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Former Gay Rights Protesters Now Set To Support Obama And Democrats

First Posted: 06/22/11 07:43 PM ET Updated: 08/22/11 06:12 AM ET

NEW YORK -- With President Barack Obama set to travel to New York City for a high-profile LGBT fundraiser gala on Thursday and the state of New York likely poised to pass a same-sex marriage bill around the same time, the potential for tension or simply good-old-fashion heckling seems high.

But in surveying a host of gay rights activists and donors, it seems increasingly clear that -- while there remains tremendous disappointment over the speed of Obama's continued "evolution" on gay marriage -- his relationship with the community is in fairly good shape.

One metric: When the Democratic National Committee hosted an LGBT fundraiser nearly two years ago to the day, the prevailing narrative surrounded who exactly would protest. Thursday, two of the three people who conspicuously skipped that event -- either out of moral objection or a longstanding policy against donating to committees -- will play a supporting role. The third is a DNC treasurer who was not available for comment.

David Mixner, the New York City-based author and gay rights activist, will be in attendance when Obama takes the stage at the Sheraton Hotel. Back in June 2009, he vocally criticized the DNC event after the Department of Justice filed a legal brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. It called the policy "good for the federal budget" and compared "incest" with gay marriage. With Justice having abandoned its defense of DOMA, and with Obama having successfully pushed a number of pro-gay initiatives –- chief among them the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell –- he has happily changed his tune.

"I'm attending tomorrow," he told The Huffington Post. "I didn't raise any money, but I wanted to show that -- even though I'm being a real hard-ass on marriage -- I support the president."

Mixner, whose writing often reflects the disappointed conscience of the gay rights community, said he has noticed a "sea change" in how the administration has approached LGBT issues. Informal polls on his blog used to registered 70 percent disapproval with the president's job performance as recently as the fall of 2010. One month ago, he said, there was 70 percent who rated the job being done as "good or excellent."

It's not just activists who are warming up to Obama in the lead up to the presidential campaign. The institutional gay-rights community is getting behind the president's reelection push as well. Obama's advisers are acutely aware of the fundraising prowess of LGBT donors, and they've catered their outreach to reflect that demand.

The thawing of the relationship, however, has worked both ways. The Democrats are back to courting the LGBT community, as well.

Alan Van Capelle, formerly the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and now a deputy in the New York City Comptroller's office, did not attend the DNC fundraiser in 2009. It was, he told The Huffington Post, not due to the DOMA brief, though he did object to it. Rather, it was because he refused to help raise money for the Democratic Party, which then could use those funds to support candidates that opposed LGBT rights.

A year ago, he changed his policy. "This is the first time I've done it," he told The Huffington Post. "Because it is this president, I have confidence about giving to the DNC where I haven't before."

Not everyone in the gay rights community has been so readily persuaded by what Obama has managed to accomplish. His slow, public "evolution" on marriage has produced its fair share of ridicule -- so confident is virtually everyone around the White House that the president secretly supports the cause. There is also a gnawing anger among activists over the fact that they had to protest the president in the first place.

"We had to beat the bejesus out of him to get what we got," said John Aravosis, a prominent activist and blogger. "We had to beat up the president to get him to move. He pretended he would be our fierce advocate, and then they got into the White House and said, 'Uh, we don't have to do what we discussed.'"

"It was all B-list stuff that should have happened day one," he added. "On the big stuff, we shouldn't have had to beat them up to get them to move forward."

But the president did, eventually, move. And the LBGT community as a result of that -- or other compelling political pressures -- is now poised to reward him.

"Look," said Mixner, "what are my options? Michelle Bachmann? Rick Perry in Texas who is going to pray for the family council down in Texas? I don't think so. Let's be practical here."

Jordan Howard contributed to this report.

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