The contrast said it all.
Inside the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) lavish Annual National Dinner on October 10, President Obama reiterated his promise to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) and recounted the various nods his administration has made to the LGBT community. The audience, composed largely of donors who paid at least $250 each for a place at the table, greeted his remarks with wild applause. Outside, dozens of protesters, furious that the president had chosen to address a black tie fundraiser instead of the tens of thousands of activists who would be marching past the White House the next day, faced off against police motorcycles and the Secret Service.
This schism–between adoring Obama supporters and scornful demonstrators–wasn’t just present at the HRC dinner. It could be found in the common refrain from many activists attending the National Equality March on October 11. “I voted for the guy but…” was their conflicted sentiment.
During his nearly ten months so far in the White House, President Obama has done things that have pleased the LGBT community (like posthumously awarding pioneering gay activist Harvey Milk with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inviting gay families to the White House Easter egg roll) and infuriated it (like issuing a legal brief through the Justice Department defending the Defense of Marriage Act). But according to the LGBT activists and supporters who descended on Washington, fury, or at least frustration, with the president seemed to be trumping hope.
“We’ve heard enough talk out of this administration,” said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, one of the activist groups protesting the president outside HRC headquarters. Citing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) brief and Obama’s embrace of evangelical preacher Rick Warren, Thayer urged people not to trust the president’s promises and attacked him for addressing HRC.
“Speaking to these selected audiences does nothing for our community,” he said. “All it does is allow a few A-list gays to kiss up to the president and potentially get some jobs.”
Aside from the venue, many LGBT activists also had plenty of criticism for what was, or more accurately was not, said by Obama in his HRC speech. Though he pledged his support for many of the items in the LGBT agenda, the president didn’t mentioned any specific timeline for reaching those goals. David Mixner, a veteran gay activist for more than four decades who helped conceive the march, was both pleased and disappointed by the speech. “I thought it was progress that he went,” Mixner said. “I thought his affirmation so strongly of what he previously declared was reassuring, but I was struck by the absence of some things.” A couple things Mixner wished the president would have mentioned were the upcoming referendums in November to overturn same-sex marriage in Maine and domestic partnerships in the state of Washington.