UPDATED, with comments below:
What should Obama say in what's being called his "big gay rights speech"?
Tonight, on the eve of the National Equality March expected to draw thousands to the nation's capital this weekend, President Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the biggest black-tie, seen-and-be-seen dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest gay organization. A leadership award named after the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a long-time champion of gay rights, will be given to Judy and Dennis Shepard, around the same time their 21-year-old son Matthew lay on his deathbed after being robbed, pistol-whipped and tied to a fence -- the victim of a hate crime. That was 11 years ago.
A lot has changed since, and to many gays, a lot still needs to change. "Change," of course, being the cornerstone of Obama's historic campaign. Though Obama is the second American president to speak at the annual dinner -- now in its 13th year -- he is, as the first black president, the first member of a minority group to address a minority group that's been fighting for changes for many years. Expectations are high.
And this being a gay event staged in official, political Washington, there will be picketers. But not the usual kind. To underscore the pressure on the current Democratic administration, the picketers are members of gay groups who feel that Obama has not delivered on his promises in his nearly nine months in office. Not enough. Not fast enough. Especially in the gay rights landscape that's been energized and emboldened by the work of online-powered grassroots organizers and bloggers on sites as varied as the Bilerico Project, Pam's House Blend, Towleroad and AmericaBLOG, among others. Together, they're using the social Web -- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- to broaden their reach, engage supporters, get the message out -- and push Obama. After all, no minority group is invisible online.
In a Washington Post profile shortly after Obama's victory, which coincided with the passage of Prop. 8, the California initiative that banned same-sex marriage, Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend told me: "Obama has said over and over again that his will be an inclusive presidency. So we'll see. Words are just words. They must become actions. Everyone will be closely watching."
Indeed, and waiting for whatever Obama will say Saturday night.
"[Obama] cited his 'Christian beliefs' for the reason why he now opposes equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. He refuses issue a stop-loss order to prevent purges of lesbian and gay soldiers," Blake Wilkinson, co-founder of the Dallas-based Queer Liberaction, told the gay news site EDGE. Wilkinson's group was created after Prop. 8 passed, and the Internet has served as its hub. "If we are going to get real change out of this White House, we need to make demands of this president. As the great anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass put it, 'Power concedes nothing without a demand.'"
Note the reference to Douglass, the black writer and abolitionist. Douglass may serve as an inspiration for tonight's speech. Another inspiration may be James Baldwin, who was a blogger -- personal, political, personally political -- long before the word even existed. In an essay in last year's New York Review of Books, openly gay Irish author Colm Toibin explored the similarities between Obama and Baldwin. The rhythm, the jazz, the rawness of Baldwin's prose has had an obvious influence on Obama's writing.
In a speech titled "In Search of a Majority," the black, gay writer who did not want to be seen as "merely" a black writer or a gay writer, told the crowd at Kalamazoo College in 1960: "We cannot discuss the state of our minorities until we first have a sense of what we are, who we are, what our goals are, and what we take life to be."
The first minority president should ponder those words as he prepares for his "big gay rights speech."
Share what you think Obama should say in the comment section below. I'll update the page periodically with the best suggestions before Saturday's speech.
UPDATED, with your suggestions:
What should he say? He should say: Tomorrow I will ask my democratic colleagues to introduce a gay bill of rights. This will include a repeal of that awful and unconstitutional law DOMA and the end of DADT. My administration will also immediately cease defending DOMA. And I personally will help my colleagues in congress make the Gay Bill of Rights the law of the land.
Like people who are born black, brown, or gay; it was not a choice. It is time for the constitution to protect ALL Americans and give them ALL equal access to America's institutions and privileges and rights as stated in the constitution. Discrimination codified into law is not and never will be the American way.
Then he should say; god bless America. Then he should do what he said he'd do -- for a change.
I don't want to hear him say ANYTHING. I want to see him DO something positive for gay civil rights. I will not believe in him until he makes legal headway. Right now, all his past actions have shown he is actually anti-gay rights. So he better not just give lip-service.
As a middle-aged, straight, Christian woman, I'm glad that the President is talking about this. All of us need to be mindful -- always -- of when the civil rights of fellow Americans are either at risk or overtly being trampled on. If it happens to one of us, it could happen to any of us tomorrow. We're all in this together.
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