Articles and blogs from around the movement are quick to remind us of his statement while on the campaign trail in 2008 – “I will be a fierce advocate for gays and lesbians”. In the first year of his administration, it’s easy to see why that statement was challenged. It wasn’t until late in 2009 that the Matthew Shepard and James L Bird Hate Crimes Act became a reality. Going forward, Congress couldn’t seem to put anything into motion, and even when they did, the plan seemed to change from passing an inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) – and the machinations behind those decisions have never been fully revealed.
While it was signed into law last year, full enforcement of the DADT repeal won’t go into place until September 20, 2011. As of right now, most national voices agree that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act is not going to see firm movement until 2013 at the very earliest, if not, more realistically, 2015. As for the Defense of Marriage Act (passed under Bill Clinton, our last ‘great’ Democratic President), it doesn’t have much hope of being moved out of the current Congress, and its demise will more likely come about through the judicial branch.
I could be facetious here and describe the back and forth as an art or a game – but what we’re talking about here are real world implications for real people that result of these decisions. Has Obama been fierce enough? In negotiating with the legislative branch, has he started too close to the center, or even to the right? While he has certainly provided more leadership from the Oval Office on LGBT issues than any other President in our history, is it enough? I’ll let you answer those questions for yourself.
Still, there is one area that I believe receives little to no attention and should be recognized more often. As President, Obama is in charge of the Executive Branch. That branch of government, where President Obama has full authority, houses many of the departments that impact our lives on a daily basis – Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – you get the idea; many departments that implement policy that effect our daily lives.
Within these departments, there has been substantial change in how they look at policies that impact LGBT people. You can see a full list on the fact sheet listed at WhiteHouse.gov/LGBT. Here are just a few of the major pieces:
- HUD now recognizes discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- HHS has begun collecting health data on LGBT people – this is a key factor in developing better health policy for us as a community.
- Gender identity has been included under an Executive Order covering Federal employment, which already covered sexual orientation.
- Over 160 LGBT people have been appointed to public office.
- DOJ will no longer defend DOMA in court because they believe the law to be inherently unconstitutional.
In short, when we look at the ‘big ticket items’, we’ve only been met half way on the road to equality. However, I would argue that there has been considerable progress on policies that impact our day to day lives. These sorts of policy changes are woven into the department at core levels and while many voices have stated that these types of policies can be fleeting – subject to change under another President – I would counter that these are systemic changes that advance the overall LGBT rights movement. Statistics reported on housing discrimination through HUD or data on health disparities coming through HHS provide tangible proof of the all too real life problems many of us face.
It’s one more way that the body of evidence is on our side that we’re winning the fight for LGBT equality.
There are many twists and turns yet to come in the Presidential race – will Obama get a Democratic primary opponent; will he fully evolve on his stance on marriage; will Michelle Bachman EVER not have crazy eyes? Who knows, but I look forward to walking through these issues with you.
A.J. Bockelman is Executive Director for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy group. This bi-monthly column will explore the LGBT political world and he hopes that you will join him in that exploration. If you would like to provide feedback or get further information, feel free to contact him at AJBockelman@PROMOonline.org.
BY: A.J. BOCKELMAN