The gay community was hit harshly with realities over the last few weeks as a cabinet and senior White House staff was chosen in a Democratic administration that did not include a gay or lesbian appointee* and Pastor Rick Warren was chosen to give the Invocation on Inauguration Day.
The advantage in having disagreements with a new President early in the administration -- indeed before it has begun -- is that it puts both the election and the future in perspective. Governing is not campaigning. Campaigning is only about hope and promise. In many ways, it is about the suspension of belief because retaining the passion for the work requires unending enthusiasm for a candidate and a cause. Governing this country at a time of such crisis will be so much more difficult. And it is so much more fraught with unsatisfying compromises.
So despite my view that Inauguration day is a celebration that shouldn't be marred by the messy process of political compromise, I accept that for President-elect Obama, Inauguration Day is his first day of governing. He made a choice I disagree with and I won't soon forget the smugness of Warren's response. But, Barack Obama will own this inauguration, not Rick Warren. And I still believe in Barack Obama.
I still believe that he will lead our country to greater prosperity; health care for all; an energy policy that promotes a clean environment and a new economy. And I still believe that President Obama will work to enact public policy for to improve the lives of LGBT Americans. There will be missteps and compromises along the way. And those that simply don't understand what it means to be different in this world will have far more influence than I'd like in the debate. But the messy process of governing will also bring about progress in an Obama administration that will propel equality significantly forward.
There is a new political reality for LGBT people to deal with and how it works will be a measure of the sophistication and capability of the community. It was never a community that represented more than 6 or 7% of the vote in most campaigns, and it seems the biggest numbers are achieved in districts that are already reliably Democratic. Raising and giving political money always helped the community to play a larger role at the table than its numbers would seemingly offer and yet in this new era of online fundraising, constituent fundraising has diminishing importance. So we saw lots of mollifying and calculating when it came to new Obama administration appointees for other constituencies but to date not much more than a little handwringing when it came to LGBT appointees. Some good appointees are still to come even though it wasn't a priority for the top jobs.
The power of gay people is not in our numbers. It is in the number of people we touch. It is in families and workplaces and religious homes that allies are born and political progress is made. We build our base one coming out at a time - one show of support from a straight friend or colleague- one caring parent or sibling taking action - one moment where we seek help from others. It is hard work to convince people that their interests are your interests. That when it comes to equal rights, we are all in this together. But that is the job the community must continue to do despite the setbacks and disappointments. Even when it appears that they don't get it, we must give our straight friends who want to be "fierce advocates" for equality, the benefit of the doubt. We must give them our hands. And we must do the work together.
Happy holidays to all!
*This takes nothing away from open lesbian Nancy Sutly, new chief of the White House Council on Environmental Quality but that post is outside the power center of the White House and very issue specific.