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Harvey Fierstein

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A Letter to Our President

Posted: 02/24/09 03:08 PM ET

Dear President Obama,

While fighting for the abolition of slavery, one politician qualified his stance, "I have never been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

That politician was Abraham Lincoln. Obviously time and experience brought Mr. Lincoln to what would have been called the extremist view; that freedom cannot be compromised just to appease the majority.

And so he made a grander gesture reminding us of "...a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". Passing a law would change the course of slavery, but those words changed the course of the history.

Mr Obama, I have heard you speak eloquently in favor of inclusion for gays and lesbians. But then you sternly state your opposition to marriage rights. It leaves me wondering if you are straining to be politic or, if like Lincoln, your views still need maturing.

Days after your historic election an aide of yours told me that you plan to do away with the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I applaud the gesture. But don't kid yourself. Redefining that policy will do little to end discrimination against us.

With or without the Pentagon's permission gays and lesbians have been serving in the military since the birth of this nation.

We may have served in silence.

We may have fought in secret.

But a complete ban of gays did not stop us from fighting and dying for our country.

Abolishing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" won't bring us into the military or end discrimination against us.

Legalizing gay adoption won't end discrimination against our children in the playground.

Even legalizing gay marriage won't bring about the whole cloth change our nation needs.

When you, leader of the free world, accept, tolerate and even invite bigots into your fold changing a policy is not enough.

In any case, we don't need you to fight our small battles for us.

We will eventually win these on our own. Property matters, adoption rights, and even gay marriage will be won in courts of law as they are now being won in courts of public opinion.

Given time, our constitution, and the American values of fair play and justice, will prevail. We will win equal rights.

But what only you can give us is the grand gesture.

Mr. President, we need you to be more than another reasonable voice.

We need you to raise yourself up out of the mire of majority opinion.

We need you to rise above the daily politics of compromise.

We need you to mount that bully pulpit our blood, sweat and tears have erected, and speak to the greater ideal.

America needs to hear you say, "We will no longer tolerate the oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They are our family. They are we and we are they."

The nation needs to hear you say, "We must prove ourselves worthy of the title Americans; protectors of the weak, standard bearers of freedom, and guarantors of equal rights for all."

Mr President, history will record the day you say, "From this day forward no amendment, statute or law that seeks to deny full rights of citizenship on the basis of sexual preference will be tolerated. Hatred and bigotry are here forth banished to the dark recesses of small minds.

Let the Pledge of Allegiance light our way to tomorrow as "...one nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.'"

That, dear son of Lincoln, is the grand gesture we need from you.

We need a hero, and you have been elected.

This post was originally read at Defying Inequality: A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights.