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 Inauguration Wrap-up: Forgive, Don't Forget

 Inauguration Wrap-up: Forgive, Don't Forget


Gay activists overlook ceremony's glitches and welcome Obama into office but pledge to hold him accountable on our issues.

The inauguration celebration may have gotten off to a rocky start with the omission of Bishop V. Gene Robinson's prayer from the HBO broadcast of the opening ceremonies, but by the time Barack Obama raised his right hand, LGBT people attending the festivities seemed willing to forgive.

"It was an emotional moment for all of us -- a chance to put our anger over Rick Warren aside and join the nation in celebrating this moment," Kevin Naff, editor in chief of the Washington Blade, said to me at the Out for Equality Ball Tuesday night.

To a person, gays I spoke with said they were moved by the experience of seeing our first African-American president sworn in and sharing it with those around them.

"Particularly, right when he took the oath of office is when people were crying and were really emotional," said Jeff Trammell, a Democratic strategist in D.C. who was seated among a group of African-American Tuskegee Airmen. "The real poetry was there in the crowd. Some of them were in their 70s and 80s and they were just ecstatic."

And while most people objected to the inclusion of Rick Warren in the ceremony, the overriding postmortem was that he had so watered down his theology to avoid being offensive that his prayer was, quite simply, forgettable. "What a small prayer for such a very big moment," said Joan Garry, who cochaired Obama's LGBT Finance Committee during the election.

But even as grievances softened among those who had attended the ceremony, they weren't the least bit complacent. "I think what a lot of people need to understand is, this is the beginning of the process, not the end," Trammell said.

Bishop Robinson told ballgoers that it had been "an extraordinary few days." Despite what he called "a bit of a mess-up" with his invocation, he had been seated just six rows behind President Obama during the inauguration ceremony, and he and his partner had been asked to worship Tuesday morning with the president-to-be before the swearing-in.

During that sermon, Robinson said he was reminded that "there is no heat without light. So we should expect it to be hot, we should expect it to be hard." And then he sounded this rallying cry, "As much as we love this president, and I do, we are going to hold his feet to the fire about our issues."

In that vein, Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO of the New York-based Gay Men's Health Crisis, told me, "I have very high expectations that President Obama will keep his word by endorsing a national AIDS strategy. He has committed to do all he can to work with the HIV community in reducing HIV/AIDS infections in the U.S. That's simply what I expect him to do."

Hill hoped the new president would add an office of national AIDS policy within the White House and give the office some budgetary influence. She also wanted HIV/AIDS issues to have a prominent place in any of the administration's health care reforms -- a strategy of simply folding LGBT concerns into greater governmental initiatives that a number of activists have adopted.

Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, noted that LGBT Americans have many "shovel-ready" projects that should be included in the economic stimulus package. "I look at the LGBT community centers, for example, places where we are serving homeless youth, people who have substance abuse and drug treatment issues, where we need infrastructure," he said.

And though a number of gay leaders have been lowering expectations by noting that major issues such as the Iraq war and the economy will command the lion's share of the government's attention, other political strategists feel "the fierce urgency of now," as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. put it.

"People don't realize that in government, often the best time to get controversial things done is when people aren't paying attention that closely or when people are focused on something else," Richard Socarides, who served six years as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, told me a week before the inauguration. "That's what's happening right now. Everybody's attention is focused on the economy, jobs -- as it should be. This is a great time to make progress on issues around which there is some controversy."

Socarides added that President Obama has an "enormous reservoir of goodwill" and solid majorities in both houses of Congress that may not last. "When I hear people say we should wait two years to change 'don't ask, don't tell,'' he said, "I think that's a serious mistake."

To his point, at a National Journal-sponsored panel discussion I attended Wednesday about President Obama's first 100 days, not a single social issue was mentioned -- the economy sucked all the air out of the room with a few gasps left for foreign policy. Not only is America totally preoccupied with pocketbook issues, so are mainstream journalists.

But on that front, the Blade's Naff shared some good news for LGBT people: The Obama press office has reinstated his publication's press credentials, which had been revoked during the Bush years.

"So there is real change," Naff said. "Access now is night and day."

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