If you needed evidence that the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not monolithic in its politics, reaction to President Obama"s speech to the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner offers plenty. But in their criticism of the president's remarks as "been there, done that," LGBT critics missed the real gift in Obama's speech: the first African-American president equated their struggle with that of the civil rights activists of the 1960s.
In his speech, the president mentioned all of the major legislative issues that motivate LGBT activists, including his promise to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the law that bars LGBT people from serving openly in the military.
But he offered no timetable, no specifics. He failed to mention the anti-same-sex marriage ballot measures percolating in several states, most notably, Maine, where the religious right has organized to overturn marriage equality in that state.
After Obama spoke, activists focused on what they did not hear. The rest of it sounded old to them. To me, it sounded remarkably new, especially this part:
Now, I've said this before, I'll repeat it again -- it's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago. (Applause.) But I will say this: We have made progress and we will make more.
As LGBT people battle for marriage rights, the president's comparison of our struggle to that of the civil rights movement marks a critical turning point. As the first African-American president, he holds unprecedented authority to make that claim, right at the moment when religious-right leaders have initiated campaigns to organize African-American people of faith against marriage equality. That may not matter so much in Maine, but it does in Washington, D.C., and in California, where the battle rages on.