For the past 8 years, LGBT people have endured a president who, when he bothered to mention us at all, did so mostly when he was seeking to deny us equal rights for his own political gain. Come January, however, we will have an African-American president who includes LGBT rights as part of his administration's civil rights agenda. That's big. And, it could go a long way towards helping the general population recognize LGBT rights as a bona fide civil rights issue.
Obama's agenda specifics include expanding hate crimes legislation, fighting workplace discrimination, supporting civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples, opposing a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT), expanding adoption rights, and promoting AIDS prevention. I emphasized "federal rights for LGBT couples" because even if certain states allow same-sex couples to get married, these couples are not entitled to any of the numerous federal benefits and protections of marriage thanks to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
It should also be noted that while Obama opposes the military's DADT policy, he has recently indicated that he will not sign an executive order to end the discriminatory ban, as Harry Truman did in 1948 to end a racially segregated military. In September, Obama explained:
"The reason is because I want to make sure that when we reverse 'don't ask-don't tell,' it's gone through a process and we've built a consensus or at least a clarity of ... what my expectations are, so that it works.
I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be. That's how we were able to integrate the armed services to get women more actively involved in the armed services.
At some point, you've got to make a decision that that's the right thing to do, but you always want to make sure that you are doing it in a way that maintains our core mission in our military."
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Some view DADT as an unfortunate reactionary result of Bill Clinton's zeal to quickly overturn the ban upon his election without working closely enough with the military. That Obama is tip-toeing around this issue is, I suppose, understandable if we look at the history of the ban. At the same time, many of us are impatient for the ban to be lifted and believe that it has remained in place for far too long. In fact, currently the vast majority of Americans (75%) support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. In addition, more than 100 retired military leaders have recently called for an end to the ban.
Sure, some anti-gays are gloating right now at Obama's recent announcement that he will delay ending the military ban, until maybe 2010, while he builds consensus on the issue. Let the anti-gays gloat. That's pretty much what they do best whenever there are setbacks to Teh Gay Agenda. As for me, I remain pretty confident that Obama really is trying to do this right, that he's going to try to get reasonable people to agree, and that he's not going to futilely wait indefinitely for self-embarrassing homophobes like Elaine Donnelly to magically come around and see things our way.
In sum, if you'd like to remind Obama of the promises he made to Americans regarding LGBT rights and ask him to follow through, send him a postcard saying so.