Obama, White House Celebrate Pride
BY Kerry Eleveld
June 22 2010 12:40 PM ET
President Barack Obama told LGBT advocates who attended a White House Pride reception Tuesday that he would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with them as they fight for equality across the country.
“The fact that we have activists here is a reminder that change never comes – or at least never begins – in Washington,” Obama said. “It is when ordinary people out of love for a mother or a father, a son or a daughter, or a husband or a wife, speak out against injustices that have been accepted for too long.”
The group of about 300 seemed smaller than at last year’s event and although it included some of the usual Washington suspects, White House officials also made an effort to invite younger activists from across the country who gave Obama a very warm welcome even if not all of them are thrilled with his policies.
Twenty-six year old Morgan Keenan who works with the St. Louis-based youth organization GAY (Growing American Youth) called it “progress” that the White House even holds such a reception but also expressed disappointment on LGBT equality advances.
“I know a lot of people in D.C. sort of play nice sometimes,” Keenan said, “well, I’m in the states and I’m very angry about it.” When Keenan pulled the lever for Obama, he said he expected more “blanket support” for LGBT issues and a faster withdrawal of the troops from the wars overseas.
The president welcomed activists to the East Room at a time when he is alternately earning praise and drawing criticism for his progress on the LGBT agenda items on which he campaigned.
The White House has issued a series of smaller policy announcements that are being carried out at the agency level such as extending limited benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, the expansion of sick leave to non-biological, non-adoptive parents under the Family Medical Leave Act, and helping to equalize hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners.
Obama announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “sent a letter today asking these hospitals to adopt these changes now – even before the rule change is adopted.” The new rule must go through several months of public comment periods before it becomes official policy.
But the larger concerns like repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act to protect gay and transgender workers appear to have fallen off the map. Ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” is in process but the White House was a reluctant player in lobbying legislators for passage.
Still, Obama reminded the crowd, “Here’s the bottom line: We have never been closer to ending that discriminatory policy.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Tuesday depicted the president as taking steps toward making good on his promises from the 2008 election.
“Hospital visitation is something that the President always talked about during the campaign,” Gibbs said in response to a question from The Advocate. “So I think many of the things you see happening, being implemented by this White House are implementing promises that the president made on the campaign trail and obviously there are things that you can do to demonstrate your values through executive action.”
But Richard Socarides, former LGBT adviser to President Bill
Clinton, isn’t as impressed.
“Despite a steady trickle of these
small scale positive steps, Obama shows no willingness to address our
key issues,” said Socarides, who did not attend the event. “Marriage
equality and employment anti-discrimination legislation are nowhere on
the White House radar, while they willingly defer to the military on
‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” (Continued on next page)