Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama speaks at Human Rights Campaign dinner

As LGBT activists and others around the country continue to converge on Washington for the National Equality March, President Barack Obama just delivered the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner in the District of Columbia.

The commander-in-chief made multiple references back to the Stonewall Riots that kicked-off the modern movement for LGBT rights in 1969. Obama also said he would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and he would sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law once it comes across his desk. These proclamations, however, did not contain any specific timetables. And the rather obvious question remains: What impact will Obama's speech have and how will activists within the movement, LGBT Americans and others respond to it.

At strictly face value, the visage of the president standing before the country's largest LGBT advocacy organization to deliver a speech almost certainly carries enormous impact both inside the Beltway and around the country. Obama's popularity among Americans remains relatively high. And his decision to deliver the HRC keynote could potentially change more hearts and minds in support of basic LGBT equality.

There are certainly those within the movement and progressive circles, however, who will continue to conclude Obama did not go far enough tonight to prove his commitment to full LGBT equality--a handful of these criticisms have already begun to trickle into my inbox. Obama himself touched upon them as he urged dinner attendees to pressure him and other lawmakers to act on LGBT-specific bills. And he further (and arguably very correctly) concluded health care, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other so-called bigger issues affect LGBT and straight Americans alike.

"You're soldiers, neighbors, friends and most importantly you're Americans who care deeply about this country and its future," Obama said to a rousing applause.

The president's opponents (on both the right and the left) will continue to criticize what he said (or what they feel he didn't say) in the speech. Obama's target audience was almost certainly those within the movement and progressive circles who have grown increasingly skeptical of the administration's commitment to LGBT issues. I remain intently curious, however, to know how those outside the convention center responded to the president's remarks. I wonder whether the transgender woman of color who sells her body each night on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick in order to simply survive even knew Obama mentioned LGBT Americans tonight. I am curious to know whether those LGBT Americans in states where employers can still legally fire them solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression were even able to watch the speech. And I simply cannot help but wonder whether the closeted lawmaker who continues to pass anti-LGBT legislation against his own brothers and sisters even bothered to listen to the president's remarks.

The above three examples are clearly hyperbole, but the fact remains one speech from the president is not going to curb simmering skepticism or immediately end the injustices LGBT Americans of all socio-economic, racial, cultural, religious and even political backgrounds continue to endure. Obama set the right tone earlier tonight. The collective movement, however, must continue to push the White House, lawmakers and their own constituents on behalf of all of those on whose behalf it claims to advocate.

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