When a small group of street activists started talking a year ago about creating an entity that would push -- urgently and unceasingly -- for full equality to be extended to all LGBT Americans, we weren't sure what would happen.
We weren't sure whether anyone would show up for meetings. We weren't sure if those in power would pay any attention. We weren't sure if we could break through the veil of "separate but equal" that has covered our communities with the mistaken notion that our government actually values LGBT Americans and sees us as full citizens of this country.
We weren't sure whether we were strong enough to stand up over and over again to discrimination, without suffering heartache or losing hope. It was a year ago that we were reading the words of Arianna Huffington, right here on The Huffington Post -- and telling ourselves that the change we wanted was up to all of us to obtain.
It's been about a year since we started those conversations, and we've made some progress (check out our recap video for pictures). I've been honored to meet tens of thousands of folks across the country -- both in the flesh and online -- who are willing to put everything on the line in order to be recognized as full citizens under the law. It's been humbling, to say the least.
But I've seen a disturbing trend surfacing since the mid-term elections in November that is attempting to usher those tens of thousands of Americans (and those progressive opinion leaders) back into a political closet. After Republican gains in the House and Senate -- and gains in state legislatures and governorships -- we're seeing pundits, as well as some LGBT leaders, repeating the meme that nothing positive for LGBT Americans will happen in Congress over the next two years. I can stay silent no longer -- we must talk about why this meme is not only disingenuous and misleading... it's also dangerous.
To repeal the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy, it took the work of organizations and advocates meeting in the suites of Congress and the White House and organizations and activists in the streets throughout the country applying the pressure to push for change. It also took Democratic, Republican, and Independent political support -- evidenced by the final repeal bill sponsored by Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Collins (R-ME). To pretend that LGBT equality is a Democratic issue with no Republican support -- or to pretend that our LGBT organizations don't have the drive and courage to push for equality -- is a lie. Though Democrats like to believe that they have a monopoly on LGBT issues, we saw only modest movement on LGBT issues over the four years that Democrats held control of both the House and Senate. Promise after promise yielded little fruit, and vital issues like the passage of a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the repeal of the horribly discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gathered dust on political shelves.
LGBT Americans are not political prisoners of the Democratic Party -- nor should we be a political football for the Republican Party.
It is times like these that open up the most substantial opportunities for the President and his Administration to show leadership. As John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, notes in CAP's "The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Progressive Change": "President Obama's ability to govern the country as chief executive presents an opportunity to demonstrate strength, resolve, and a capacity to get things done on a host of pressing challenges of importance to the public and our economy. Progress, not positioning, is what the public wants and deserves."
There is also a good chance for passage of safe schools legislation this year -- an important step toward nurturing the next generation of LGBT Americans -- but I hope we, as a community, won't stop there. We still have advocates in the House and the Senate who can get things done -- including a House LGBT Caucus consisting of about 90 members, including the courageous Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- but they'll only do that if they're pushed and if folks take action across the country that will give them political cover to make change.
Collectively, we should all be preparing to do exactly that. GetEQUAL is currently organizing to take action in the states to provide momentum for real change -- a 21st century civil rights movement -- this year and beyond. And that's going to take folks across the country getting involved in their respective states and towns -- insisting on local and state legislation that will chip away at government-sanctioned discrimination at the city, state and federal level. We cannot sit back and wait for our rights to come to us -- it's vitally important to proactively pressure for ways to make LGBT Americans more equal. And, obviously, we should be working in reactive ways that will defend against legalized discrimination, ballot bashing, and the specter of bigoted and hateful forces.
Pushing back vehemently against marriage amendments in the states and at the federal level is important -- as is pushing for employment non-discrimination, safe schools, fair housing, immigration equality, protections for bi-national couples, and many other manifestations of state and federal discrimination. GetEQUAL is pushing for all of these things and more -- everything that will tear down the walls of inequality that prevents LGBT Americans from being treated as full and equal citizens.
We refuse to accept the political excuses that now is not the time for "difficult" issues like equality or that these issues are too "complicated" or "controversial" to take on right now. Equality is never convenient. Justice is never easy. We must take ownership of our equality and must press unrelentingly to create a groundswell of momentum that cannot be ignored -- and that is not subjected to the ebbs and flows of political power. And, as Huffington wrote in her post, "That's where Hope 2.0 comes in. If the votes aren't there, the people need to create them."
Each day that we wait until discrimination is "easier" to combat, another LGBT person dies unequal. Each day that we wait, another couple is pulled apart at the border by American immigration policies. Each day that we wait, another of our transgender sisters and brothers is left without a paycheck under discriminatory employment policies. Each day that we wait, kids continue to be bullied at school -- aided and abetted by homophobic and transphobic teachers.
Each day we wait, my two children get a day older and this soon becomes their fight instead of ours. Is that the legacy we want to leave -- something for them or others to take care of some time in the future? The time for waiting is over. Let's get equal.
Follow Robin McGehee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GetEQUAL