The "Summer of Obummer"

by Matthew S. Bajko .
Friday Jun 26, 2009

Five months in and the LGBT community's swooning over President Barack Obama is officially over. Instead, bashing the White House for its lack of movement on LGBT rights is in full bloom from coast to coast.

Some are calling it the "Summer of Obummer."

Steven Goldstein, the chair of New Jersey's statewide LGBT organization, Garden State Equality, went so far as to describe the president's record on LGBT rights, thus far, as "a tyranny of timidity" in a release last week.

The president came into office pledging to be a "fierce advocate" for the LGBT community. But the courtship between the Obama White House and LGBT activists has proven to be rocky, with the administration having to do damage control even before Obama took the oath of office in January. The outrage back then was the selection of anti-gay California pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the president's inauguration.

Following that kerfuffle the gay community's heartstrings were plucked by hints of Obama appointing the first-ever openly gay cabinet member. Instead, gay men and lesbians were given lower posts, with the highest administration appointee that of John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management.

More sour notes were hit when the administration said it wanted to take a full year to develop a National AIDS Strategy and budgeted less money than AIDS advocates had expected to domestically fight the epidemic. The dumbing down of the president's LGBT agenda on the White House Web site also raised red flags for LGBT activists.

The strain only deepened by the White House's and Pentagon's fumbling over just what it intended to do about lifting the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy restricting LGBT people from serving openly. Obama promised on the campaign trail to lift the ban but, so far, has punted doing so until later in his administration, if ever.

In court papers the Obama administration has defended the policy, and it has also refused to issue an executive order ending discharges of LGBT service members as it determines what course of action to take.

"I wonder what his record would be like so far if he weren't such a 'fierce advocate' for gay rights?" mused out lesbian MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow on her June 8 show.

The final straw for many LGBT people came three days later when Obama's Justice Department filed a derogatory and offensive brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act - the law that prohibits same-sex marriage and equal federal benefits for same-sex couples - that Obama has pledged to repeal. In response, six national LGBT organizations issued a stinging rebuke of the administration's legal stance.

The DOMA brief flare-up has led numerous LGBT leaders to pull out from today's (Thursday, June 25) fundraiser in Washington. D.C. hosted by the Democratic National Committee's LGBT Leadership Council featuring Vice President Joe Biden. It is just another sign of the exasperation many LGBT people are feeling toward the president.

"I am very upset with him. He is good on some things but dragging his feet on others, like our issues. What is he afraid of?" asked Maggi Rubenstein, a longtime local bisexual activist. "He should take a big risk. Give it all you got now and screw what will happen in four years."

"Okay, your 100 days are up. Let's get busy," added San Francisco resident Catherine Archbold, who married her partner of 28 years, Lin Murphy, last August, about Obama, whom the couple supported throughout his presidential campaign.

The only LGBT rights the president has delivered on came last week, when he signed a memorandum instructing federal agencies to bestow some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal LGBT employees and asked census officials to find a way to count same-sex married couples.

The latter move was a reversal from the administration's earlier stance that it would not recognize LGBT married couples, and the former stopped well short of granting health and retirement benefits, though the administration said it was hamstrung from doing so due to DOMA.

At his June 17 White House signing ceremony Obama admitted that his actions amounted to very little in terms of protections for LGBT Americans.

"It's a day that marks a historic step toward the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step. Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it," said Obama. "We've got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union. I'm committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come."

Yet his comments did little to ease the pressure LGBT groups and their allies are putting on the president to turn his pledges into action. The day after Obama held the White House ceremony, the governing body of the San Francisco Democratic Party passed a resolution calling on him to work with the Congress in repealing DOMA and DADT, as well as enacting an inclusive Employee Non-Discrimination Act this year.

Gino VanGundy, a gay man running for an East Bay congressional seat, issued a statement slamming Obama for "throwing crumbs" at the LGBT community in order to "to remove the pressure from the LGBTQI community on his lack of action and failure to follow through on his campaign promises."

DADT repeal was noticeably absent from the president's comments last week, but advocates for lifting the ban remain optimistic of seeing Obama end the anti-gay policy.

"Mr. President, please keep your promise. In doing so you would be helping the military and helping people who eagerly want to serve their country," said Anthony Woods, who did two tours in Iraq before being honorably discharged under DADT last year and is also running for the East Bay congressional seat expected to be vacated this summer by Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek). "I think he will keep his promise. I still have hope."

Next: A failing grade


  • George Krieger, 2009-06-26 18:55:36

    I think patience is in order. I think that on the matters that require legislative action (DOMA and DADT) we should be putting pressure on Congress.

  • sweetbranigirl2004, 2009-06-27 07:26:14

    I think he’s had enough time to get settled in his office and he’s known for being able to handle more then one thing at a time,so him pushing for LGBT issues while working on other things shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is he tried to be to much of a peace maker with the rebuplicains when he came into office by giving them positons in his cabinet and now those indiviuals are giving him bad advice and so the relgious right till has his ear since they have a man on the inside......He needs to stopp litening to the right and keep his promises.For tooooo long we’ve been told not yet not yet wait just a little longer....we’re never going to get another oppertunity like this.....The GOP is in a tailspin and is very un organized we have control of both houses of gov now is the time to push our issue through and sign them into law..... and what is our Fierce Advocate doing ?.....He’s sitting on his hands hidding. I certainly don;t see him pushing our issies as hard as he pushed his stimulus package or as hard as he’s pushing for heathcare. Brandi Parker

  • BB, 2009-06-27 22:16:35

    Brandi, you really are dumber than dogmeat aren’t you? You need to quit worshipping Obama and try and see the world as an adult might. He’s JUST ANOTHER POLITICIAN and he said what he needed to sucker in the votes he needed to win. It’s not because he’s getting "republican advice" that he isn’t interested in GLBT issues, it’s becuase he ISN’T INTERESTED in them at all. Given that you liberals DO have absolute control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it isn’t because you haven’t managed to outlaw Republicanism and imprison conservatives that nobody is doing shit for your agenda, it’s becuase the Democrats don’t care about it. You’re not that important to them, get it? My god, is there absolutely no end to your naivite? GROW UP. You’re not in elementary school anymore.

  • , 2009-06-28 03:58:02

    I totally agree with BB. As an immigrant from behind the iron curtain (which, incidentally, is going right back up) my family and I watched in horror as Obamaniac was annoited and we saw him as he is - a ’leader’ (aka, politician first)elected through pop culture and a wave of dissatisfaction with the previous administration, en masse by the ’youth’ who could not find 85$ of countries on the map or name who spewed which policy. My family risked lives (and I remember too well because I was 12 when we left) to get away from the type of regime in place now and the direction this country is taking. Your (G&L rights) will not be protected or advanced if you put your faith in the new order and just hope for the best. Put the moronic commemorative plates, buttons, stickers, tshirts, posters and cutesy avitars away and start looking at what is really going and make Obama’s administration accountable for the empty promises he made on his campaign, rather than making excuses for the individual you carried, cheering and dancing with little more than a cool look and sweeping statements to justify your adoration. What has he done for you lately? I have dear friends who happen to be gay (as I happen to be straight) and my heart bleeds for them as they too are starting to see that the emperor has no clothes. He’s pandered to cultures and countries which condone torture end eradication of gays and opression of other religions and trample on women’s right as a matter of state policy, while turning his back on those who champion democracy. In the US, a large contingent of those who voted for him also do NOT have any interest in G/L rights based on religion and he will promise you everything but deliver little than teleprompter rhetoric. Wake up and smell the bs. NO MORE EXCUSES!

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