"They've got a vision. They've got a plan"
This was what Joe Solmonese, head of the Human Rights Campaign, assured LGBT Americans after his White House visit.
What Joe and the national gay movement don't realize is that it is not the Obama administration's job to have a vision and a plan -- that's the LGBT community's leadership job.
This lack of vision is the biggest roadblock to gay equality in America today -- we don't have vision and we don't have a plan.
The LGBT movement has confused our vision and our demand for equality with that of the success of the Democratic Party. And it is easy to understand why. The Republican Party has moved from neutrality on gay rights to being openly hostile, most visibly when President Bush attempted to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment.
On the other hand, Democrats have moved from neutral to embracing -- at least verbally. But that verbal welcome stands in sharp contrast to a GOP now governed by radio talk-show hosts and preachers.
Over the past 20 years this has led the LGBT movement to confuse our vision -- or what we want -- with what Democrats want. With the downward spiral and irrelevance of the GOP, this confusion is about to become very clear.
As long as there were evil Republicans to blame, groups like HRC could play the victim card, raising millions of dollars without any legislative progress. In the same way American used to say, "What's good for GM is good for America," LGBT people have been told that what's good for the Democratic Party is good for LGBT rights.
But reality hasn't proven that to be the case.
Eventually the LGBT agenda clashes with the Democratic Party's agenda, and in each case we lose. This cycle has repeated over the past decade, and the messenger of the bad news is usually Rep. Barney Frank.
In 1993, President Clinton turned to Frank after having committed to lifting the ban on gays in the military. Frank came to the community and explained that we needed to compromise to get the president off the hook. Our agenda clashed with the Democrats' agenda, and we lost -- creating the nefarious "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which led to more than a decade of vicious witch hunts for LGBT soldiers around the world.
Later that same year, we were told to scrap our comprehensive gay rights bill, which had been introduced in 1975, for one focused on employment. The reasoning was that the president wasn't comfortable with the broader bill. Our agenda clashed with their agenda, and we caved.
This pointless pragmatism didn't yield anything. For the next two years the Democrats did not manage to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, first saying they'd been burned on the military issue and then, two years later, blaming the Republican takeover for their failure.
In 1996, in a cynical election-year ploy, the Republicans introduced a bill called the Defense of Marriage Act. Their goal was to force the president to choose between his rhetoric in support of gay rights and the politically difficult issue of gay marriage. Again, as soon as the Democratic Party vision clashed with the LGBT vision, we lost. Adding insult to injury, the president used his signing of the bill to drum up support for his reelection among Southern conservatives.
When the Democrats took back control of Congress in 2006, LGBT people rightfully assumed there would be movement on ENDA. And yet again Barney Frank delivered the bad news: Our bill would need to eliminate transgender protection if we were to move ahead. Our vision clashed with their vision, and we gave in again -- and still the bill never got passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
In 2009 we now have the most gay-friendly president possible in the White House, and the Republicans are politically irrelevant. But it's happening again. This time Barney Frank is telling us that we should wait until 2010 to address "don't ask, don't tell."
"People have to understand the political pressures," he said in a Roll Call article headlined "Frank: Democrats Punting on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Until 2010."
Our vision is not their vision. We need a movement that speaks truth to power. We want marriage equality now. We need to undo the damage signed into law the last time we confused our vision with their vision -- "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA. Advocates are not willing to wait.
I don't fault the Democrats for doing what is in their best interest. I just want LGBT leaders who will fight for ours. Until we have leaders who can say, "We have a vision and we have a plan," we are missing the historic opportunities that this administration offers us.