Last week First Lady Michelle Obama stood in front of hundreds of LGBT donors in a New York City fundraiser and asked each of them to "max out," or donate $32,400 to Democratic causes. It's the maximum amount of money you can donate to a candidate or political committee, and it suggests your full and total support for their agenda. GetEQUAL activists heard those remarks with dismay. How can the Democratic Party ask us to "max out" after ignoring our pleas to protect us against discrimination in the workplace? So on Tuesday night, Ellen Sturtz, a longtime activist and a previous Democratic donor, asked the first lady that same question at another Democratic fundraiser.
Some have questioned our decision to ask the first lady about this important policy issue that could protect 22 percent of the labor force in the United States from discrimination simply because of who they are or whom they love. Still others have pointed out that Mrs. Obama isn't the one who signs executive orders, which is true.
But these questions ignore the fact that the first lady took her place as an important leader in the Democratic Party the day she decided to ask the LGBT community for money. We value her leadership: Mrs. Obama has ushered in a new era of leadership in the party, and we're proud to have her as first lady. But GetEQUAL has a long history of confronting national leaders, despite party affiliation, and holding them accountable, as have others within the progressive movement throughout our country's history.
The Democratic Party continues to promise more than they deliver -- but they only continue with their pleas to LGBT donors to max out, not making good on promises to make our lives better. The first lady is only the latest Democratic leader to come to our community and ask for our support. But despite LGBT support for her party, our community continues to live the nightmare of "workplace closets," making the American dream unattainable for many of us. We are still getting fired for who we are or whom we love from coast to coast.
As she was forced out of the fundraiser last night, Ellen cried, "I'm a gray-haired lesbian, and I want full federal equality before I die!" Ellen and the LGBT community have already been waiting too long for equality. It's time for the Obama administration and Democratic Party leaders to listen to Ellen's cries and the cries of million LGBT people in the workplace closet. Time is not a luxury, and we are no longer content to wait for politicians to decide when it's politically expedient to include LGBT folks in the American dream. Every day, in every state, from coast to coast, members of our community are losing their jobs or hiding who they are so that they can stay employed. As they ask us to max out, Democratic leaders are asking for our silence. And that's just a price we're no longer willing to pay.
Both of us have experienced discrimination based on our gender and immigration status, and we understand the concerns of members in our community in relation to race. But in our humble opinion, we have simply asked a Democratic Party leader for her support on an issue. With fundraising pitch after fundraising pitch from the Democratic Party, we confronted one of our leaders with a concrete way to protect LGBT Americans, especially low-income and rural LGBT Americans, from perpetual poverty and fear. We hope the first lady continues to be a voice of conscience within the Democratic Party. And we will continue to engage leaders of all political parties, wherever they are, until we are fully equal under the law.