18 June 2009

What Talks & What Walks

Wednesday night, President Obama issued a memorandum extending some rights to Federal workers who are part of a same sex couple

The memorandum allows same-sex partners to be added to the long-term-care insurance program for federal employees. Employees also can use their sick leave to take care of their partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. Partners of Foreign Service employees will be permitted to use medical facilities at posts abroad, allowed medical evacuation from foreign locations, and counted when determining family size for housing allocations.

Like many, I wished the President had gone further, done more -- like adding health benefits -- but, its a start. And considering the pleased reaction of some federal workers to the memo, including the couple pictured above, Candy Holmes (left), a 33-year federal employee and her partner Rev. Darlene Garner, who am I to be a curmudgeon?

In spite of the apparent series of talks and negotiations that lead to yesterday's signing, the event had the feel of a rush job. While Obama's silence on same-sex marriage, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and other issues, and his 'fair' answer to the question of whether they/we have "A Friend in the White House" in him, caused initial grumbling amonst "The Gays", the tone of Justice Department's brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act lead to what can only be called open revolt, and causing some activists to call for a March on Washington this October.

In the interests of full disclosure, I won't be going to the March in large part because I will be in Austin Texas, with (what I hope will be) 200-300 of my close personal friends and fellow readers and writers at the Fire & Ink Writers Festival for LGBTQ People of African Descent. But I'm not entirely sure I would have gone even if I were still close to DC.

Personally I think the way to go now is with more locally focused demonstrations and marches, as well as phone calls and visits to state and local politicians. If there were to be a march on Washington right into marcher's congressional representative's offices demanding action -- now THAT I could get behind. The glory of the 1963 March on Washington makes us forget how many small local actions and very difficult years of sacrifice by average people it took to get there.

I do, however, think think that there have been some telling lessons from this week's events. For example, as part of the furor over the DOJ's support for DOMA, a number of gay money men decided they would not attend an upcoming Democratic Party fundraiser. While considering the idea to be 'a mistake', Rep. Barney Frank, who had previously said that he was not going to push for it this term, flipped and now plans to introduce a revised version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that will include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Lesson: When the money starts walking, the Politicians start talking. Bravo/a to those closing their wallets for the time being.

Finally -- at the risk of being called a "Kool-aid drinker," a sell out, or worse (see the comments sections of the Salon.com articles linked below) -- I want to say that some of the comments I've seen on the web have approached same tone as the kinds of ugliness I decried after the Holocaust Museum shooting. Phrases like "He's spit in our faces" and those calling the President homophobe and a fraud, truly bother me. Where was all this bile during the eight years of George W Bush?

And, uh, excuse me but: don't we still have troops in Iraq -- and Afghanistan? Isn't the economy still trying to climb out of the root cellar? Is there or is there not a Health Care Plan making it's way through the Congress. And speaking of that, does anyone remember how Bill Clinton's attempt to repeal the ban on Gays in the Military nearly wrecked his young administration and in part his plans for health care, leaving us with the 'compromise' of DADT?

Barack Obama has been president HOW MANY months (not years but MONTHS) now?

I am very much NOT saying we shouldn't make the President live up to his campaign promises. Obama is far from perfect. For example, I think he should stop or suspend sexual-orientation based dismissals from the military until DADT is sorted out, and I am DEEPLY disturbed by his reverses on transparency and lack of interest in following the torture trail wherever it leads. But then I didn't expect him to be (Uh, well...okay.... maybe I did:)

The man is a politician, surrounded by other politicians, many of whom have a vested interest in keeping the gears of power rolling in exactly the same way they have been for the past 40 years, or longer. President Obama, however, appears to be more 'push-able' or 'pull-able' than the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The move made for federal employees this week? *WE* did that. Those of us who expressed our disappointment and then our anger at the DOJ brief caused things to change. It was hard work on the ground in Iowa and other states brought about same-sex marriage, not some mandate from above. The President has power, but not a magic wand. He can and should do more, but he can't go it alone. We, the people, have to point him in the right direction, tell him where to go (respectfully:), and sometimes (often?) go ahead of him and lead him there.

"No permanent alliances, only permanent interests:" Support for those who support you when they're right, principled criticism and attempts to get them to see 'the error of their ways' when they're wrong.

The Debate on Salon.com John Aravosis vs Chris Geidner.

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