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Obama One Year Later


Exactly one year into his first term, President Barack Obama faces some of the toughest political terrain to date. To mark the anniversary of his swearing-in on January 20 of last year, asked a handful of LGBT advocates to weigh in on the state of his presidency today and the state of LGBT equality.

Joe Solmonese, president, Human Rights Campaign

In 2009 there was historic progress -- including enactment of hate-crimes protections and the lifting of the HIV travel and immigration ban -- but LGBT people and our families still face discrimination and that has to change now. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members are still being discharged from the military, LGBT people can still be fired because of who we are in too many places, and our families are treated unequally under federal law. Although we have a strong ally in the White House and pro-equality leadership on Capitol Hill, change won't happen unless all of us increase our pressure and advocacy.

David Mixner, longtime LGBT activist who called for the National Equality March

There is no question that President Obama has missed a historic opportunity for change in the last year. The Republican victory in Massachusetts proves the point many of us had been making the entire year -- now is the time. Never again will we have the political opportunity with 60 Senators and a majority in the House to make change for the LGBT community.

Instead, some amazingly stupid calculations of taking everything slowly for our rights has resulted in a year with little progress for the LGBT community. Yes, there have been highlights and some victories, but the chance for a really historic breakthrough in our rights has been lost to those who played to caution instead of substantial action. What a tragic missed opportunity.

In fact, the president's silence while we have been fighting major battles have actually begun to hurt us. His words of proclaiming marriage is between a man and a woman has been used over and over against us without a word from the White House. Silence has been a way of action for this White House on the major LGBT battles. Even Pope Benedict XVI spoke more passionately against the "kill gays" legislation in Uganda than our own president.

What a year of disappointment.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, chair of Obama's LGBT Policy Committee during the '08 election; professor of law, University of Pennsylvania

At the close of their first year in office, President Obama and his administration have done more to advance LGBT equality at the federal level than every other president in the entire history of the United States, combined. They have signed into law fully inclusive hate-crimes legislation; begun the implementation of benefits for same-sex partners of federal workers and foreign service officers posted abroad; eliminated the discriminatory policies in the Census Bureau that kept our relationships from being counted; eliminated the HIV travel and immigration ban; implemented antidiscrimination policies in Housing and Urban Development programs and a resource center within Health and Human Services for LGBT seniors; appointed the former head of GLSEN to head the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and had the DOJ intervene in litigation under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to protect gender-nonconforming youth from discrimination in schools; awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Billie Jean King and the late Harvey Milk. The list goes on. To an extent that has never before been true, LGBT people and issues are an integrated part of the administration. We are full participants in our government. We are seen. We are heard.

Nonetheless, progress has been slow in vital areas, particularly in those that require the involvement of Congress. Patriotic and mission-critical service members are still being needlessly discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." LGBT workers can still be fired from their jobs with no federal recourse. Binational couples are still excluded from the protection of federal immigration law, and married couples are still denied any federal benefits. We have much more work to do. But now, as never before, we have an administration that is producing results. They are not perfect -- they have never claimed to be. As President Obama himself has always told us, we need to push to make sure that our priorities are accorded their proper importance, and we sometimes have to educate the administration in order to help them understand how best to do the right thing. But we finally have an administration that wants to do the right thing and is working to get it done.

We cannot rest until the intolerable fact of second-class citizenship is eradicated for all 12 million LGBT Americans. And, as we continue to push hard for equality, we must not fail to recognize the partner that we have in this administration.

John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay,

We were going to say we started the year with such high hopes, but actually we began the year pretty pissed off about President-elect Obama choosing Prop. 8 supporter Rick Warren to give the invocation at the swearing-in. Things only went downhill from there.

No openly gay cabinet members, no gay senior staff in the White House, refusing to reestablish the White House Office of LGBT Outreach and the White House LGBT Liaison, refusing to halt "don't ask, don't tell" discharges, defending DADT in court, and changing the promise to "repeal" DADT to a promise to "change" it "in a sensible manner." Then we got to June, the month the Obama administration invoked incest and pedophilia while defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court -- a law that candidate Obama had called "abhorrent" and famously promised to repeal. Now we're told not expect a repeal until Obama is reelected. Second time's the charm!

And that was only the first six months. Fast-forward to November, when the Obama administration had a chance to redeem itself by helping on the Maine marriage referendum. Instead, the DNC asked Mainers to help with an election in New Jersey. And by the time New Year's rolled around, ENDA, which we had been told would be passed in 2009, was nowhere to be seen, and there was no plan to move ahead on DADT. Yes, we got hate crimes (though it had already passed in both house of Congress in 2007, so the president gets little credit for it passing once again), another gay ambassador (even George W. Bush did that one), some federal employees got some federal benefits that we then found out they already had, and there were a couple of very nice speeches.

All of this, and a whole lot more, is why we launched the Don't Ask Don't Give campaign (, urging the gay community and our supporters to give to the DNC, the Obama reelection campaign, and Organizing for America only after they keep their promises to our community.

Winnie Stachelberg, senior V.P. for external affairs, Center for American Progress

There is no doubt that in his first year in office President Obama has demonstrated an openness and appreciation for the issues that matter most to LGBT Americans, but in Washington timing is everything. In 2009 the president began to lay the foundation for change. He named over 70 openly LGBT people to his administration, the most of any president in history. Where he has executive authority, his administration has begun to address LGBT issues. The Office of Personnel Management will work to make sure transgender people are not discriminated against in the federal workforce, building momentum for an inclusive ENDA. Also, in October the Department of Health and Human Services announced a resource center on LGBT elders and the Department of Housing and Urban Development debuted a series of policies to fight housing discrimination against members of the LGBT community. And the State Department is advocating for LGBT populations in Uganda, Iraq, and around the world.

Nonetheless, many in our community are frustrated that our policy priorities aren't getting enough attention from Congress and the president, and that not enough progress is being made. I agree with them. Last fall's passage of the Matthew Shepard Act was historic, but too many in Congress are still hesitant to deal with LGBT issues. After the president ordered the federal government to provide spousal benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees, the administration failed to get Congress to finish the job by passing the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act. On health care and the recovery package, the White House has shown that they know how to work with Congress to pass needed legislation. They must put that knowledge to work on our priorities in 2010 -- for example, moving the Pentagon and Congress in the direction of legislative repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." And we must continue to keep the pressure on President Obama and our friends in Congress to fight for the issues that matter to our community and our allies.

Lane Hudson, activist and Huffington Post contributor

The Massachusetts Senate election demonstrated exactly why those of us who screamed and shouted about Democratic leaders insisting that we needed 60 votes to pass legislation were right. Setting such a bar was irresponsible because a 60-vote majority is unsustainable. It can set into motion another year of gridlock, with no progress on any issues, much less LGBT and progressive issues, heading into the midterm elections. This very well may lead to a bloodbath at the polls for the party in power. This is particularly troublesome when the White House and congressional majority campaigned on changing Washington by passing sweeping legislation to improve health care, put people back to work, and confront global warming.

With every move to the center, the numbers for Obama and the Democrats have gotten worse, yet they seem to keep heading that way. I can't help but think the only thing to save us is for Democrats to throw caution to the wind, be themselves, and start fighting like the future of our country depends on it. You can be sure that is the mentality of the other side.

Steven Latasa-Nicks, member of Obama's LGBT Policy Committee during the '08 election

A year ago I was in Washington, D.C., to watch Barack Obama sworn in as president of the United States. I was with my partner and two nephews and was full of anticipation. I had worked hard as a volunteer for two years on the Obama campaign and by January was well recovered from the craziness of trying to keep up at work and get Obama elected.

As I reflect on where we are today, I know one thing is true: The qualities I saw in candidate Obama, those things that inspired me to work so hard to get him elected, have served him well as president. President Obama has restored our image on the world stage. He has mostly stayed above the fray and has governed with dignity and a sort of distinction one expects from the president. And despite the craziness that is Washington, President Obama has not gotten sucked into the nasty divisive partisanship that we've seen for the better part of three decades.

I'm torn however on how I feel about where we've come on LGBT issues. art of me recognizes that the major issues of our times -- the war, the economy, and health care -- are our issues. I'm also thrilled to see legislation on hate crimes, benefits for couples in the federal government, and the appointment of a transgender woman. I recognize that we've gotten more in the last year than we've ever gotten before. But somehow progress doesn't seem fast enough. And it certainly isn't happening at the pace I had expected. How much of that is Obama's fault is where I'm torn. I struggle on one hand with trying to understand that there are competing priorities and a rancorous, fractious Congress that has to play its role in the process. On the other, I understand that a president's term is short, that we may only have 12 to 18 months to get anything else accomplished, and that we elected him to drive change.

I guess all this leads me to one place -- an understanding that we must continue to make our voices heard and that our role in this process is not to be patient and to continue to push for the change we deserve.

Michael Crawford, D.C. for Marriage

President Obama has made some small but important steps forward on LGBT issues. He signed the first piece of the federal legislation protecting the LGBT community, ended the travel ban on HIV positive visitors into the U.S., and federal agencies have extended benefits to their LGBT employees. But, when compared what we had hope for, the actions to date by Congress and the president have fallen far short of what LGBT Americans need.

Passage of ENDA and repeal of DADT and DOMA should be priorities for the administration and Congress now, not at some undefined point in the future.

The onus isn't solely on the president to make our dreams of equality a reality. It's also up to us. The LGBT community must do a better job of making LGBT equal rights a priority for Americans. We have not done that work, and until we do, our hopes of leadership from members of Congress and the president will continue to be unfulfilled.

Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

When President Obama gave his historic inaugural address one year ago, he spoke of our nation's need to "carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea ... [the] promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." Unfortunately, this largely remains just a promise for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, who are still waiting for our nation's leader to step up and become the "fierce advocate" he proclaimed to be.

President Obama and his administration have made historic and positive changes throughout federal government agencies -- changes that will improve the lives of LGBT people in concrete ways for years to come. Yet, one year later, many more policy changes need to be made, LGBT employees nationwide can still be fired for nothing other than bias, service members are still being discharged on his watch, and marriage inequality relegates our families to second-class status. The president has failed to use his bully pulpit on these fundamental issues of fairness and equality. Yes, steps have been taken, but what our community and so many in this country are looking for are not simply steps but rather strides. While it isn't too late for Obama to become our "fierce advocate," he's going to need to put on his running shoes to make up the distance.

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