Here's the deal. Tomorrow (10/10), the President will address the national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay political advocacy group. Several thousand people hanging on his every word. A couple of reporters thrown in for good measure. And more than a few bloggers.
The gay community has been waiting for this. Obama's big gay rights speech. This is not to say that Obama has not talked about gay rights. In fact, one could argue (and the White House does) that when the President includes gay Americans in speeches to other audiences, he is using his bully pulpit to great effect. I completely agree.
But this will mark his first appearance at a big gay fundraiser. Obama's big gay speech is a big deal. And an opportunity.
The gay community is all abuzz about the speech. What will he say? What promises will he make? Bloggers galore here at HuffPo and elsewhere have offered their laundry list of speech to-do's. Some bloggers are filled with optimism; others realism and others have dismissed the speech before it is even delivered.
I have no list. No list of places where openly lgbt people are absent in the administration. No laundry list of promises. No laundry list of legislation he will support (or veto). I am a blogger who believes that the President is making real progress by all these measures (this should evoke more than a few comments after I hit "publish"). I am a more patient blogger than most.
But something is missing. A very big thing. And the only thing that matters.
Not the "I feel your pain" kind of empathy. Not the "I'm sorry for you people" kind of empathy. I am talking about the kind of empathy that comes from a personal and real connection to gay Americans. The empathy you communicate when you talk about gay Americans not just as a minority denied basic rights but rather as a parent of one of your kids' friends. Or the son of your pediatrician. Or your daughter's college roommate.
Why is empathy important? Well, you see - we gays have trust issues. Can't blame us, can you? Democratic politicians have been asking for our votes for some time now. And our money. Wait. I have that wrong. They ask for our money and assume they will get our votes. But there are precious few politicians who are able to persuade me that they care. That our struggle for equality is their struggle too. That it is personal.
Barack Obama can promise many things tomorrow night. And he no doubt will.
I just want him to tell a story. Not about us. But about him. And please not the "I have gay friends" kind of story. Not the "Let me tell you about Judy Shepard, an American hero" story (although god knows she is).
I want a kitchen table story. A backyard story. I want to know that there is more than just a cerebral connection to us. I want a personal and emotional link.
I want the President to walk a few paces in our shoes tomorrow night. Perhaps he could talk about how he would feel if he had been Janice Langbhen sitting with her three kids in a hospital waiting room for 8 hours with absolutely no information of access while her partner died of a sudden brain aneurism because the hospital saw Janice as a legal stranger. Mr. President, put yourself in her shoes. How would it have felt to be sitting there in that waiting room? With Sasha and Malia at your side.
A dose of trust, an illustration that you chat about the concerns of gay Americas with your family, that you are reminded every day in ways large and small that we are discriminated against and placed in harm's way each and every day. This is what we need. Because I believe it is this that could, in the hearts and minds of the attendees, transform a list of promises into a list of commitments.
Why? Because walking with us often means walking through fire. Sadly I get that. I wish that weren't true. But it is . And so we really need to know if he cares enough (in his core) to fight for us. And if he is really willing to take the heat. Not just for us. With us.