Yesterday, President Obama hosted a “celebration of Stonewall” at the White House, the first of its kind. While it may have been the first time a President spoke on LGBT rights in the White house for 20 minutes, I couldn't help but be surprised by the reaction of the cheering crowd and by people online.
The speech wasn't anything really different from his campaign promises: repeal DADT and DOMA (legislatively), we need respect for each other, we're all equal, etc. It was more words with very little action to back it up.
Yet part of me was moved by the President speaking these words from the White House, acknowledging us and our struggles. That's when I realized this reaction was part of what has given cover to our political leaders for years now, allowing them to lag behind the general public in regards to our rights and equality.
There was time when that speech might have been enough, but that time was years ago- before out elected officials, marriage equality in some states, employment protections from top companies, and a general trend towards inclusion.
It was a speech for 1999, not 2009.I think as a community we must take a long hard look at our own complicity with the inaction of our leaders.
We continue to have an old mindset that even mentioning our existence or issues is game changing. That's an old, outdated model that we need to get out of. Words and speeches are nice, but only when backed up by action.
This isn't just a issue with the President. It reaches all the way from top to bottom- the White House and the Democrats in the House and Senate, all the way to our local municipal leaders. We are happy with Pride proclamations or politicians marching in our parade, but don't hold their feet to the fire (or money from their coffers) when we need legislation passed and action taken.
Our country has been pushed forward on its views about LGBT people. We are more visible than ever before- so much so that mere words and nods in our direction are no longer enough.
By being happy with the words that come from our leaders, we allow them to remain just that: words. At a time when every mainstream media outlet covers the Stonewall Anniversary and pop culture shows like “The Colbert Report” give full episodes over to LGBT rights, we shouldn't be happy with mere mentions from politicians. We are part of America and its time we were treated as such.
That's why I think that anger and impatience is justified by our community. Like any under-served constituency, we need to make our voices heard and keep dragging our leaders in the right direction. This doesn't mean we need to make outlandish accusations against our leaders (no, I don't think Obama is a homophobe or bigot), but we need to point out their inaction and hold them to the promises they made.
We must bring them out of the past and into the present.
We are no longer in the shadows. We see the faces of tragedy that comes from hate crimes. We see brave men and women removed from service in the military under “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” We see it all – all the faces that are affected by the discrimination that comes from the highest levels of our government.
The one thing we aren't seeing much of, however, is action.