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The Better

The Better

President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration puts LGBT Americans on notice: While the next four years hold unprecedented promise for our rights, we may sometimes feel forsaken.

Does anybody else feel like they are in an abusive relationship?

It seems like every time lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people start feeling a sense of hope, President-elect Obama, America's single greatest civil rights advancement in a century, manages to deal a blow to the community.

LGBT Americans, the one group in this country that was unable to fully share in the unadulterated bliss of our national achievement on November 4, will now be deprived of that joy again on January 20.

Choosing Reverend Rick Warren -- the evangelical pastor who has equated same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia and strongly supported California's gay marriage ban -- to give the invocation at his inauguration on the heels of the community's gut-wrenching Proposition 8 setback pushes past a simple insensitivity to seeming downright cruel.

How many times is the president-elect going to gouge this gaping wound before it even has a chance to scab over? He says he doesn't play interest group politics -- that he's trying to rise above the fray of pitting one constituency against another. And yet, a sense of basic fair play dictates that you don't kick a group when they're down. No LGBT person expected the incoming president to choose a gay pastor to bless his inauguration, but neither did they in their darkest moments dream that he would be so tone-deaf to our misery as to choose a man who compares our love to criminal offense.

Does he not remember that we can still be fired in 30 states simply for being gay without having any legal recourse?

Does he not realize that we have never had a single piece of major federal legislation protecting our rights signed into law?

Does he forget that we are still beaten and killed on America's streets -- that 10 years after a young man was strung to a fence and left to die, neither federal statute nor Wyoming law extends hate-crimes protections to us?

I am not prone to keeping score politically. True to my profession, I try to report the relevant facts back to the interest group I serve without a constant accounting of where we stand. You win some, you lose some, I figure. But reviewing a few points at this juncture may prove instructive.

The Obama transition team has praised the LGBT community's Presidential Appointments Project spearheaded by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund for its professionalism. More than 1,400 resumes were collected and candidates screened for key White House and cabinet positions. The community's great aspiration was to have an openly gay person proudly serving our country as secretary of take-your-pick. But with yesterday's news that Sen. Ken Salazar had been chosen to head the Department of Interior instead of the openly gay John Berry, people in the D.C. know began quietly worrying that our last best chance for a cabinet member had been dashed. More appointments await to be sure, but the prospects are worsening.

Progress appears to be coming on "don't ask, don't tell," a policy that Americans regularly disagree with at a rate of 70%-plus (yes, these are the kind of numbers that embolden even the flimsiest politicians). Nonetheless, allowing gays to defend their country's freedom and in some cases die for it without denying their own personal truth in the process would be a monumental shift -- and one that has preceded marriage rights in nearly every Western country to date. Comments made in the last week by both Gen. Colin Powell and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen do appear to be laying the groundwork for repeal and some believe they would never be doing so without the blessing of the president-elect.

Obama's handling of Proposition 8 was politically pragmatic. No one in their right mind really believed that he was going to take a high-profile stance on that measure in the middle of his campaign. Instead, he issued a low-key statement to an LGBT Democratic club in San Francisco during annual pride festivities that stressed he did not endorse writing discrimination into a constitution. What was more unfortunate was his reversion to using the Christian right's favorite phrase, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," during the general election after he had not uttered the words once during the primary. The "one-man, one-woman" construction could have easily been avoided, and using it made his views all too accessible to the proponents of Prop. 8 -- who did ultimately repurpose the historic candidate's own words to promote their cause in a final round of robo-calls before Election Day.

Finally, I can still hear our friends in South Carolina saying, "We told you so," but absent even a smidge of glee. After "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin's homophobic comments came to light, Barack Obama told me in an interview that McClurkin was "not vetted to the extent that people were aware of his attitudes with respect to gay and lesbians, LGBT issues -- at least not vetted as well as I would have liked to see." LGBT activists in S.C. hoped that McClurkin would be bumped from the campaign's gospel tour lineup, but short of that, they at the very least wanted some conciliatory note to be sounded by then-candidate Obama. They are still waiting. Beyond expressing his disappointment in the vetting process, President-elect Obama never intimated any hint of regret about the debacle.

All this is to say, watch your back. Our new commander in chief may well sign into law more pro-gay legislation than any other president in history, but it appears those advances will not come without heartache.

Apparently, this new president has risen so far above constituency group politics that he is beyond earshot of our cries for mercy.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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