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Jon Hoadley

Jon Hoadley

Posted: December 18, 2008 01:23 PM

On Rick Warren: What Are we Fighting For?


Don't email me -- at least not for a day, or two. My inbox exploded.

I received a courtesy call yesterday afternoon from my I.T. expert after she noticed that my inbox had reached its capacity. "It's okay," I responded as I assured her that the sudden surge in messages wasn't due to Internet spam. "It's Rick Warren."

While the Rev. Rick Warren is best known to America as the author of A Purpose Driven Life, the Reverend betrayed his carefully crafted image of a moderate evangelical by aggressively supporting the passage of Proposition 8 -- and blatantly "bearing false witness" in the process. In his support for the measure Warren misleadingly argued that the proposition was needed to legally protect the free speech of those that disagreed with the freedom to marry. As incorrect as that line is, it was left largely unchecked by the media in the days leading up to the Election -- thus contributing significantly to Proposition 8's passage.

So why was my inbox exploding yesterday instead of back in November? Yesterday morning, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that Warren would deliver the invocation at the ceremony on January 20. "Did you see this?" questioned many of the emails with blog links, press releases, and media write-ups included, while even more asked, "Aren't you outraged?"

However, only a few emails asked the most relevant question: "What should we do?"
Like many, I am angry and outraged that Rick Warren was chosen to give the invocation for an administration that was elected with the promise of change. How did the Inaugural team -- which includes openly LGBT people -- let this one slip through the cracks? In the context of the passage of Proposition 8, the choice of Warren is particularly stinging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans and our allies. His words have been hurtful and, more importantly, his actions have been harmful.

The choice of Warren also underscores the fact that no openly-LGBT participant has been selected to take part in the Inaugural ceremony, no openly-LGBT person has been chosen to serve in the presidential cabinet, no openly-LGBT personnel have been named to any level of the White House staff, and only one openly-gay presidential appointee (Nancy Sutley) has been announced to date by the transition team.

Our community -- at least from what my inbox has seen -- has been quick to share our anger at this choice. But while advocates -- especially the LGBT netroots -- are rightfully telling the incoming administration that this isn't right, our community has been slow to share a solution.

Unfortunately, this is a pattern in modern LGBT advocacy. We saw the same anger over rumors earlier this year that former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia (the architect of opposition in 1993 to service by openly-gay military personnel) was being considered for the position of Vice President. Our community loudly said "No to Nunn!"- just as we said "No to Nunn!" to similar rumors in 2004 and 2000. Yet, in saying "no" our community failed to share what we could say "yes" to.

If we want to enact pro-equality policy and change, we need to take a page out of Harvey Milk's playbook: we have to give them hope. We need to say what we want, not just what we don't want.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Transition Office have heard our anger. We have their attention. So, now is the time to offer them our solutions. What can the Inaugural Committee the Transition Office and the LGBT & allied community now do together?

Here are three things that we can advocate for.

Our inclusion at the Inauguration
The inaugural ceremony is a celebration of the entire American family. Having an openly-LGBT member of our family participate in that event would speak loudly to our American values. Can we do that? Yes we can.

An Openly-LGBT Cabinet Member
Building a diverse presidential cabinet that reflects the talents of our nation is a strength that can be fortified with an openly-LGBT cabinet member. We have a great candidate in Mary Beth Maxwell, who is often mentioned as a potential choice for Secretary of Labor. Can we do that? Yes we can.

Openly-LGBT Presidential Appointees and White House Staff
As scores of presidential appointments are being announced, we have only received word of one openly-LGBT appointee - and no openly-LGBT White House staff. The Victory Fund has partnered with dozens of organizations (including Stonewall Democrats) on a tremendous project that has helped to identify talented prospects for these positions. So, can we work with the Victory Fund and Transition Office to address this? Yes we can.

I've said I'm angry, but I'm also offering three concrete suggestions. We all know from our personal lives and advocacy that it requires more than anger to move individuals and institutions. By offering a solution -- and our partnership -- we are able to apply accountability and measure results.

Just as we voted for change in the White House, we need to also change how our community does advocacy -- especially in how we respond to setbacks. Facing four years of a friendly Administration and Congress, our community will make great progress on issues of equality. We are also going to find ourselves disappointed and angry at times -- just as we have found ourselves angry with the selection of Rick Warren. Sometimes the mistakes will be unintentional, sometimes they may show negligence, and other times the mistakes may call for aggressive campaigning if it looks like our equality is being traded for political gain. But we have to stop just simply saying "no." Statistics show that it didn't work when Nancy Reagan said it and it doesn't work for getting us closer to equality.

This is an opportunity to not only to change the Inaugural ceremony, but to change ourselves. Let's use this moment to train ourselves to not just react in anger, but to leverage missteps with corrective actions that actually contribute to the implementation of pro-equality policy.

So post your ideas on change.gov. Write to the Transition and Inaugural teams to share your disappoint with Rev. Warren, but couple it with suggestions for improvements.

And yes, feel free to CC me on those emails. I went ahead and paid for a bigger email inbox.