Obama to gays: ‘We have made progress and we will make more’

Posted on 01 Jul 2009 at 8:14pm
By Lisa Keen Keen News Service

LGBT leaders from around the country gather at White House for event in honor of Stonewall anniversary


President Obama

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday, June 29 urged the LGBT community to judge him "not by promises I’ve made but by the promises that my administration keeps."

"I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough," said Obama, speaking to a large gathering of LGBT people in the East Room of the White House. The group included Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas activist Jesse Garcia.

"It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago," the president said. "But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps."

To that he added: "I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

The 300 or so LGBT people gathered for the historic White House celebration of the 40th anniversary of Stonewall appeared to have "pretty good feelings" about the Obama administration already. The crowd cheered as the president and first lady were introduced and entered the room, taking about three minutes to reach the podium, as they shook hands with various invited guests.

The enthusiastic reception stood in contrast to a battery of media reports examining the growing criticism of the Obama administration from the LGBT community. Although the president did not explicitly address one of the key criticisms — a brief from the Department of Justice in a same-sex marriage case in California which many LGBT leaders found offensive — he did say, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, "We have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides.

"And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law," said Obama. "I’ve made that clear."

Concerning his commitment to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell," Obama said, "I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term. That’s why I’ve asked the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal."

Jason Bartlett, an openly gay state representative from Connecticut and a spokesman for the National Black Justice Coalition, said he was "very happy" with the president’s remarks and saw them as "recommitting himself to and affirming the LGBT agenda."

"The more times he gives a speech such as that, the better it is for our constituency," said Bartlett. "I think he’s asking us to be patient, but I don’t think people should stop agitating or stop doing a variety of grassroots activities. But I do think I agree that, in four years, we’re all going to look back and be satisfied."

Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America and a guest at the event, said the president’s remarks could mitigate some of the anger in the community over the administration’s slow progress toward its LGBT campaign promises thus far. But he said he would expect that anger to re-emerge should the administration not be able to pass hate crimes or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act "quickly."

"I think the community will be patient for about two months or so," said Gold.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.

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