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HRC Delivers a Standing Ovation for Barack Obama, Protesters Outside Are Indignant

Inside the Human Rights Campaign’s gala ceremony in Washington DC tonight, HRC head Joe Solmonese gushed over President Barack Obama and glossed over Obama’s past slams and slides regarding LGBT Americans and the discriminatory laws still in place against them. Indeed, in his speech Barack Obama himself was harder on Barack Obama than Joe Solmonese was, admitting openly that under his administration change has been slow, and openly declaring that he didn’t expect lesbian and gay Americans to be patient with him. On the contrary, he declared, he expected lesbian and gay Americans to be impatient with him, and thought they were right to be. Then, after all these months of hemming and hawing, Barack Obama dropped two declarations that rhetorically floored the room of the tuxedoed and coiffed:

I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called DOMA.


I Will End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That’s my commitment to you.

Inside, the crowd went wild.

I wasn’t inside. Until I ran to my hotel to catch the speech, I was outside covering protests in DC’s adjacent Mt. Vernon Square. One of the protests was a meager three-person anti-gay affair that should embarrass Randall Terry away from his press-release activism for good. The other was a demonstration that was large, colorful, raucus and young, much younger than the HRC crowd that got invitations to come inside.

The people you saw (if you watched tonight’s speech on C-SPAN) listening to and cheering on the President’s speech inside the HRC gala were invited because they have cultivated relationships with the right people, being careful, being delicate, supporting the people they consider to be their allies rather than challenging them. The people you didn’t see, the younger people outside in Mt. Vernon Square, don’t have the delicate considerations of cultivated relationships to hold them back. These young, nonestablishment people have heard Barack Obama make promises before, and their reaction before the speech tonight was skeptical:

Multi-Picture Collage of Banner giving President Barack Obama a Chicago Welcome.  Keep Your Promises!

Obama: We're Demanding, Not Asking, say protesters in Washington DC's Mt. Vernon Square on October 10, 2009 regarding LGBT issues

Mt. Vernon Square DC Protester's message for the Human Rights Campaign: Stop Begging! Start Demanding Equality.

Poster of Rick Warren and Barack Obama Hugging, criticizing Barack Obama on lesbian and gay rights issues

Protester in Washington DC Holds Sign on October 10, 2009 declaring that LGBT Rights Deserve the Fierce Urgency of Now

Sign Declares, We Don't Ask for Equality, We Demand IT! At LGBT Equality Rally, October 10, 2009, in Mt. Vernon Square, Washington DC

I’m very curious to see whether the gulf in the feelings of the LGBT activist street and the LGBT activist establishment will narrow, or if the new promises made by Barack Obama tonight will be received with renewed skepticism by those who have heard many promises before.

10 thoughts on “HRC Delivers a Standing Ovation for Barack Obama, Protesters Outside Are Indignant”

  1. qs says:

    He may not have been “responding” to pressure so much but just planning to wait until such an event to announce something like that. Never know I guess.

  2. J. Clifford says:

    Ooh ooh! But, but Barack Obama called on Congress to repeal DOMA… uh, without actually introducing any such legislation as the President is supposed to do with issues that are really important to the White House! Which means, um, precisely nothing.

    But wait a minute, there protesters! Barack Obama also promised that crowd that he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act… later… sometime… after he did more important things, you know, because after all, LGBT people can’t expect to be at the front of the line. But he did make a promise, after all, and with with Barack Obama, a promise is a promise – except when he breaks his promises, like with public financing of his campaign, or to veto any immunity for telecommunications companies…

    Oh dear. Barack Obama just told the HRC that they’ll take his abuse and like it, didn’t he?

  3. Anonymous says:

    man, you guys are relentless. no slack? you can’t give the guy enough time to unpack his suitcase! really! he’s been dealing with the collapse of the entire western world’s economy since before he was elected. he has been handed a two front (basically a world war) war with no good end game. he is pushing for health-care. he’s working on closing gitmo. list goes on and on from there. how much do you expect him to do and in what kind of time frame are you expecting him to accomplish all this?
    make a list and check it twice, but remember, christmas comes only once a year. then you have to wait and be patient like good little boys and girls.

  4. jason says:

    I feel as though there is no consideration given to political strategy with most of the single issue voters demanding and stomping their feet on these very difficult laws to pass. Obama, i feel, is a much stronger and smarter idealist on the inside than the one you are looking for to wildly throw bills in front of a congress comprised of phonies, knuckle draggers and ‘faces’.

  5. ramone says:

    thank you, jason.
    there may be a method to the madness.
    what about it, jim? political strategy?

    1. Jim says:

      First, Jason hasn’t read here closely enough to realize that we (and most of the people who comment here) are not “single-issue voters.” There are multiple fronts along which Barack Obama has either said nice things but not done anything, or has acted in the Bush direction. So the “single-issue” thing is frankly baloney.

      Second, there is no political strategy in which Barack Obama will feel any need to act on liberal concerns if liberals promise to support Barack Obama no matter what he does. Substitute “Democrats” for “Barack Obama” in that sentence if you like. Be strategic: you have to have a possible exit if you want to exercise any voice.

      Third, Barack Obama has the largest Democratic majorities the nation has seen in some time, and that majority is likely to shrink in the 2010 elections. So if these actions aren’t going to happen now, they’re not going to happen, at least for a very long time.

      I’m not deaf; I’ve heard exactly what the Democratic Party establishment has been telling liberals for the past twenty years. The “right moment” for action is always just over the hill, just after the next election, right after we just all fall in line and support, support, support no matter what. Just wait. Just be patient. Always. And if the Democratic Party establishment has its way, the moment will always be over the hill. Because for them, it isn’t about ideas. It’s about their machine, and so long as they can feed nice, quiet, patient people into their machine they will.

      In my experience on the small scale and in my observations of the large scale, I’ve seen that large institutions do not move unless and until it is in their interest to do so. If the institutions won’t move on their own, you have to change the conditions to make it difficult for them not to move. Unless American liberals are willing to walk from a party and from politicians that don’t support them, that party and those politicians will not act in a manner that American liberals would like to see.

      That’s the strategy. And I mean it, too: if Barack Obama and the Democratic party are going to not implement or, worse, are going to actually subvert liberal American politics, then why on Earth should I raise my little blue pom-pom and shake my fanny?

  6. ramone says:

    that was a fun read, jim , it made me chuckle. the pom-pom and fanny shaking, that’s good stuff! and i kind of agree. i’ve said it would be better to go down in defeat and show the right wing up for what it truly is. then the pragmitist in me comes back and i realize that dumping it all would set change back even further. if we walk away from the party that at least pays us lip service then we’re left with the party that is wanting to cut our throats.
    i know, it’s like when pink floyd says you can’t have any pudding until you eat your meat. i want my pudding NOW.

  7. Andy Thayer says:

    Here’s the text of the flyer that was distributed at the picket line and at the next day’s march:

    To Make Genuine Change,
    We Must Make Demands on BOTH Parties

    For too many years the LGBT movement has been the plaything of the Democratic Party. Courted for money and votes when they needed us, abused and disrespected once they’re in power.

    Indeed, some of the worst attacks on our community have come when the Democrats controlled most of the levers of power.

    Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell was introduced into Congress by none other than Barney Frank, and passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and Bill Clinton. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by Bill Clinton, who went on to boast about that fact with paid commercials run on rightwing Christian radio stations.

    The only times we’ve gotten even minor concessions out of President Obama have been when we’ve loudly protested. Thus, when our community ripped the selection of pro-Prop 8 activist Rev. Rick Warren for Obama’s inauguration, the incoming administration hastily “balanced” him with gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson. And when LGBT activists raised a flurry of protest over the administration’s vicious, anti-gay brief in favor of DOMA, the administration hurriedly introduced some minor improvements in benefits for federal workers.

    Clearly, making demands is the way to make civil rights gains. But rather than make demands of President Obama, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality March organizers evidently would rather placate him with speaking invitations so he can sooth us with flowery rhetoric while delivering next to nothing in practice. In doing so, they are giving a pro-gay cover to the President’s inaction on our issues, and implicitly telling Obama and his party that our community can be bought off very cheaply, say, with a fancy cocktail party and a few jobs for A-List gays.

    HRC has been sucking in millions of dollars and building a fine headquarters filled with finely paid executives for years now, lobbying and cajoling the rich and powerful while winning practically no pro-LGBT legislation at the federal level. By contrast, street activist organizations like ACT UP in its heyday, with far fewer resources, won major gains like the Ryan White AIDS Care Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, in the teeth of opposition from the first Bush administration.

    We don’t need this president coming to fancy banquets to tell LGBT people how much he loves us. We need him to tell the rest of America that he will push hard – and expend real political capital – to not only pass an inclusive ENDA, but to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make sure that the pro equal-employment-rights message seeps into every town in America, thereby creating not just legal change but, more importantly, social change.

    Some in our community continue to make excuses for President Obama – “give him more time” to help us, they say. But this ignores the fact that not only has the President backed away from many of his promises to the LGBT community, he has repeatedly stuck us with bone-headed moves like featuring anti-gay Rev Rick Warren at the inaugural. When he was an Illinois State Senator, he backed equal marriage rights. But on the eve of winning his U.S. Senate seat in a landslide victory, he junked his commitment to equality, saying that his “Christian beliefs” dictated that he oppose equal marriage rights. The cravenness of march organizers’ allegiance to the Democratic Party can be seen in their issuing a speaker’s invitation to a rally for legal equality to a man who opposes it for same sex couples. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney is far more progressive than Obama on the issue!

    If we are going to make civil rights progress today we need to learn how previous generations have made sweeping gains. They did it not by becoming beholden to either party but by making demands on both parties. As the great anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass put it, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

    If you would like to like to work with us to pursue this strategy of activism in your locality, please contact us.

    Gay Liberation Network – LGBTliberation@aol.com
    Queer Liberaction – –

    1. Jim says:

      Thanks, Andy. Nice to meet you in DC.

  8. qs says:

    For some reason I had trouble posting

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