Op-ed: Wise Up, Dustin Lance Black

By Melanie Nathan

Originally published on Advocate.com April 30 2012 4:53 PM ET

The moment I saw Dustin Lance Black’s headline in The Hollywood Reporter, all my admiration began a-tumbling. While one cannot disregard the work of the screenwriter-turned-activist and its impetus for marriage equality, his latest critique of President Obama engorges like an unwelcome cloud on a sunny day.

In his article, “Hollywood & Politics: Dustin Lance Black Blames Obama and Romney for the Mess of Gay Marriage,” Black attempts to connect Obama’s record on LGBT issues to the nonrecord and vacillation of Mitt Romney.  Black says, “Both candidates are ‘up in the air’ on the equal rights issue.” He attempts an airplane analogy: “The problem is, when the president flies, he’s on Air Force One, a plane designed to refuel in the air. He can stay up there for as long as it serves him.” But Black fails to understand that pilots often circle in the air for the good of those on board as well as those on the ground. This trite and ill-timed analogy is not only inaccurate but also insulting.

Black throws a crumb or two with his cryptic mention of the Department of Justice and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” yet his stance fails to elucidate on so much more that indicates Obama’s true attitude toward LGBTI rights, both here in the U.S. and internationally. 

When in the article, Black throws a reckless “but after all the hope and change LGBT people were promised four years ago, many are frustrated with Obama's sluggish, self-described  ‘evolution’ on the issue of marriage equality,” I hear words out of context and that indicate a misunderstanding of the milieu and politics.

Black is absolutely incorrect in his assertion that Obama has yet to “evolve” on the issue of marriage equality. Black buys into the rhetoric that died when the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in July 2011 as repeal legislation for the Defense of Marriage Act.  Soon thereafter Obama indicated he had evolved. The Washington Post headline notably read, “Obama backs bill to repeal Defense of Marriage Act.” How much more evolving could one realistically do than that?

The president probably believes in marriage equality — yet may not have mouthed the words, perhaps out of political expediency. It’s difficult to fault him, given the nature of the opposition. Obama’s so-called evolution has already happened. And the term now serves only as justification for a tantrum.

What we as the marginalized LGBTI community should realize is that there is only one option available to us for this election, and therein is our focus. I asked fellow filmmaker Kristina Lapinski, from Gay U.S.A. the Movie, what she thought about Black’s threat to pull his support for Obama when he said, “If his evolution continues to fall short, then those interested in equality in this country must abandon their support.” Her comment brought this back to the bottom line: “What an irresponsible thing for DLB to say before elections. Who is the pro-equality alternative, [Fred] Karger?”

For a gay man to threaten withdrawal of support for Barack Obama’s second term in a publication that serves his industry, a publication that reaches so many, one where allies are sought on so many levels, is reckless. Any sidetracking serves no good at all.

Black has caused more harm than good with this piece. Instead of standing tall with the president, he has used his celebrity to undermine equality by validating and further assisting in the alienation of many who do not understand what is at stake.

If we do not fully support this president, we face a new president who will veto the DOMA repeal legislation, a DOJ that will defend unconstitutional laws,  judges who will kill marriage equality, binationals being deported in droves, and so much more.

The time to take the president to task has come and gone. At present, the focus ought to be entirely on the Obama reelection, and our support should be unrelenting. Once in office, we can have our day — and that will involve a lot more than pure reliance on the one office.

Black says, “So until the president publicly puts his wheels down on the side of full equality, he must be passionately engaged, confronted and protested for maintaining his prejudiced, hurtful public position.” This comment is way out of time. The time for criticizing the president to this degree of chastisement was way back in 2010 during the lame-duck session when the Democrats had a majority in both the Senate and House.  Then the president should have placed LGBT interests at the fore, yet even then the blame must be distributed among our Democratic representatives, our own LGBT advocacy groups and grass roots alike. Winning equality requires a complex combination and cannot depend on one man and one office.

Let us face the paradox here: While at some point in time we have collectively failed the ultimate attainment of equality, we are still on the path and we still have hope. The sooner we realize that our only hope in present time is President Barack Obama and the sooner we laud the greatest record of equality to date being notched to this president, the more likely we are to achieve our goals. 

This administration, more than any before it, has taken leaps toward equality, on so many levels. This is not the time to chastise or threaten President Obama or any Democrat. Given how close this election could be, it is political suicide to alienate even one single voter, and judging by the comments on the Reporter site, Black has had his way.

Black spends paragraphs on inane comparative,  furthering the dispelled evolve speechifying theme as he asserts that Obama “is behind Laura Bush, Dick Cheney and Cindy McCain” in his so-called evolution. How does Black measure Obama’s record against the commentary of the likes of Laura,  Dick, and Cindy, who have no political prowess or any election at stake? There are no role models here. None of these few Republicans were saying these things when they faced elections.

Black would serve our community more by touting our need for more progressives to be elected to Congress. After all, we will only attain equality with a Democratic majority in Congress. In November 2011 the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 10-8, with all committee Democrats favoring appeal and all Republicans opposing, making a strong political statement that Democrats support marriage equality. The repeal bill would need 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and sponsors acknowledge the votes are not there. The measure would have no chance in the House, controlled by conservative Republicans. Do you still blame Obama’s purported evolution?

The mere fact that President Obama has said he will sign the repeal of DOMA serves us all; and what he says or doesn’t until we have a cooperative and viable Congress is meaningless to equality. Now we must plan for his reelection and a Congress that will deliver marriage equality to his desk. It will be then that the plane, despite some blurry clouds, will land safely.

 

MELANIE NATHAN is CEO of Private Courts Inc., a mediation and human rights advocacy firm specializing in LGBTI equality and international human rights. She is a blogger at www.oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com, and coproducer of Gay U.S.A. the Movie.