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Robin McGehee Headshot

Fierce, From the Sidelines

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When the Arab Spring erupted earlier this year, President Obama faced a daunting challenge. How do you balance the dreams and aspirations of millions with the relative safety and comfort of the status quo?

Unfortunately, as the uprisings grew, the administration's tepid and inconsistent comments to those dreaming of freedom seemed to lack courage -- or, dare I say, hope they could believe in. So, by the time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power -- a previously inconceivable idea -- the dreamers had written their own history without any noteworthy help from the American President.

A revolution had passed before Barack Obama's eyes and he was relegated to the sidelines. And the dreamers realized that they didn't need President Obama in order to take hope and change into their own hands.

Last week, in a very different kind of revolution, the same thing happened. New York passed a marriage equality bill -- once again, a previously inconceivable idea -- and the dreamers wrote their own history, with President Obama on the sidelines making tepid and inconsistent comments, afraid to be a leader.

The passage of a marriage equality bill in New York is a gamechanger, a tipping point in the battle for increased civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. And the eve of the bill's passage would have been a natural time for the president to step up and endorse it. Forty-two years ago, LGBT people couldn't legally dance together or share a drink in a New York bar. Last weekend -- coincidentally, but appropriately, Pride weekend in New York City -- they were dancing in the streets, proposing during parades, and toasting marriages to come.

A majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry. Dick Cheney and Laura Bush are more progressive than the president on this issue and, sadly, the president's personal views are indistinguishable from Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Increasingly, when the president says he's "struggling" and "evolving" on the issue, clinging to his vague and unarticulated "religious beliefs," many LGBT people simply aren't buying it and wonder why he insists on seeing us as second-class citizens.

Last week, with his anti-equality position unchanged, the President had no problem flying into New York City to collect large checks from hundreds of LGBT supporters at a fundraiser. And, in a speech at the event, he oddly tried to allude to the then-pending legislation by suggesting that marriage was a states' rights issue. It was a jaw-dropping argument to hear. Such experiments haven't exactly worked out so well when it comes to civil rights and marriage, and have largely fueled the right-wing talking points that avoid social progress.

Some of the rich LGBT donors at the New York fundraiser like to tout that President Obama is the most pro-gay president in U.S. history and his critics should cut him some slack. However, our last president tried to write LGBT families out of the U.S. Constitution and the President before him signed both "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law. The bar is pretty low and the American Dream requires that we expect more from our presidents.

Presidents lead. They take principled stands, based on their values and convictions, and then they work to create a better world. And this president promised his LGBT supporters on the campaign trail that he would be their "fierce advocate." We took him at his word.

Sadly, he isn't living up to his promises. But he has a new opportunity today to do the right thing -- a new chance to lead the revolution. Today, the Obama Administration is hosting a Pride Month reception at the White House, inviting LGBT advocates and activists from across the country into the Obamas' home. The president's unwillingness to publicly endorse full equality for LGBT Americans will continue to dog him throughout the re-election campaign -- we'll make sure of that. So what better day than today to announce the president's evolution?

We, the dreamers, are writing our own history. And we are expanding the American Dream to everyone until we secure full federal equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. It'd be nice if the president would open his heart, steel his convictions, "evolve," and join us.