to usher in a time [during his presidency?] when there’s full equality in terms of what that means for federal benefits.

What about DOMA? He's "interested" in repealing it. But...

Do you think it’s possible to get full repeal of DOMA? As you know, Senator Clinton is only looking at repealing the plank of DOMA that prohibits the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned unions.

Now wait for it. Obama replied (with emphasis):

I don’t know. But my commitment is to try to make sure that we are moving in the direction of full equality, and I think the federal government historically has led on civil rights -- I’d like to see us lead here too.

Jeez, a non-commitment commitment. And who is us? What about you, Obama, as president? One can understand the criticism that Obama's words are "just words." Again, The Advocate asked:

Back to “don’t ask, don’t tell” real quick -- you’ve said before you don’t think that’s a heavy lift. Of course, it would be if you had Joint Chiefs who were against repeal. Is that something you’ll look at?

I would never make this a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obviously, there are so many issues that a member of the Joint Chiefs has to deal with, and my paramount obligation is to get the best possible people to keep America safe. But I think there’s increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy -- ya know, we’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn’t make us more safe, and what I want are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are making decisions based on what strengthens our military and what is going to make us safer, not ideology.

Did he give a straight answer (no pun intended)? So which is it? Non-ideological Joint Chiefs who can keep us safe and accept gays and lesbians with their specialized skills to enhance national security? Or Joint Chiefs who may be bigoted against gays and lesbians in the military? Did Obama straddle the fence on this one? Oh, I know. It's complicated. Wheeee-ooooo!

What Obama completely ignores and doesn't address is the law that prohibits a president from rescinding “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Why did he avoid that fact? Has he done his homework? Clinton has. Does he even know he would have to get legislation passed to rescind the ban?

In so many words, the Advocate interviewer asked about his position favoring gay civil unions over marriage, querying whether he's asking same-sex couples to wait their turn? Obama waffled and dodged:

I don’t ask them that. Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit -- I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, wait your turn.

OK, fair enough. But does Obama take his cues from others? Does he believe that doing the right thing is the right thing to do?

Like Obama, Clinton favors civil unions over marriage for gays and lesbians. She spells her position out in unambiguous terms: "Would [she] support federal domestic-partner legislation to give rights to all LGBT citizens, not just federal employees? 'Of course. . . the states are making determinations about extending rights to same-sex couples in various forms and the federal government should recognize that and should extend the same access to federal benefits across the board. I will very much work to achieve that.' " Including changing the tax code.

What annoyed me the most was Obama's evocation of Dr. King:

I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he says to the white clergy, don’t tell me to wait for my freedom.

So I strongly respect the right of same-sex couples to insist that even if we got complete equality in benefits, it still wouldn’t be equal because there’s a stigma associated with not having the same word, marriage, assigned to it. I understand that, but my perspective is also shaped by the broader political and historical context in which I’m operating. And I’ve said this before -- I’m the product of a mixed marriage that would have been illegal in 12 states when I was born. That doesn’t mean that had I been an adviser to Dr. King back then, I would have told him to lead with repealing an anti-miscegenation law, because it just might not have been the best strategy in terms of moving broader equality forward.

That’s a decision that the LGBT community has to make. That’s not a decision for me to make.

Is it fair for the LGBT community to ask for leadership? In 1963, President Kennedy made civil rights a moral issue for the country.

But he didn’t overturn anti-miscegenation. Right?

True enough.

As I said, I think the LGBT community has every right to push for what it thinks is right. And I think that it’s absolutely fair to ask me for leadership, and my argument would be that I’m ahead of the curve on these issues compared to 99% of most elected officials around the country on this issue. So I think I’ve shown leadership.

Not compared to Hillary. Obama acts as if he doesn't have a clue about the entirety of gay and lesbian advocacy. He's fallen for Republican talking point on the gay marriage thang and dismissed the movement's press toward resolving the economic impact of discrimination, visitation rights, adoption issues, the tax-filing dilemma, Social Security benefits denied to surviving partners, VA benefits, immigration, and a host of other discriminatory aspects that keep gays and lesbians segregated from married and/or single heterosexuals to equal access under the law. You know why equal marriage rights matter to gay and lesbian couples especially now? Because we are getting older and have to consider what happens in the event of death or disability.

Legally, our marriages may be codified as civil unions, but we can call it marriage and get married in churches that support us. What matters most is equality--not special interests but equal rights--under the law.

I had the pleasure of hearing Coretta Scott King speak at a Gay Pride event and she didn't try to wiggle away from bestowing full equality upon LGBTs. In her words:

For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law.... I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.” Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others. So I see this bill as a step forward for freedom and human rights in our country and a logical extension of the Bill of Rights and the civil rights reforms of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The great promise of American democracy is that no group of people will be forced to suffer discrimination and injustice.

I miss Coretta terribly and sobbed with grief on the day of her funeral. One of our heroines had passed. But, Obama, in comparing gay rights to African-American civil rights movement, balked and parsed his words timidly (with emphasis):

You always want to be careful comparing groups that have been discriminated against because each group’s experiences are different. I think that the transition toward fuller acceptance of the LGBT community has happened without some of the tumult and violence that accompanied the civil rights movement. But we still have a long ways to go, and I think that it also obviously varies geographically. I think in urban communities, you can’t say there’s full equality, but in terms of the LGBT community daily round they’re not as likely to experience certainly the discrimination that they experienced 25 years ago.

Whereas, in the African-American community, you can still see some fairly overt racism. On the other hand, in rural communities, I think attitudes are slower to change.

What mealy-mouthed mush! I object to who's been victimized more, a specious argument. Ever heard of the Stonewall Riots or the despicable pickets of the God Hates Fags bigots, Barry? Remember when homosexuality was illegal and sodomy was a crime? The Religious Right has made a career of openly smearing gays and lesbians in the media and from the pulpit. Obviously, Obama knows little of the daily overt gay-bashing--one in five have suffered from a hate crime--that occurs throughout America even to this day. Yes, we are different. We can hide in the shadows pretending we're straight, those of us who can, to save ourselves from death, from violence, from being discharged from the military, from being evicted, from losing our jobs or not getting hired. But we have died in large numbers as a marginalized minority.

When the AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980s, we were judged and convicted as unworthy of assistance, rejected as outcasts, shunned as pariahs. Gay teens struggle in schools everyday where the epithet, f*ggot, has replaced the racial smear now so taboo to speak out loud. We are not considered family--something African Americans have never had to suffer--when our loved ones are hospitalized. We have had our property taken away from us when our lifetime partners have died and our kids removed from our homes because we were decried as unfit. And we live under the threat of death, violence, verbal abuse, vandalism, and prejudice if we inadvertently go to places that are dangerous to our kind. I personally had to flee my hometown as a teen because I was warned by a dear friend that a group of boys who knew of my relationship with a girlfriend were going to abduct and rape me to show "the dyke" what she's been "missing." And if I dare to speak openly that I am a lesbian online or in public, OMG! The sexual harassment that I sometimes get from supposedly enlightened liberal men is unnervingly lurid and undignified.

Yes, our experiences are different but the methods denigrating us are the same. As King so eloquently summed up, "I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience." And “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Read the rest of Obama's interview. I cannot stomach another word of a man presuming to be president, so arrogant to boast that he's been "more vocal on gay issues to general audiences than any other presidential candidate probably in history," and so ignorant of the LGBT experience and our life struggles.

Equal protection under the law, Mr. Obama. Equal protection under the law!