I’ve been noticing that, since January, the Obama administration has kicked up its attentions to the LGBT communities, announcing one small regulatory change or conference after another. But they’re not delivering the bigger changes that LGBT groups have been agitating for. I’ve been assuming that the goal is to boost turnout in November. Will it work?
What kind of small change am I talking about? Well, there’s the White House LGBT conference series. HHS, DOJ, HUD, even the CIA—they’re all putting on some show or other. March saw a Detroit conference on LGBT housing and homelessness, where HUD Secretary Donovan announced new nondiscrimination rules for public housing and mortgage financing, on both sexual orientation or gender identity. No kicking you out of the projects or your Section 8 apartment because you turn out to be queer; no refusing to give you a mortgage because your birth sex is still visible while you’re transitioning. All good news. And soon, the White House will hold an LGBT Conference on Families in Minneapolis. (Detroit? Minneapolis? Could these be in purple states, perchance?) And don’t forget the White House Conference on Safe Schools and Bullying in Texas—okay, not a purple state; maybe that was just giving the finger to the Republicans. HHS has been holding town hall discussions on LGBT healthcare issues.
But wait, there’s more! There’s a White House contest for LGBT “Champions of Change” stories to be featured during Pride month. (If the prize will include a coloring book or a secret decoder ring, I am so in.) There was the big March State Dinner that included high-powered lesbian and gay married couples—okay, so it was mostly men, but at least one female couple. The CIA—the CIA!—sponsored an “intelligence community LGBT summit.” (Remember when being gay was considered a national security risk? Somewhere Frank Kameny is very happy.) This week, the Justice Department brought its first hate crimes case based on sexual orientation, charging two Harlan County, Kentucky men with kidnapping and assaulting a man for being gay. Lesbian- and gay-headed families had children at the Easter Egg Roll. Valerie Jarrett made an appearance at Equality Illinois’s fundraising gala. And I am not done combing through my press releases just for 2012 yet.
Of course, what administration doesn’t play to its base when an election’s coming up? And this one has a lot to boast about. And Obama has a lot to be proud of, beyond the long-awaited repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We’ve seen a series of important regulatory changes that, God knows, wouldn’t have happened under Republicans. The one that moved me most was the release of the new hospital visitation regulations, requiring any hospital that accepts Medicaid and Medicare—um, that would be all hospitals—to allow patients to be visited by whomever they designate as family. Those new regs, a longtime desire of the LGBT communities, were prompted when a Florida hospital refused to allow vacationing Janice Langbehn to be with her wife Lisa Pond, the other mother of their children, in the hospital. Pond died alone.
Let me take a little detour and stress how ordinary and horrifying this one was. Lesbians and gay men have long worried about being allowed to visit, or be visited by, our beloveds when hospitalized or dying. Two decades ago, a friend of mine was hospitalized in Houston while on a business trip. Back here in Boston, his partner then spent six hours on the telephone, desperately trying to find our whether his beloved was dead or alive. I think that scarred me forever. I’ve read more such horror stories than I can recount, but I think it’s that one that makes fear run through my veins, that pushed me into marrying my prosecutor the day before she had to have surgery, desperately afraid that somehow I wouldn’t be able to take care of her. I never travel, now, without the papers that prove that my wife and child are mine. I’m grateful to know that, under this administration at least, federal regulations are behind me.
But there are two big things that the LGBT advocacy groups have really wanted and haven’t yet gotten. Yesterday the White House announced—to great anger—that, despite heavy interest for months, it would not issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT groups wanted the executive order because they know they’re not getting ENDA passed through Boehner’s House, despite the fact that 73 percent of Americans agree that you shouldn’t be fired for being gay or transgender (at least, from a Center for American Progress poll; transgender discrimination alone probably wouldn’t poll quite as well, which is why it’s especially urgent that transfolks be covered by the bill). What, did homos dream that Obama would go up against the corporations in an election year? Too bad!
But the other thing that the LGBT advocates have wanted costs nothing—and I’m gonna hope for it: Outright support for marriage equality. Obama keeps teetering closer: he has announced that he’s in favor of repealing DOMA; his Justice Department won’t defend DOMA; his immigration lawyers keep refraining from deporting lesbian or gay Americans’ foreign-born same-sex spouses, as one would think was required by DOMA. And Obama has come out against the state DOMAs that are on the ballot in Minnesota and North Carolina.
But despite all the calls for it (including Nancy Pelosi and 20 Democratic senators), the Obama camp hasn’t yet agreed to put marriage equality in the Democratic platform—and Obama hasn’t outright said that he supports marriage equality as moral and just.
I don’t care so much about the sexual orientation part of ENDA; gender identity is really where we get hurt in employment. Transgender folks run very real risks of losing their livelihood when they transition, and feminine men can most certainly be discriminated against on the job. (Butch ladies often do well, but they can get the brunt of nasty treatment too.) But being able to marry who we love is central to lesbian and gay equality. It acknowledges that lesbians and gay men are no different from our siblings in the way that we love. Having our bond recognized by our governments, just as our siblings’ bonds are recognized, makes us full citizens, bringing us fully into society. As for the polling, well, Republicans are against it (except the young ones), but Democrats—and independents—are overwhelmingly in favor. Coming out in favor of marriage equality wouldn’t add “burdensome regulations” to business; its only economic effect would be, potentially, to give more business to wedding planners, florists, and divorce lawyers. (Sorry, but we’re just as bad as the rest of you. Someday I’ll tell you stories.) And prospective Obama voters’ enthusiasm for being able to see their lesbian and gay friends marry—supporting pure justice and personal joy, a social advance that has no economic downside or cost—would be extremely high.
Will all the conferences and incremental changes regulations be enough to get LGBT wallets open and get out the vote operations moving? Well, it won’t hurt. After all, Obama is better than Romney, who fought our marriages ferociously here in Massachusetts when the Goodridge decision came out—breaking his promises to gay Republicans that he’d be on our side. Obama will get our votes. But if he wants our enthusiasm—and the enthusiasm of our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and independents who aren’t sure, after three-plus years, of exactly what he stands for—he oughta come out strongly in favor of equal marriage.
June’s the month for brides and for Pride. Wouldn’t that be a perfect time for the marriage announcement?