“I do realize he was given a mess and there are a lot of issues for him to deal with, but he has been given some gift-wrapped opportunities and still failed to act,” he said.
What has Obama done for us?
• On Oct. 26, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines reminding all school officials that federal law mandates they take action against bullying. “The guidance issued … also makes clear that while current laws enforced by the department do not protect against harassment based on religion or sexual orientation, they do include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” states a press release from the Department of Education. The guidance comes after numerous media reports covered stories of LGBT youth taking their lives in part due to bullying.
• As part of the anti-bullying “It Gets Better” campaign that has crossed the nation, Obama recorded his own video directed at young LGBT people letting them know they are not alone.
• Since taking office less than two years ago, Obama has appointed more openly gay officials than any other president, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Gay activists estimate he has appointed some 150 openly gay officials — more than Clinton during his two terms (at 140) and George W. Bush combined. White House spokesperson Shin Inouye told the Associated Press in an Oct. 26 story that the president is proud of his lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender appointments. In January, Amanda Simpson, who is transgender, was appointed as a senior technical advisor to the Commerce Department and believed to be one of the first transgender presidential appointments.
• In April, Obama issued a memorandum that instructs the Department of Health & Human Services to issue regulations that would require hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to allow same-sex couples visitation rights
• Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law on Oct. 28, 2009.
Promises, promises: what has Obama not delivered?
• Despite promising “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be repealed under his watch, the repeal failed to pass through Congress. A federal judge ruled this month it was unconstitutional, but Obama directed the U.S. Department of Justice to appeal the ruling.
• The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide job protections to LGBT people, continues to languish in Congress.
• Earlier this month, the Justice Department also appealed two recent rulings that stated the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, although Obama supports civil unions and has said that he opposes DOMA.
Schappaugh, also a member of Atlanta’s Queer Justice League, said the Obama administration is lying when it says it has no option but to have the Justice Department defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after it was ruled unconstitutional earlier this month. The DOJ asked for an injunction from the 9th Circuit of Appeals and it was granted just days after the military policy was declared unconstitutional, meaning openly gay people in the military are again forced to stay in the closet or risk being discharged.
What the president can do to end DADT is what’s known as a “stop loss” order, Schappaugh said. Because the U.S. is in a time of war, any military personnel who are found to be gay would not be discharged under this order.
The president cannot, as some have said, issue an executive order — a simple signature — to erase the law. Because Congress approved it 16 years ago, Congress must repeal it. As Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post noted Oct. 18, “By custom, the Justice Department defends laws passed by Congress that are challenged in court.
To insist that Obama not defend this law would force folks to hold their tongues if a Republican administration were to refuse to defend, say, pieces of the health care law or others that liberals and progressives support.”
But many gay voters, such as Schappaugh, are not satisfied with this argument.
“I want his words to match up with his rhetoric,” Shappaugh added. “I don’t have feelings of trust for this administration or Obama anymore.”
The legal brouhaha surrounding DADT just weeks before an important midterm election has many gay voters in Georgia and across the country wary of Obama.
The mounting anger, including some very prominent protests by gay organizations of Obama, has prompted national media coverage wondering if gay voter anger may somehow sway the vote on Nov. 2 to give Republicans important victories in the U.S. House and Senate.
The Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the suit challenging DADT in 2004 under President George W. Bush’s administration, filed documents on Oct. 25 with the 9th Circuit of Appeals opposing the decision by the court to lift an injunction on the ban.
Jamie Ensley of Atlanta, a board member of the national LCR who testified during the trial to repeal DADT, said the Democrats are to blame for the repeal not passing in the Senate. The repeal of DADT did pass in the House under Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“They put out a last-ditch effort so bad the Republicans couldn’t support it,” he said. “It got real partisan and it’s sad when partisan politics interferes with advancing our movement.”
Most LGBT Americans are disappointed with Obama and how he’s handled issues such as DADT, Ensley said, especially Democrats.
“If I was a yellow dog Democrat, it would take a lot to get me to the polls this year,” he said.
‘Activism is not for the impatient’
Darlene Hudson of Atlanta, who organizes the annual State of Black Gay America Summit during Black Gay Pride, said now is not the time to doubt Obama — and impatience by LGBT voters at the polls could backfire.
“The Obama administration is probably the first to express a commitment to gay equality,” she said.
Obama also has to work with others on Capitol Hill, including Republicans, and that is not a simple task, Hudson added.
“Democracy is no utopia for sure and sometimes the gains don’t look like much on the surface, but over time and in combination with other efforts we can see that social change does happen,” Hudson added.
The fight for voting rights for women and African Americans was not won during one presidential term, much less two years, she said.
“Activism is not for the impatient,” she said.
But many LGBT activists and voters are indeed impatient. With the most gay-friendly president in office and Democrats in control of the House and Senate, they feel more could have been done before the midterm elections, when Democrats risk losing power to Republicans.
After so much excitement leading up to the 2008 election, they are frustrated with the lack of victories on important LGBT issues, including DADT, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Robin McGehee of Fresno, Calif., is co-founder and director of the national gay rights organization GetEQUAL that has held prominent protests at Obama speeches and visits in the past few months.
“We are tired of waiting,” she said. “When we lost our rights in California [with Proposition 8], we were no longer willing to sit back and wait. We knew we had to defend our rights. There is an undercurrent of anger that is not just perpetuated by the media.”
McGehee campaigned for Obama, taking her son on walks through districts asking people to support him. But his rhetoric is empty now, she said.
Supporting politicians simply because they have a “D” behind their name is no longer good enough to get the LGBT vote or money, she added. But voting Republican is also not the answer, especially with numerous Tea Party candidates on the national ballot that would love nothing more than to push forward anti-gay legislation and push back pro-gay policies.
“We have to stop looking at this as Democrats versus Republican — this is a moral civil rights fight,” she said.
Democrats to gay voters: Stick with us
Michael Brewer, the LGBT coordinator for the Georgia Democratic Party, said he and the party realize many voters are frustrated, disappointed and even disillusioned with their president. But he urges voters to take a look at the whole picture of Obama’s administration that includes the passage of hate crimes legislation and hospital visitation rights for LGBT couples.
“We are working with the most LGBT-friendly administration ever. There is cause for frustration but that is all the more reason to stay involved [in the political process],” he said.
Brewer asks LGBT voters to support Democratic candidates in local, state and national races on Nov. 2 and beyond because the party “has a long-standing tradition of supporting equality.”
McGehee argues that gay voters can no longer blindly vote Democrat, however, if the party continues to court the community’s support yet continually fails to follow through on promises.
“We are giving but they are not always giving back,” she said.
Hudson, however, believes in the Democratic Party and its values.
“Bottom line, in general, Democrats represent a more progressive agenda. If LGBT people want to continue to see the LGBT movement progress then we must support the Democrats and the president because they are taking the necessary steps to deliver the type of change that is sustainable in the long run,” she said.
In Georgia, the gay vote is likely not to impact any congressional races, said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. And dismay with Obama and Congress in general is not an excuse to skip this election — there are too many local, state and judicial races where the LGBT community must rise up and be counted, he said.
“There will be people who oppose basic civil rights who will be voting and are very active,” he said. “We can mount a defense by having a strong showing at the polls.”
The frustration felt at the national level, especially with Obama, leads to a broader sense of frustration at the political system as a whole, Graham added.
“That’s the biggest downside. But if you stay at home you are missing a very good opportunity to elect fair-minded people.”
Tracy Baim, co-founder of the Chicago LGBT newspaper Windy City Times and author of the new book, “Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage,” said gay voters need to understand Obama has done more for the gay movement than any other president.
“But people are not willing to say, ‘Wait and see’ — they are more emotional,” she said.
“I believe in races, gay people can be so short-sighted,” she added. “If they think they are going to punish Obama by not voting or not supporting him, they are only going to punish themselves.”
If Democrats continue to work on their agenda and in the next two years, Baim predicts DADT will be repealed and ENDA will be passed.
“I understand the frustration,” she added. “But I am a political realist. Obama is going to be just fine.”
Top photo: President Barack Obama (Official White House photo)