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Emma Ruby-Sachs Headshot

Obama Gives a Good Speech, But Will It Help Lt. Choi?

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My mother gave me Dreams From My Father after I started volunteering for the Obama campaign. I didn't read it, I now regretfully admit, until a month ago. By then I had bought into the "hope," had my heart broken by the Rick Warren choice and had decided the new president was going to need as much, if not more lobbying on gay rights issues than any Republican.

Well, yesterday, a number of people who have spent most of their lives working for full equality in this country heard the president give a pretty perfect speech in commemoration of the Stonewall riots. He might have sidestepped the actual issues, refused to back down from defending DOMA and refused to stop discharging out military personnel, but he stated, unequivocally, that he is committed to the repeal of all federal discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Anyone who has read Dreams From My Father knows that this is not a man who believes in discrimination and this is not a man who approves of second-class treatment for any class of U.S. citizens.

So, now that that is out of the way, can we stop worrying about Obama and his administration for a while?

If we look at the track record of this administration -- the movement away from public health care, the passing of a flawed energy bill, the back and forth on Guantanamo -- we have to wonder just how much influence it has over conservative Democrats and Republicans. If it can't pass a comprehensive overhaul of health care, something people expressly voted for when electing Obama, then how is it going to repeal laws that a large proportion of Americans don't care about or to which many don't object?

The political cost of discrimination eventually becomes too great for the system to operate successfully. This happens when those within a community and their supporters become angry, begin boycotts and push legislators to move rights issues to the top of the agenda.

LGBT rights are not at the top of the agenda today. They are not going to get there if we just wait for a lull in the crisis facing this country. They are not going to get there if we place all our hope in the beliefs or opinions of the president.

Today, Lt. Dan Choi faces his review in military court. His livelihood and the livelihood of all those fired for being gay, beaten up for being gay, separated from their partners for being gay, depends on a shift in the conversation from Obama to the much broader lobbying efforts that target congress and the senate; a lobby that makes it just too damn expensive to keep endorsing bigotry in U.S. laws.