Monday, October 12, 2009

Gay Rights: Sunday's March on Washington, Obama's Speech, and Barney Frank

Tens of thousands of activists marched on Washington this past Sunday in support of equal rights for the LGBT community. From the Houston Chronicle:

Rainbow flags and homemade signs dotted the crowds that filled Pennsylvania Avenue for several blocks past the White House. People chanted “Hey, Obama, let mama marry mama” and “We're out, we're proud, we won't back down.” A few counter-protesters also joined the crowd.

The Hair cast members weren't the only stars to show. Cynthia Nixon, from HBO's Sex and the City, who hopes to marry partner Christine Marinoni next year, told the crowd to big cheers that Obama's words are not enough.

“The right sentiment just isn't enough anymore,” she said.

Another celebrity that joined the march, was pop-star and outspoken supporter of the gay community, Lady Gaga. She gave this passionate speech to supporters:

Lady Gaga's reference to Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was in response to his comments earlier in the week downplaying the planned march on Washington:

Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, says he'd rather see gay rights supporters lobbying their elected officials than marching in Washington this weekend, calling the demonstration "a waste of time at best."

Frank said in an interview with The Associated Press that he considers such demonstrations to be "an emotional release" that does little to pressure Congress.

"The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

President Obama also gave a speech last week in which he expressed support for the LGBT community and committed to ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:

We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford -- for our military's integrity -- to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie. So I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's my commitment to you. (Applause.)

It is no secret that issues of great concern to gays and lesbians are ones that raise a great deal of emotion in this country. And it's no secret that progress has been incredibly difficult -- we can see that with the time and dedication it took to pass hate crimes legislation. But these issues also go to the heart of who we are as a people. Are we a nation that can transcend old attitudes and worn divides? Can we embrace our differences and look to the hopes and dreams that we share? Will we uphold the ideals on which this nation was founded: that all of us are equal, that all of us deserve the same opportunity to live our lives freely and pursue our chance at happiness? I believe we can; I believe we will. (Applause.)

And that is why -- that's why I support ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country. (Applause.) I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples. I've required all agencies in the federal government to extend as many federal benefits as possible to LGBT families as the current law allows. And I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act. (Applause.) And we must all stand together against divisive and deceptive efforts to feed people's lingering fears for political and ideological gain.

Contrast Obama's speech with the reaction from the beltway as filtered through traditional beltway journalism:

Did you catch that? John Harwood characterized the march on Washington and those who feel that Obama hasn't delivered on some promises as the "internet left fringe" who need to (according to an Obama staffer) "take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult." Isn't it fun when 2nd grade insults get aired on television by a beltway journalist who quotes an anonymous White House official? Especially when polls here, here and here seem to suggest that the U.S. is not as "closely divided" on gay rights as the non pajama-wearing Harwood would indicate.

I think that this time in history could provide an interesting opportunity for the LGBT community as well as all activists, gay and straight, who care about these issues. While President Obama has not committed his support for gay marriage, it is certainly clear that he is willing to make some considerable progressive steps on gay rights issues. Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would be a fantastic step in the right direction, but like all issues, it is going to be crucial for outside activists to keep the pressure on the both Washington and the White House. There is definitely a window of opportunity that is open on this issue and I hope to see LGBT activists continue to turn up the heat on Washington.

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