Saturday’s Equality Forum panel highlighting some of the Obama Administration’s high-profile LGBT appointees had real fuego potential: Just the night before, Defense Secretary Gates had poured gasoline on activists’ dissatisfaction with Obama et al., advising Congress not to repeal DADT until after the implementation study had been completed. (Here‘s a good summary of what’s been happening.) Many see this as a clear sign that repeal won’t happen until next year, or, in one doomsday scenario, until 2013. Into this tempest strode Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Jenn Jones, Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing (in HUD); an Jeremy Bernard, Director of White House and Congressional Affairs for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Firing questions were moderator Jarrett Barrios, who showed both a whip hand and a new technology facility (7,000 folks were following on Twitter, and some of their questions were asked), and Kevin Naff, Editor and co-founder of DC Agenda (and former Editor of the Washington Blade, which is now up and running again. Great news, if a bit too DC-inside for me to follow.)
I’d say that Bond, Jones, and Bernard are all delighted to be working for Obama Administration. And why shouldn’t they be? By one estimate, there are now about 125 openly LGBT (yes, even two transgendered) people serving in the Administration, including twenty-two “Senate confirmables.” (That term is technically the most accurate, as not all of them were actually confirmed by the Senate; a few took their places via the recess appointment route. Apparently, life in government during the interminable Bush years was a hell-hole, with most formerly out gay and lesbian folks scurrying back into the closet to save their jobs. (I know, it doesn’t sound courageous, but would you give up a job working for the federal government? Are you sure?) Today, the whole atmosphere is different — the first Obama-era meeting of the federal LGBT association drew about sixty people, and the numbers have been increasing. Bond mentioned that committees have been set up to address LGBT issues, including how health care reform can be addressed with relevance to our community. Bond suggested this clip (which, it must be said, mentions him!) as a way of emphasizing the Administration’s commitment to inclusiveness. It’s long, but moving in that Joe Biden kind of way (especially beginning at about 7:00):
But, to ask the hard question: Has this Administration been good for anyone besides the people with the jobs? Are they tokens to placate us, or are there reasons to think they can or will make a difference?
They already have. Jones discussed a pending regulation that will redefine family in a broader way that will include same-sex couples, a rule change that is now in the review and comment period. Bond reminded us of the recent memorandum that Obama issued to HHS, directing that agency to promulgate regulations that will require almost all hospitals to respect the visitation wishes of patients. Given the first question, I asked whether those initiatives weren’t really measures that were much more than LGBT measures, but ones that would support all kinds of family structures that are currently fenced out under our marriage uber alles regime. “That’s a very good question,” replied Bond. (Of course it is.) Everyone from nuns to WWII vets without spouses can benefit from a sane visitation policy, and the new housing rules will be designed to recognize (and therefore to qualify for housing) all kinds of alternative family structures. (Jones, who grew up in a housing project in Tulsa, has a deep commitment to public housing and those who need it. So it’s not surprising that her advocacy is broad and inclusive.)
There’s more. Under Bush — whom I’m learning to despise even more since the end of his illegitimate Presidency1 — NEH career-types were dispirited because the merit process in place for determining grant winners had been upended by the department head who routinely overrode decisions that offended conservative sensibilities. Now, the process is allowed to work as designed — which of course means that more subversive work will sometimes be chosen.
I know, I know: I’ve buried the lead here. Where’s the good part, the part where Barrios and Naff lay into the beleaguered Obam-ites over ENDA, DOMA, and especially DADT? I’m getting to that, but I wanted to put some of the good stuff Obama’s doing out there — because these regulatory and policy changes don’t get the press they should, and because tomorrow’s post on my conversation with Dan Choi will provide plenty of pure, righteous, and corrective criticism.
OK, so the fireworks, such as they were: Naff flatly stated that Obama was “not a fierce advocate” for our community, because that term applies only to those who put something on the line, and Obama hasn’t. I think that’s fair. The sub rosa stuff is vitally important to the day-to-day lives of LGBT people, but it’s (mostly) pretty low-risk. And when the chips are down, Obama hasn’t thus far been willing to stand up and shout for us, the way he did so effectively for health care. He’s not taking DADT repeal out on the hustings, making the argument in town halls, colleges, and stadiums. Instead, we get this bewildering “repeal it, don’t repeal it now, declare a moratorium” dance that hardly provides the support that wavering Congressmen and women need.
Would anyone from the Administration defend the Gates memo? Bond did, saying that the Prez was committed to repeal, that it was a question not of “if” but of “how,” and that repeal would happen “soon and right.” He acknowledged, though, that it was going to be messy. But of course it is — let’s see what happens during the next few weeks.
Jeremy Bernard, who seemed to strain not to be too critical (maybe that was just my perception), may have made the money statement that summed up the disconnect between the panel and the angry activists: “We all have our roles. We’re on the inside.”
Yes, they are.
- No, “Justice” Scalia, I won’t “get over” Bush v. Gore ↩