I really had no intention of writing this, but I responded to a diary about the vote on marriage equality in Maryland that spent more than half its time criticizing the comments on a previous diary about the same subject for having nice things to say about Dick Cheney and Ken Mehlman for lobbying for marriage equality (and not mentioning Obama at all) and, by extension, criticizing Obama (who wasn't mentioned).
My response did exactly what the diarist was complaining about because I pointed out that Cheney and Mehlman were now, in 2012, ahead of Obama on marriage equality and suggesting that the president had good tactical reasons for letting this week play out at its own pace. Never mind the tactical reasons; in my reply to the criticism that ignored the tactical reasons, I had to say I thought Cheney was indeed a war criminal, but one who in 2012 was ahead of the president on this issue.
I think we discuss this subject without a clear grasp of the facts concerning the administration and LG(BT) rights, so I'll do the grunt work and annotate the factsheet on LGBT rights at whitehouse.gov, which regrettably is undated, and assess the claims of the Obama administration concerning what it has done in support of the LGBT communiity. I'm also not going to publish this as a project of any of the groups I belong to -- if someone else in those groups thinks it's worth republishing, I'll be happy.
Yes, I know that I wrote a diary on Heteroimitative/Heteronomative where I complained about the leftists in LGBTQI studies, but I'm pretty far left on these issues myself (just to the right of the people I complained about), so yes, I get to express disappointment if what I find disappoints me. I hope you see this as an honest attempt to assess the Administration's claims, because that's what this is.
I should let you know about my ground rules. My benchmark for this comparison is the performance of Lyndon Johnson on the subject of civil rights. LBJ won by a big margin in 1964, and he got both the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965 through Congress before his presidency was swallowed by the quagmire of the Vietnam War. If you think this is unfair, remember, Obama had control of both houses for the first two years of his presidency. If you want to bring up the learning curve, you're already conceding I'm correct.
So here it is. The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Winning the Future for the LGBT Community
The administration is proud of its achievements, and I'm going to assess these as fairly as I can:
The Obama Administration has taken decisive actions and made historic strides to advance Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality and strengthen LGBT families and communities, and continues to do so. Some of these accomplishments include:There are ten subheadings. I'll address each one line by line. First, let's look at 1. Preventing bullying and hate crimes against LGBT Americans
President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law -- the first federal civil rights legislation to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”This is good. As the Anti-Defamation League says in its fact sheet on the law, this finally protects all victims of hate crimes and lets the government intervene when a state won't. It also creates a precedent for protecting people who fall into these two categories at the federal level, for the first time. That hasn't translated into other legislation yet, though, so unless we're the victim of a hate crime . . .
President Obama, Vice President Biden and other Administration officials record “It Gets Better” videos to address the issue of bullying and suicide among LGBT teensThat's nice. Just like Perez Hilton and Lady GaGa. Hasn't exactly stopped the problem with teen suicides, has it.
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama host the White House Conference on Bullying PreventionCalling attention to it is a good step, and 46 of the 48 states have laws in place, so this is about as non-controversial as this can get. Apparently, this meeting uncovered an information gap that the Department of Education needed to work on, and it did.
The Department of Education issues guidance to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate federal education anti-discrimination lawsThis is necessary because among the 46 states, according to December 6, 2011 press release from the Department of Education covering this issue, only 36 have provisions about cyber-bullying and only 21 allow schools to address off-campus behavior. As Arne Duncan says,
"Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school. This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe."So on balance here, the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Law is a good start toward LGBT equality but until it's translated into other laws and a consistent court policy it's just that -- a start. The other "accomplishments"? Nice, warm and fuzzy, but, well, you have to be a victim of something to benefit.
2. Supporting LGBT families
Following a directive from the President, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to allow visitation rights and medical decision making rights to LGBT patientsIn other words, a directive to give us all the rights a married couple has automatically if the hospital isn't morally against it. It's a step in the right direction, but it's at least 25 years too late, which admittedly is not Obama's fault. So good for the administration -- this makes us more equal.
HHS creates the National Resource Center for LGBT EldersWell, let's see. I'm 62, and my spouse just turned 66, and we're politically aware, so the fact this is news troubles me. When Jim got his Medicare materials, there was nothing about this in the reams of paper involved. It has a website. I can reach all the California state departments that deal with aging issues through this website, but I can do the same thing through the California state website. The good news is that trans resources are listed too.
The Department of Labor clarifies that the Family Medical Leave Act ensures that LGBT parents can provide care for their children in the event of illnessGreat for those of us who have children. Not all of us do.
The State Department clarifies that transgender applicants can obtain, under certain conditions, passports that accurately reflect their genderAnd what are the conditions?
When a passport applicant presents a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, the passport will reflect the new gender. The guidelines include detailed information about what information the certification must include. It is also possible to obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician’s statement shows the applicant is in the process of gender transitionThis is a win for transpeople, and a win for the Administration.
The Justice Department clarifies that persons with HIV and persons with AIDS are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that it would be illegal to exclude them from occupational training and state licensingThis is progress.
The Justice Department issues a memo stating that federal prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving gay and lesbian relationshipsThis is progress too.
HHS’s Administration for Children and Families issues a memorandum to ensure that LGBT and questioning youth in foster care are protected and supportedIf it works, this is progress.
The US Interagency Council on Homelessness releases “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” the nation’s first comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, including LGBT homeless youthIt's a plan. I'm glad they paid attention to the fact that LGBTQ homeless youth exist and that they might have special needs. But then, as of 2/18/12, there's this excellent and troubling diary. It's a plan. It hasn't been put into action in a satisfactory manner yet.
The Obama Administration works to ensure that the Census provides a fair and accurate count of all Americans, including LGBT couples.I think this is something we should expect the Census to do. I don't see this as an accomplishment of the Obama administration. So some quality achievements here, especially for transpeople, but also for gay men and lesbians with children and for the LGBT community with regard to hospitals. Not so much for LGBTQ youth beyond good but unfulfilled expectations.
3. Ensuring equal access to housing for LGBT families
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announces the first ever national study of discrimination in housing against LGBT personsPlans for this were announced March 17, 2010. It's a study. It's supposed to lead to policy recommendations. Did it? Well, here's a press release from HUD, dated Saturday, February 18, 2012. No, it's JUST been announced. The press release is looking for feedback on how to conduct the study. I guess it's a good thing if we reelect Obama so the findings can be acted upon during his second term.
HUD requires grant applicants to comply with state and local anti-discrimination lawsHUD's blog offered some concrete achievements on October 13, 2011, in a post labeled HUD Addresses LGBT Housing Discrimination:
Through its notices of funding availability, HUD required recipients of approximately $3.5 billion in HUD funding to comply with state and local laws that prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity housing discrimination.First, this is from HUD, so you can tell I'm going beyond the whitehouse.gov .pdf file. Aside from the fact the study hasn't been done yet, this is all good news for LGBT people, and it's a decent achievement for a department that started from zero in 2008.
HUD recognized that, under the Fair Housing Act prohibition of sex discrimination, it has authority to pursue complaints from LGBT persons alleging housing discrimination because of non-conformity with gender stereotypes. HUD accepted and proceeded with enforcement efforts on 114 such complaints, about three times more than in the prior two years.
HUD launched a webpage that includes resources for LGBT victims of housing discrimination.
HUD initiated the first nationwide study of LGBT housing discrimination that will provide national data on the nature and extent of housing discrimination against same sex couples. (this is the study referred to above, so "initiated" may be a reach)
HUD published a rule that proposes regulatory changes to further ensure LGBT equal access, including clarification that a “family,” which is the term used to define persons eligible for HUD-funded programs, includes persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. HUD anticipates publishing the final version of this rule by the end of the year.
4. Supporting LGBT health
President Obama releases the first-ever National HIV/AIDS StrategyAside from the strategy, what's actually here that we haven't been doing for ourselves for going on 30 years now?
President Obama urges Americans to get tested for HIV
President Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act
HHS issues recommendations to improve the health and well-being of LGBT communitiesIt's a long list and Kathleen Sebelius really takes her work seriously; worth reading. Some of the programs, like the anti-bullying effort (Sebelius did an "It Gets Better" video too) and the homeless youth project have been discussed above, so full credit for the administration here.
Despite challenging budgetary times, the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget not only maintains, but increases domestic HIV/AIDS fundingWell, okay. We're not radioactive any more.
5. Supporting job creation among LGBT-owned businesses
The Department of Commerce signs a Memorandum of Understanding with National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to support federal contracting and exportingIt's good for LGBT small business owners. I'm sure the HRC is really pleased with this for its donor stream.
6. Setting precedents in hiring and benefits for LGBT Americans
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announces that gender identity is a prohibited basis of discrimination in federal employmentGood for LGBT people who work for the federal government. Some of this has set an example for some companies in the private sector, but many companies in the private sector have been ahead of the government on this for, well, decades.
President Obama expands federal benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees
OPM allows same-sex domestic partners to apply for long-term care insurance
President Obama continues to appoint LGBT Americans to positions at every level throughout his Administration
President Obama sends the first U.S. Executive branch official to testify in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) before CongressIf I didn't say I was going to go through the document thoroughly, I'd stop here. When we say we're disappointed with Obama's efforts for the LBGT community, it's because of ENDA, and the gay caucus in Congress is just as responsible because it got confused about how to incorporate gender identity into the bill, eventually jettisoning it. Not passing it is bad for the entire LGBT community (except for our brothers and sisters who work for the federal government), and the way the bill is currently written is disastrous for transpeople.
7. Repealing the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Law
President Obama signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which will allow gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans to serve openly and with integrity.Good. Finally, we join most European nations and Israel. The people to the left of me would say this doesn't matter because it's military, but the fact that DADT has been repealed is probably bad news for DOMA and good news for ENDA (because, after all, DADT was about job discrimination and inequality in the workplace). I'm over the way it was repealed now -- enough time has passed.
8. Providing global leadership on LGBT issues
The U.S. lifts the discriminatory entry ban for individuals with HIVAll positive achievements, spearheaded by the Secretary of State whose "Civil Rights are Human Rights" speech was one of the most important statements of the United States Government
President Obama and his administration play active roles in protecting LGBT populations in Uganda, Honduras, Malawi and other countries
The U.S. leads an effort at the United Nations resulting in 85 countries supporting a resolution to end violence and human rights violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity
The White House announces major three-year investment in combating global AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria
9. Honoring LGBT history
President Obama honors the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall riotsThis is what's called "grasping at straws." I suppose it's here as a dog whistle to US that the Obama Administration did something about us to show the larger community he cares about our history. No, I don't expect him to be the grand marshal of the Stonewall commemoration parade in Washington, D.C., but I don't see these as anything but a sop for us.
President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King
10. Supporting LGBT Progress
Here's the other problem:
President Obama has called for the Congressional repeal of the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act” and has announced that in his view, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutionalThat took a while, but it's a very big deal. The problem is, I can't help thinking that a more skilled politician (like LBJ) could have maneuvered the repeal of DOMA through Congress already. When I have to lower my expectations, it doesn't make me very happy regardless of the realities of the situation. For this, we need more and better Democrats in both houses of Congress.
President Obama also continues to support legislation that would directly impact the LGBT community, including an inclusive ENDA and the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations ActSee above concerning ENDA.
President Obama believes that all students should be safe and healthy and learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment; that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation; and that Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their countrySome of these he could take care of with an executive order, but then, this administration has been deporting undocumented people with little regard for their situation in the United States at a record pace. A few LGBT couples have been saved from this, but more have not.
So what's my conclusion from this? There is no question that President Obama and his administration have done more for LGBT people than any other president has, and I don't really think that has been at issue. The problem is a glass half full/glass half empty problem. Yes,, he's done more, but is what he has done enough? In some areas, like DADT and Health and Human Services, absolutely. But unless you work for the federal government, there's no ENDA protection, and the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment (not to mention the "full faith and credit" clause in Article IV of the Constitution) are violated every day some of us are married and DOMA is still in force. I'll be fine if the day after he's reelected he all of a sudden evolves on marriage equality, but if he doesn't, I'll have difficulty seeing this as anything but a slap in the face.
I hope this explains to some of you why a member of the LGBT community doesn't share your enthusiasm about Obama completely. No, this doesn't mean I'm not supporting him for reelection, because I am, but I'm expecting a little quid pro quo. Congratulations on plowing through this.
10:29 PM PT: I spent a LOT of time on this, so I'd prefer comments that dispute parts of my analysis instead of comments that scold me for my conclusion. If you don't understand that I'm LESS disappointed than I thought I'd be at the end of this analysis, think before you comment.