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Peter D. Rosenstein

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We Can Cheer Obama and Still Demand More

Posted: 05/02/2012 4:39 pm

It's always interesting when people find it hard to say "thank you" and then ask for more at the same time. Politicians don't have that problem. How many times do you get a request for more money either with the thank-you for your last donation or even before you got thanked? It may be a little annoying, but that is the way the game is played.

Advocates need to remember that we have to play the game the same way. We can thank someone for all they have done for us, make a contribution, and give support, while at the same time demanding that they do the things they promised but haven't yet done. It is kind of like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Many of us have fought for equal rights and advocated for policies that we believe would make people's lives better. Chances are that the older we are, the more issues we have fought for, whether it was funding for AIDS education and care, affordable housing, women's rights, the civil rights movement, or new schools. (I even remember demonstrating alongside my mom when she was the president of the local PTA, demanding that the city plant more trees around our school.)

Today, when we look at how far we have come in the fight for civil and human rights for the LGBT community, we must agree that we have made some big strides during the time that President Obama has been in office. Not all the strides have been due to him, but some of the change in how people look at the LGBT community has come because he is willing to talk to and about us in a way that many previous presidents didn't. We passed marriage equality in D.C., New York, and Maryland, and yes, the change in national climate over this issue has made a difference. The Obama administration has confirmed an openly gay federal judge, hired more openly LGBT federal workers than any other administration, installed members of the LGBT community as top-ranking officials at OPM, and moved to make things better for our transgender federal workers. We have seen the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the signing of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act after years of working for it. So yes, we do need to thank President Obama, and he has earned our support for a second term.

That said, there is no reason not to continue to push him on the issues that still are outstanding and that are crucial to the LGBT community and their families. There has been no legitimate reason given for the president not to sign an executive order outlawing anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. This is something that candidate Obama promised to do when he asked for our support in 2008. The time to do it is now.

A friend recently asked why we didn't chain someone else to the White House gate for this. I responded that we shouldn't need to, and the mainstream media are picking up this issue, with a Washington Post editorial, among others, demanding that the president act. Contrary to the spin coming from the White House, this isn't comparable to hate crimes or repeal of DADT. Those issues required congressional action; this just needs the president to pick up a pen.

Some question whether we should push him to fully "evolve" on marriage equality. Many of our allies are now doing just that, with members of Congress, mayors, and even members of Obama's campaign urging that marriage equality be put into the Democratic Party platform. It is time, and there is no reason not to push him on this issue, as well.

Some activists say that if you pledge your support to him, then he has no incentive to act on the issues you want. I disagree. In today's world, with news cycles and social media as they are, there are still many reasons to act, even when you have already pledged support. When Obama refused to sign the executive order, that led to an eight-minute news conference on this one topic, and that will only be the beginning. The president and his surrogates will get questioned about this issue across the country, and they should. Eventually, he will see that signing a nondiscrimination executive order is the smart political thing to do. We will win, and he will win.

This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.

 
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