Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Washington & Us: Hope or Hardball?

Contributor Matt Palazzolo is co-founder of the Equal Roots Coalition, a LGBTQ grassroots organization located in Los Angeles, CA.

Two weeks ago California's representative Howard Berman predicted that by the time of June's annual LGBT Pride celebrations the White House would present a very clear picture concerning the future of LGBT policies. I hope that Monday's memo from Obama was not intended to be that “very clear picture.”

I believe Obama to be an intelligent man who believes that true equality, including marriage equality, should be in the hands of all people, but he's hooked the LGBT community in the jaw by being silent on our issues for 4 months straight. That being said, it's not President Obama's responsibility to fix our problems. It's our responsibility to get him to fix them.

Obama's memo celebrating the LGBT community, calling for the end of discrimination, and officially declaring June 2009 (not annually) as LGBT Pride month should have been a breath of fresh air, but it came after four months of silence and was further trumped by Dick Cheney's out of left field support of same-sex marriage that very same day. The President did invite a handful of prominent LGBT leaders over to the White House last month, but all we saw come from that was secrecy over what was discussed and a suddenly tame Joe Solmonese.

It makes me wonder if that White House invitation and Monday's memo were just attempts to calm the storm of disappointment brewing in our community. After all, President Bill Clinton released a nearly identical memo 9 years ago declaring June 2000 as Pride month and I think we all know how much real life benefit we got from that.

A friend described to me his reaction to Obama's memo: “It was like you tripped in the middle of the road and a big truck was hurdling towards you. Obama just stood there and watched you struggle to get up and when you finally did escape the path of the truck on your own he began to applaud 'good job!'”

So what am I trying to say? Why am I being so critical?

This past Wednesday the Equal Roots Coalition (of which I am a co-founder) organized a rally with a handful of other organizations outside of the Beverly Hills Hilton, the hotel at which Obama was attending a DNC fundraiser. Inside the hotel Obama referenced the rally with a self-deprecating and well-intentioned (I believe) joke. The following day the blogosphere was in an uproar over his comments. Were they offensive? Was he mocking us?


I didn't find his joke offensive. In fact I found it nothing less than charming. However, given the fact that so many of us have spent anywhere between weeks and decades organizing out of our own pockets just to spend consecutive days and nights in the streets for a chance at being equal I found his silence on our issues and his light-hearted reference to our rally disappointing and unacceptable.

Obama's silence over the last 4 months, his comments Wednesday night, and his substance-less memo from this Monday are all clear signals that, despite the fact that he is the most LGBT friendly President in history, the work is ours to do and not his. We need to be stepping on his feet so he'll pick up the pace. “Wait,” even when said genuinely, means “never!” It's time to stop hoping for change from our president, but rather to begin playing hardball to affect change from our president.

In the Washington Blade this past week Torie Osborn said that the potential LGBT March on Washington in 2009 would be a way of saying to Obama “we heard you and we know you’re busy, but we expect you to make good on your promises.”

I usually agree 100% with my inspiring mentor and friend, Torie Osborn, but this time I must question her choice of words and what I believe to be the generally softer attitude of the LGBT Movement when it comes to Obama. I know that many of us in the LGBT community have a great deal of faith in Obama's ability to win us our rights, but he will not make good on his promises. We must make good on his promises for him. Obama is one man facing a great deal of people who would punch him in the face politically if he dared to fight for our cause. One man, even President Barack Obama, is not strong enough to fight an army. He needs our army. He needs us and wants us to act up. Cheerleading out of misplaced loyalty will not help his desire to help us.

Perhaps when Obama remained silent on our issues for four months he was trying to say “I heard get louder.”

Perhaps when Obama joked off the LGBT rally outside the Beverly Hilton all he was saying was “I saw get bigger.”

Perhaps if you read between the lines of Obama's LGBT Pride memo you would have seen the words “I get that you're fight harder.”

Perhaps when Obama just stood there and watched us struggle to get out of the way of the speeding truck he was trying to teach us to grow up and fend for ourselves – and when he applauded and said “good job,” he meant it from the bottom of his heart with love and admiration.

For those of you who still don't understand what I'm trying to say I will leave you with this very honest quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”


  1. I just love Twitter. It leads me to the most interesting! Matt thanks for your piece. I get the frustration with Obama that's been brewing among many in our community. I thought your take on things was quite interesting...particularly towards the end. Ultimately this whole thing lies with us---when it comes right down to it, it's just not about Obama.

    I read the most amazing essay today titled "No Excuses No Delays: Do We Really Mean It"? I was so moved by it I posted it on the blog and on my Facebook profile. It's about us--what are we willing to sacrifice to gain our civil rights? It's a powerful challenge---especially to those who've been upset with the president and his perceived inaction. The essay speaks of "real" sacrifice and an honest to goodness committment to put ourselves at risk for what we believe in. I have to say the only individuals who come to mind are DADT ex-military personnel--Dan Choi and others in the military who were discharged for their sexuality. But as far as the rest of us...maybe our president really does want to see gays and lesbians foaming at the mouth with rage...maybe then he'd say, "oh, okay, they're for real."

  2. Matt -

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and rational post.

    As I read it I was struck by how carefully and, dare I say, softly, you advocated that we take more aggressive action to win our rights.

    When do we take the gloves off?

    They say a storm is gathering. But where is the thunder? Where is the lightning?

    In the end, I can only look to myself for that clap of thunder; the bolt of lightning.

    I have seen your passion and energy in this movement first hand and I know you will bring it.

    Who will join us in the downpour??!!