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:
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:
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.