We all know that Election Day, including the reelection of President Obama, was historic for LGBT Americans. Now we need to translate those results into tangible, concrete change.
Last week a Washington Post headline proclaimed, "Gay donors now pressing for top spots for LGBTs in Obama administration." Then, on Sunday, Maureen Dowd reported that gay advocates specifically want "to see an openly gay cabinet secretary and an openly gay ambassador to a G-20 nation." If traditional media and elected officials are getting the message that this is at the top of our equality agenda, to the exclusion of more meaningful gains, that's a problem. Sure, an openly LGBT cabinet secretary or high-level ambassador would be a symbolic milestone, but how does that translate into real equality for LGBT Americans outside D.C.?
An LGBT cabinet official was supposedly a line in the sand four years ago. Following the November 2008 Obama transition team meetings, which all the major LGBT organizations attended, Chuck Wolfe from Victory Fund was quoted as saying, "Anything less than a cabinet-level appointment would demonstrate that they did not hear us." When we didn't get one, the groups simply stopped talking about it.
Elections are a means to an end, and our end goal is full equality for all LGBT Americans. Though we had fantastic wins on marriage in four states, last week's results didn't get us even close to full equality. If you woke up in any of the 29 states without full nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees, or in any of the 41 states that don't have marriage equality, or, worse, in any of the 30 states that have enshrined this bigotry into their constitutions, then you surely understand that firsthand.
Judging from successful civil rights movements that came before us, our next steps will take dogged determination. The good news is that political momentum and the American people are on our side.
We need to redouble efforts and raise the bar on expectations, especially on the federal level. There are valuable lessons from Obama's first four years to guide us. Here's our quick take on lessons learned, followed by specific requests that we should be prioritizing:
- Lesson 1: Chicken Littles who proclaimed that the sky would fall if the president supported marriage equality were wrong. It helped him. Many argued that it would be a mistake for the president to "evolve" in his position on marriage before the election. They parroted "conventional wisdom" that support for LGBT issues (and not just marriage equality) was risky. Polling showed otherwise. Instead of the sky falling, the president's decision to support marriage equality was met with a burst of fundraising support and increased enthusiasm for his reelection. Doing the right thing mattered and helped the president win reelection. We want to be clear: The lesson here is not about anyone being right or wrong; it's about learning that never again should we stop -- or fear -- fighting for equality because of unsubstantiated claims of risk.
So what should we be asking for on a federal level right now? We need to set very clear, public goals and benchmarks and demand progress and immediate action. This time we should not listen to anyone who tells us to wait. Others have made recommendations, and we wanted to add ours to the growing list. This is not an exhaustive or definitive list, so add your priorities to the list and start advocating. Here's our list:
- By the end of this year, President Obama needs to sign the executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This executive order has been awaiting his signature for over two years now. He could do it this week, and it would be a historic first step toward federal employment protections. We can no longer wait for employment protections that the president promised us and should have put into place on his first day on the job four years ago.
Our end goal is full equality. We need to do what it takes to get there. It's not always pretty, but we think it's worth it, and progress will engender enthusiasm as we approach the midterms.
Though victory is sweet, we can't let it be fleeting.
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