A week ago, I sent a letter to the Obama Administration in the midst of my anger over the Department of Justice’s brief in support of DOMA. I haven’t been feeling very good about that letter, which ended with the following rather overwrought sentence: “Until you demonstrate that you are our fierce ally, you have lost my good will, and that of many other supporters who have, perhaps naively, supported you.”
Every day, I am reminded of the incredibly difficult array of problems we face as a country and a world. I can barely imagine how I would juggle all of the critical concerns that we all share, and the political realities that make simple solutions impossible.
Despite the wrath that I felt in response to the DoJ brief, I have never seen marriage equality as the most important—or perhaps even the 100th most—important issue that we face as a country or as LGBT people. I am mindful that as Americans and citizens of the world, LGBT people need our president to succeed in implementing an incredibly broad agenda. Let’s be real—extending healthcare to all Americans (with a public option) would serve more LGBT people than does marriage equality. Reversing global warming is critical to all of us.
Of course, LGBT people are not the only Americans who experience daily social injustice in this country. Unfortunately, relatively privileged LGBT people like myself have often acted as though our concerns supersede those of others. During the Prop 8 campaign, several LGBT organizations led by white people neglected to reach out to communities of color.
The No on 8 campaign itself foolishly overlooked then-candidate Obama’s own offer of support last Fall. I can only imagine how infuriated he must have been to then see white LGBT people blame people of color, after demonstrating such a deeply entrenched degree of incompetence and institutional racism.
Make no mistake—the injustice that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experience is immediate and humiliating. It does us great harm in sometimes subtle and all-too-often deadly ways. Although marriage equality is important to many of us, the impact of violence, discrimination and rejection by family has a wider legacy in our lives. This legacy disrupts LGBT communities, endangers LGBT lives, undermines LGBT public health, and contributes to political mistakes such as those mentioned above.
Mistrust and division are difficult to avoid in a population that's experienced such widespread rejection (or very reasonable fear of rejection) by our own families and communities. Although LGBT people have made great strides, our progress has been limited by this reality. For us to succeed, it's essential that we engage and build good faith with people of conscience like Barack Obama, especially in the face of stumbles as painful and unnecessary as the Department of Justice brief.
We are right to be impatient for change. We are doubly right to demonstrate to President Obama, his administration and our nation the full force of our demands—ideally backed with the force that we desperately need to develop, by doing a much better job of building alliances with other communities. We cannot in our impatience set this administration up as our antagonist when the reality is much more complicated. We also cannot afford to vilify each other, no matter how necessary it is to hold ourselves to a higher standard as we seek or fail to build powerful, multiracial alliances.
The scale of what we all face at this moment is too important for that.