A good book tells a story. A really good book, tells a really good story. Such is the case with Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage by Tracy Baim.
It is the story of the relationship between Barack Obama and the gay community starting with Obama's first run for office in 1996 for Illinois State Senate.
Since that time the relationship has been close, uneasy, and sometimes distant, one of the great paradoxes of this book.
There are signs that the relationship is healing.
We get one big clue on page 438 in an essay by Rod McCullom.
On January 9, 2009, incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did something very simple yet very remarkable.
In a video response to a question submitted to Chnange.gov that asked if President-elect Barack Obama would carry through on his campaign promise to end the failed Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, Gibbs said: "You don't hear politicians give a one-word answer much. But it's "yes."
Carrying through on campaign promises isn’t exactly revolutionary - politicians generally are at least supposed to try, especially if they want to get re-elected. But after eight years of relentless assault from the conservatism of the George W. Bush administration - and press secretaries who functioned as little more thank high-functioning, carbon-based Dictaphones for the far right - Gibbs' response was the same adrenaline shot to the heart that Uma Thurman received in Pulp Fiction.
That is the type of writing and literacy this book contains. Tracy Baim (pictured on the left) is the co-founder and publisher of Windy City Times and has been covering gay issues since 1984 at a time when it was not only unfashionable, but frowned upon. But Tracy Baim stayed with her advocacy for these issues. And has put together a remarkable account of the rise of Barack Obama and the rise of the gay movement not only in Chicago, but in America. And the two events, I argue, are one in the same.
The first chapter of the book covers Obama's first years in elective office and it is obvious from those years that Obama was a friend to the gay community.
And with the delivery of his campaign promise to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," that is proof positive that President Obama is a friend.
The United States Senate voted on Saturday, December 18, 2010, to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that has required military troops to hide their sexual identity or risk being expelled from the services. The vote was in the United States Senate was 65-31 in favor of repeal. Earlier this week, through a brilliant maneuver by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (another friend of the gay community), the bill passed by a vote of 250-175 The bill was presented as a stand-alone bill in an attempt by House leaders to speed passage of the measure in the Senate before Congress adjourns for the year.
With strong advocates like the first female speaker of the House like Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, Illinois' own Senator Dick Durbin, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" finally came to fruition at the unlikeliest of times, during the lame duck session of Congress.
This book is a must read for the gay community, but is also a must-read for American history buffs because it tells the story of the early Obama years.
This book is a handbook for social change.
From his first election as an Illinois State Senator in 1996, his re-election in 1998, an inadvisable run for United States Congress in 2000 (although inadvisable, probably the main key to his winning the Presidency in 2008 as I wrote many times here and in my book), and his historic run in 2004 for United States Senate against a crowded field of talented candidates.
Obama and the Gays shows the development of this man Obama through the years politically. It is American History at its best through the eyes of gay activists who never gave up the fight. And this book is the bible for the activism.
The writing is magnificent, compelling, and passionate. The 140 images and photos tell a great story, as do the 570 pages in the book.
As I mentioned my favorite essay is by Rod McCullom, but there are great pieces by Andrew Tobias, Wayne Besen, Phill Wilson, Reverend Irene Monroe and so many other long-time activists. It is really a "Who's who" in the gay community.
The book chronicles the evolution of change in this country in its attitude toward gays and Obama is the catalyst for this change, I believe.
I mentioned earlier the sometimes uneasiness with Obama and the gay community. I believe with the passage of DADT, the uneasiness will ease and that Barack Obama will be known as the shepherd that led the way not only for gay rights, but for civil rights for all Americans.
Check this book out today whether in the library, your local bookstore, or download onto your new kindle, iPad, Book Nook or whatever device you receive this year from Santa Claus. You can download the book from Amazon or from Tracy's website. In Chicago, you can purchase the book off the shelf at Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark, Chicago, IL and Unabridged Books, 3251 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL.
John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African-American studies, published by The Elevator Group Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books.