The LGBT started 2009 with high hopes that the new president would advance LGBT issues. But the honeymoon ended quickly.
President Barack Obama’s first year in office: On Jan. 20, Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States. The LGBT community strongly supported the new president hoping for change promised in the campaign. But controversy surrounded the inauguration when evangelist Rick Warren was chosen to deliver the invocation.
Warren had made a name for himself by supporting the 2008 anti-gay marriage ballot measure in California. He did an interview during the Proposition 8 campaign saying he "absolutely" considers same-sex marriage as "equivalent" to pedophilia and incest.
To help quell the controversy, openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was chosen to deliver the invocation for an inaugural concert on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.
In his inaugural address, Obama called on the country to "recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together — Democrats, Republicans and Independents; Latino, Asian and Native American; black and white; gay and straight; disabled and not … ."
Obama began making appointments to certain positions even before he took office. Through the year, the number of LGBT appointees climbed to numbers higher than ever seen in any previous administration. The list includes cabinet-level positions.
Mark Agrast and Judy Applebaum are Deputy Assistant Attorneys General. Kathy Greenlee is an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Other high-profile positions filled with LGBT appointees are Emily Hewitt as Chief Justice, U.S. Court of Federal Claims and Fred Hochberg as Chairman, U.S. Export-Import Bank. In February, Obama pleased community members by appointing a gay man, Jeffrey S. Crowley, to head the office of national AIDS policy, a position President George W. Bush left vacant for two years.
In March, the administration signed onto a United Nations official statement of support for "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity," something President Bush had refused to do.
During his first year in office, LGBT leaders were hoping for swift action on four pieces of legislation — ending "Don’t ask, don’t tell," passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the extension of the hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity. By the end of the year only, the hate crimes law has been enacted. Congress pushed hearings on ending "Don’t ask, don’t tell" into the new year and also promised to bring employment nondiscrimination to the floor. No movement has been seen on DOMA.
Activists criticized Obama for not using executive orders to end the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers serving. The president said that an executive order could be overturned by a future administration and that Congress needed to enact legislation ending the ban, but little pressure to do so was applied by the White House.
The first signs of impatience with the new president in the LGBT community began to appear in May. On Tuesday, May 26, a decision came from the California Supreme Court on Proposition 8. The ruling upheld the vote and ended the hope of overturning the marriage ban. Many in the LGBT community blasted the president for not speaking out against Prop. 8.
Meanwhile, same-sex marriage supporters in Massachusetts urged Obama to honor a campaign promise to seek repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed a lawsuit challenging a portion of the act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
In June, Obama signed a measure to give LGBT federal employees some benefits for their same-sex partners, but many saw the move as the president throwing a small bone to the community in an effort to bolster support.
Still, while movement on issues seemed slow, the president did talk with members of the community. In June a number of LGBT leaders from around the country were invited to a meeting in the White House. The group included Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas activist Jesse Garcia.
In October, on the eve of the Equality March, the president was the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s Washington dinner. Again, some in the community applauded the move, while others saw it as a meaningless gesture.
Truth Won Out Executive Director Wayne Besen summed up the increasing restlessness with the president saying, "While no one will likely yell, ‘You lie,’ in the middle of his remarks, there will be a collective sigh if all we get is a pretty speech."
By Oct. 28, Obama had signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime bill into law, winning applause from the community. But in December, the administration set aside a ruling by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who had ruled that staff lawyer Karen Golinski was entitled to spousal health benefits.
In his ruling he wrote that separation of powers specified in the U.S. Constitution gives the court the authority to treat its workers fairly and prevents the executive branch from interfering in how the judiciary functions.
Lambda Legal has filed a brief stating, "Employees of the [Office of Personnel Management] and the [Department of Justice] do not have superior authority to interpret federal law than federal judges."
While some in the LGBT community faulted the administration earlier for neglect by not issuing executive orders and pushing Congress to act, in this case, they charged Obama with actively working to harm the LGBT community.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2010.
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