Don't Ask, Don't Tell... Don't Blow It
Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama does not see himself as "the Decider." He is at heart a community organizer. And in these first 100 days, Americans have seen the tenets of community organizing in action. The president has reminded us time and again that we are all in this together, that each of us has a voice and a responsibility. He is also demonstrating that decision-making is a process.
In 1993, we saw what happens when the process is wrong. Nobody wins. Bill Clinton signed "don't ask, don't tell" into law that year, and since then over 13,000 gay and lesbian members of our armed services have lost. Lost their jobs, their careers, their dignity.
And so here we are, 16 years later. The gay community has a friend in the White House again and it looks like we are going to get another turn at bat.
We absolutely must win this time.
Now I am not a patient person when it comes to equality. I spent nearly a decade running a gay rights organization. I spent much of last year raising money for the Obama campaign because I am impatient. I needed to do what I could to ensure the election of someone I know stands with us.
Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, is impatient too. He illustrated his impatience last week with a full-page open letter to the president in a Capitol Hill publication, calling on him to incorporate the repeal of DADT into the Defense budget he brings to the Pentagon next week.
In his letter, he indicates that this is the "logical" opportunity to be done with it.
Logical? Not from where this fellow impatient activist sits.
1) "Don't ask, don't tell" is a law. To change it, you need to vote. And you have to be ready for that vote. My point of view -- shared by many closer to the Hill than I -- is that we are not ready. We need 60 Senate votes. We don't have them yet. We can and will get them.
The logical next step? A detailed plan to go out and get them.
2) Injecting the DADT hot potato (regardless of the overwhelming public support -- over 75%) into a Defense budget discussion will turn us from a civil rights priority to a distraction. And it could be the red meat some are looking for to undermine a president who by all accounts has had a very good 100 days.
3) The enforcement of DADT has cost the United States hundreds of millions of dollars since 1993 and the idea of ensuring that the budget does not include funding for its ongoing enforcement is an interesting angle. But not funding the ability to enforce a law is radically different from repealing the law. The law must go.
4) Mr. Sarvis doesn't trust Mr. Obama's commitment to the LGBT community. A dose of cynicism is healthy. We've been thrown under the bus by politicians time and again. Democrats are all too aware that our issues are the best weapon the conservatives have to fire up their base. Politicians tread carefully with us and President Obama is no exception.
And yet, a look at these first 100 days offers some tangible evidence that we can begin to trust. The Philadelphia Gay News , whose editor was not drinking the Obama Kool-Aid during primary season, compiled a very impressive 100-day LGBT scorecard. Worth a read.
Perhaps the pinnacle of these first 100 days was the passage of hate-crimes legislation in the House, with a Senate vote due as early as next week. I want that victory, long overdue -- much too late to save so many -- to be savored and honored. I don't want that victory blurred by an aggressive push on DADT that we simply may not be ready for.
At a fund-raiser a year before Election Day, candidate (and organizer) Obama encouraged us to be impatient with him. We will. We must.
But I'm looking for "constructive impatience." And if we have learned anything as a community, it is that our fight for equality demands all hands on deck. Gay hands, straight hands, presidential hands, congressional hands, and citizen hands.
We can't lose sight of our part in all this. And "our part" does not mean simply demanding that the president do his.
On so many issues of importance to the LGBT community, the president has some heavy lifting to do. But make no mistake. So do we.