As National Coming Out Day drew to a close yesterday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pledged that she would ask President Obama to give a national address on the inferior legal status of LGBT people and its connection to violence against them. She made the pledge in response to a request I made in front of an audience of approximately 60 attendees of a "Broadway for Kirsten" campaign fundraiser at the home of Scott Sanders and Brad Lamm.
I prefaced my request by praising Senator Gillibrand for using the bully pulpit of her office to advance the LGBT agenda: she has been one of the most outspoken Senator on the issue of Don't Ask Don't Tell and she has urged the LGBT community to push for inclusion in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ever since endorsing The Power's petition on that issue in June, 2009. I noted that her use of the bully pulpit was particularly appreciated because the bully pulpit isn't often associated with a senator's job description. I then observed that much of the frustration among LGBT people in the room and across the country might be traced to the fact that for almost two years, while the LGBT legislative agenda has stagnated, President Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit of his office to speak out forcefully for LGBT equality. I noted that the President's silence was particularly deafening on this National Coming Out Day. I pointed out that with the national attention focused on the recent string of suicides provoked by anti-gay bullying, and on the kidnapping, torture, and robbery of three gay men in the Bronx by nine gang members in what many are calling the most sadistic act of gay bashing in New York City in more than a decade, this is "a teachable moment" in which the President can make the vivid case to the American people that "a fish rots from the head down" and that the unequal status of LGBT people results in violence and death.
This country is at a crisis point that demands the President address the nation and confront the issues. From what has happened in the last month, you might think we are back in 1978. In the year 2010 we are living in a country where after six young men commit suicide because of anti-gay bullying, the Attorney General of Michigan shows no shame about going on CNN to defend his assistant a.g.'s right to cyber bully the openly gay student body president of the University of Michigan. In 2010 we are living in a country where, after a gay teacher in Oregon was reassigned for coming out, Tea Party kingmaker Senator Jim Demint went on record saying that sexually active gay men and women should not be allowed to teach at all. In the year 2010 we are living in a country where Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee for Governor of New York responds to the most vicious gay bashings in recent memory by putting out a statement on the eve of National Coming Out Day that homosexuality is dysfunctional, that children can be brainwashed into being gay, and that gay people have nothing to be proud of.
And so it is becoming painfully clear that the problem for LGBT people in this country is not just the natural pains of growing up, but a society governed by laws that say we are inferior. We live in a country where the laws say that discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin is contrary to public policy, but where they also send a message that the most hateful discrimination against, and the most degrading devaluation of LGBT people is a personal and moral prerogative.
A presidential address is also needed now because only the president speaks with the full authority of the office, and only the president can hold the focus of the attention deficient press. And right now, attention must be paid. The White House may respond to this request by saying that Valerie Jarrett already spoke for the President at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner, or that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the issue in a statement of his own. But the truth is, Valerie Jarrett was speaking to LGBT people, not to America and not to the Congress. Secretary Duncan's two-paragraph statement barely touched the tip of the government's culpability for the society in which LGBT people have to exist and it was merely a blip on the media landscape. Though to Duncan's credit, he did call on all elected officials to speak out. I hope he meant his boss as well.
Senator Gillibrand is to be commended for acknowledging the critical role political leaders and our system of laws have in setting the tone for a just society, and for her pledging without hesitation to call the White House on Tuesday to urge that the president address the nation on the pernicious effects of the inferior legal status of LGBT people. Like Duncan, she told the gathered audience that every politician who believes in equality for LGBT people must speak out.
This is no time to be silent. It's time for action. As Lady Gaga said exactly one year ago, "Mr. President, ARE YOU LISTENING?" We can't hear you ... yet.
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