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Joe Cutbirth Headshot

I Voted (Twice) for Obama, and Apparently I Lost

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Let's talk hope for a minute.

Barack Obama seized the word "hope" this year, but back in 1977 my first political hero gave a big speech about it out in California. His name was Harvey Milk, and there is a film about him right now every American should see.

The iconic text of that talk is known as "The Hope Speech." It helped Milk get elected San Francisco supervisor, made him famous as the first openly gay city official in America, and provided rhetorical red meat as he led an historic effort to defeat a statewide ballot initiative that would have allowed the wholesale firing of gay teachers, principals and administrators in California public schools.

The defeat of the infamous Briggs Initiative was the highpoint of the 11 months Milk served in office and, as Randy Shilts noted in The Mayor of Castro Street, the single factor most responsible for his assassination a few weeks later in broad daylight in City Hall.

Milk died in part because he worked against a proposed state-sanctioned witch hunt that would have cost thousands of lesbian and gay people their livelihoods.

Thirty years later - the day Obama was elected president - an equally hateful and destructive ballot initiative in California took away the legal right lesbian and gay people had to marry the persons they love.

And this week, President-elect Obama invited Rick Warren, perhaps the most visible leader of that movement, to preside over the very first moments of his presidency.

Rick Warren's selection is a thumb in the eye of every lesbian and gay citizen of this country, and an insult to kind and decent Americans who believed that Obama's presidency was the beginning of a new era in our history.

I am as loyal a Democrat as they come, but I am saying right now, today, publically, on the record, that this is so troubling to me - and frankly to a lot of other people, gay and straight - that I will not vote for Obama in 2012, if I do not have the right that day in whatever state I am living in this country to marry the person I choose.

And I will work actively to encourage as many others as I can to do the same.

It is time in the name of Harvey Milk , Matthew Shepard , Lawrence King and for the freedoms promised every person born in this country - every citizen - in our Constitution for me to take that stand.

My liberal friends are going to get all over me for this. They don't want to hear it, because after eight years of George W. Bush they are afraid that any criticism of Obama will open some fissure in our coalition that the right-wing can identify, exploit and possibly use to recapture the presidency and/ or Congress.

Well, I'm not scared of that, because I also will pledge just as publically to give more money than I can afford, to work my ass off, to write and publish articles and to hound everyone I know to do the same in 2012, if Obama or whomever the Democrats nominate will simply stand for the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the one that reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

You see, I didn't gain anything by voting for Obama, if the person he chooses for his most visible spiritual symbol - the person to pray over his presidency and to hold out to Americans as the model for how to think about lesbian and gay relationships - is Rick Warren.

Warren, who compares gay and lesbian relationships and the loving families they produce to incest, pedophilia and polygamy and likens those who support a woman's right to reproductive choice to perpetrators of the Holocaust, is every bit as offensive to me as David Duke is to me and to every one of my African-American friends.

James Byrd Jr. was dragged to death - chained behind a truck and pulled down a dirt road until his body literally was ripped to pieces - in Southeast Texas in part because people like David Duke a few miles away in Louisiana have made careers signaling with symbols and inflammatory rhetoric that it is ok to dehumanize African-Americans.

Matthew Shepard died alone - tied to a fence after being pistol whipped and tortured to the point that 18 hours later the person who discovered his dehydrated, comatose body initially thought it was a scarecrow - in Laramie, Wyo., in part because people like Warren signal with nuanced speech and religious demagoguery that lesbian and gay relationships are immoral aberrations and deserve to be punished.

When 15-year-old Lawrence King was gunned down earlier this year by a fellow classmate in a junior high science lab, lesbian and gay people actively opposed charging the boy who pulled the trigger with a hate crime or trying him as an adult, because we understand as Masen Davis, executive director of one legal rights group, said, "(the other boy) is just as much a victim as Lawrence. He is a victim of homophobia and hate."

So, a few words directly to you, Mr. President-elect:

Many lesbian and gay people voted for you because we believed in your personal story - - and your call for Hope. We believed that the things you felt and endured growing-up in a fiercely racist society and perhaps not understanding where you fit into the mosaic of American life in some ways mirrored our own. Even though you aren't gay, we believed that more than anyone else who ever stood for high office you have an innate sense of what we have felt most of our lives. Your campaign relied heavily on symbols, and the message that your choice of Rick Warren has sent to people who are looking to you to help them understand how to treat lesbian and gay Americans has dashed that hope in a near irreparable way for many of us.

This is real. Lesbian and gay Americans are fighting on a daily basis not just for our rights under the Constitution, but in some places - as the stories of Milk, Shepard, King and hundreds of others show - for our lives.

All over this country this year, thousands of lesbian and gay kids Sasha and Malia's ages began to realize they are different from their peers. Some, if their parents find out, literally will be tossed out of their homes. Others will endure daily taunts and violence at their schools. Many will feel they only have two choices: stay in the closet or God forbid suicide.

Then, they saw Barack Obama elected president, and even at their young ages I'm sure they saw hope for a better world.

You held out "hope" as the reason for us to make you leader of the free world, Mr. Obama, and we did.

The next time your advisers suggest you hold up someone like Warren, who would tell those children they are innately sinful and that God is going to send them to Hell, as a spiritual symbol of your administration, please think of those frightened gay kids Sasha and Malia's ages.

And remember Harvey Milk's words: "You gotta give em hope."