LGBT Leaders Weigh Obama's Faith-Based Initiative

LGBT activists are riled up over Obama's White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, saying the program lacks anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

BY Kerry Eleveld

February 07 2009 1:00 AM ET

Frank Page, for
example, is past president of the socially conservative
Southern Baptist Convention, which has close ties to Exodus
International -- an organization that attempts to
“free” gays from “homosexuality
through the power of Jesus Christ,” according to its
website.

HRC's Knox said
the council’s makeup was reminiscent of the
president’s continuing approach to creating
dialogue.

“What
we’re seeing is a pattern that the President is going
to make all of us talk to each other,” Knox
said, noting that LGBT activists have already had
occasion to take issue with President Obama’s
associations including homophobic gospel singer Donnie
McClurkin during the campaign and Rev. Rick Warren at
the inauguration.

“What
he’s saying to us all is, I expect you all to come to
the table and seek the common good. It’s our
role as leaders of the LGBT community to serve in that
way but also to be clear that the common good does not mean
looking just for what’s good for the majority of
people, but really what’s good for
everybody.”

Whether the
council is able to effectively recommend policies that
benefit all Americans without disenfranchising certain
segments remains to be seen. Fred Davie, reached by
phone Friday, told Advocate.com he was confident the
council could work together.

“If we
stick to the president’s fourfold mandate and hear
the words that President Obama spoke about trying to
create mercy in the gray areas, I think we’ll
do just fine,” he said. At the press conference
Thursday, President Obama said the program’s
focus was on making community groups an active part of
the economic recovery, supporting women and children
and reducing unwanted pregnancies, helping fathers support
their families, and fostering interfaith dialogue.

“We’ll be making recommendations about how
government policy should be formed so that
there’s greater participation and greater
accountability of and from community groups,”
Davie said, adding that the office would have no say
in who receives money -- a departure from how funding was
handled by the Bush administration.

Davie, who
attended Yale Divinity School and was ordained as a
Presbyterian minister, is no stranger to the Obama team. The
campaign sought Davie out following then-candidate
Obama’s announcement of the faith-based program
last July and eventually asked Davie if he would speak
to the transition team about his experience at
Public/Private Ventures with promoting community
groups, after-school mentor programs, and workforce
development.

“Over the
course of my conversations with them, it became clear that
I’m an openly gay man,” he said,
“and they thought that added to the richness of
perspectives and they welcomed me both as the president of
PPV and because of the perspective I could provide
coming from the GLBT community.”

Davie said he
believed that both Joshua Dubois and President Obama
intended the LGBT community to have “full and
complete inclusion” in this initiative and
added that he saw “many opportunities to energize
advocacy work” on behalf of LGBT people.
“I will certainly add that perspective to this
council,” he said.

Knox hoped more
faith leaders from the community would be appointed to
the council and said they were pressing the point with the
White House, though he declined to discuss the
specifics of those conversations.

“I do
think the president is trying to do the best he can to
create policies that will help everyone within his
orientation of justice and fairness and
equality,” Knox said, “and we certainly want
to help him be successful in that. But we can only
help him if we’re at the table.”

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