Barack Obama, Linda Douglass, and Little Ole LGBT Me

LGBT folks were not prepared for the sucker-punch Rick Warren, especially after having our legitimate, fundamental right to marry stripped from us by a majority of California voters.
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There's a saying in the 12 Step programs about being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It's at this point -- generally your own personal version of rock bottom -- that you surrender and admit something has been screwing up your life.

Well -- I guess that's where I am now. I'm sick and tired of hope.

I wanted to explain this to Linda Douglass, Obama's heavy-duty spokesperson, when she called unexpectedly and unsolicited at 7:30 Friday morning. But I was taken aback. When she started to identify herself, I stopped her and said, "I know who you are. I remember you from your time as a reporter here in L.A." - before CBS News moved her to Washington to cover the Justice Department. I was once a small time producer at CBS News and admired Douglass' journalistic talent.

But Linda did not call to chat about our different career paths. She called me as the news editor of LA's two largest LGBT publications -- IN Los Angeles and Frontiers magazines -- to talk about evangelist Rick Warren, who President-Elect Barack Obama selected to deliver the Inauguration Invocation. In case you haven't heard, there's been something of a firestorm from LGBTs over the choice.

Obama chose Warren, Linda said, primarily because Obama "has a strong belief in seeking common ground with those people with whom he disagrees on important issues" so difficult discussions can be conducted with civility. Obama admires Warren's efforts on behalf of the poor and people with HIV/AIDS and climate change, she said, but he disagrees with Warren on issues involving the LGBT community, women's reproductive rights, and other issues.

The goal, Linda said, was to make this "the most open and inclusive Inauguration in history, including all points of view." The choice of Warren "was about his seeking common ground with somebody who is trying to be a voice of moderation" to others in the Christian Evangelical movement and beyond through his book "The Purpose Driven Life."

"This is a choice that reflects these steps toward inclusiveness," Linda said, adding that the Inaugural program is being rolled out very slowly and by the end, the Big Picture will be revealed as including a "very diverse, inclusive set of people" and an environment that reinforces the belief that "we're stronger when we're united. That's the goal."

Linda urged me to urge my LGBT readers to look at Obama's Warren choice in the context of "the Big Picture -- a set of goals that have to do with making sure every voice is heard and making possible progress" by resolving those differences that "get in the way of doing what is right for all the people. There is no reason to fear that [Obama's] commitment to equality for gay and lesbian people is going to waver."

Linda noted Obama's "own strong belief in the importance of equality and the importance of doing away with discrimination." Look at the fact that on Election Night Obama "gave a firm shout-out to gays and lesbians that was heard all around the world," Linda said, as well as his strong record on LGBT issues, including his opposition to Prop 8 (the California amendment that stripped marriage rights from lesbian and gay couples).

Linda noted that civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery has received "short shrift" as the person doing the Benediction. He's an "outspoken champion of LGBT issues - one of the really, really strong voices" and he's "at the other end of the program."

Yes, thank God.

But Linda, I said, the Inauguration isn't a town hall meeting where different policy discussions can be hashed out. This is a hugely important moment when you say, "this is what we stand for" -- and with no openly gay person on the podium -- or in his Cabinet - Warren's pick is a devastating kick in the solar plexis.

Was Obama aware that in an interview with Beliefnet Rick Warren compared same sex marriage to incest and pedophilia? "I don't know if he was aware of any specific thing," Linda said. But he is aware of his disagreements and Obama is a "strong, strong champion" of LGBT rights who favors repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and will sign federal hate crime legislation.

Look at the Big Picture.

But it's hard to look at the Big Picture when you're doubled over with pain.

I brought up Melissa Etheridge's question to Hillary Clinton during the
Logo/Human Rights Campaign debate last year - when Melissa basically asked Hillary how can we trust you when we had such high hopes with Bill Clinton and he threw us under the bus?

Linda said she's been listening to a lot of pain.

I can imagine. I don't think the Obama folks were quite prepared for the reaction. And I KNOW LGBT folks were not prepared for the sucker-punch -- especially after having our legitimate, fundamental right to marry stripped from us by a simple majority of California voters.

But maybe the outrage has done some good. Maybe Obama will finally "see" us -- not as a motley crew with a common issue -- but as real flesh and blood human beings who get hurt and angry with good reason -- we are the last minority against whom it is acceptable to discriminate.

I was in the room in 1991 -- before there were medications to "manage" HIV/AIDS - when candidate Bill Clinton went off script and said to a theater full of angry and pained gays and people with AIDS, "I have a vision and you're a part of it." Even without close advisors David Mixner or Bob Hattoy whispering in his ear - Clinton wanted and sought and got the LGBT/PWA vote -- because things were soooo bad under Reagan/Bush. We were traumatized -- experiencing life and death daily like water gushing through clenched fists.

Clinton included us in the Inauguration -- gay families on the family float -- panels from the AIDS Quilt -- a LGBT viewing corner along the parade route -- meetings between LGBT and AIDS activists with transition team members -- including Hattoy -- who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and Tim Westmoreland.

And then, as everyone knows -- in the face of Sam Nunn and threats to defeat every piece of legislation if he executed his promise to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military -- Clinton threw us under the bus and created the "compromise" policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with the Defense of Marriage Act following not far behind. But everyone knew beforehand that Clinton was more conservative than LGBTs and people with AIDS wanted.

But at least Clinton saw us. He seemed to understand our lot as American exiles living in America and he "felt our pain."

So I was as moved by Maya Angelou's Inauguration poem for Clinton, "On the Pulse of Morning," as I was when I heard JFK's Inauguration speech as a child. The possibility of hope filled the air -- a marrow-bone belief that one day we will see each other and celebrate our differences with civility.

I think of Maya Angelou everyday as I walk my dogs and nod to my neighbors, "good morning." For a moment, it all rushes back -- that positive possibility of a better world, starting one to one.

That's what Obama promised. Yes, together we can change America. That's why the brilliant gay author and legal scholar Tobias Wolff flew across the country on his own dime defending Obama and asking for a second chance after antigay Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin headlined Obama's "Gospel Tour." Wolff promised that henceforth no antigay people would speak for Obama.

So when it was revealed that Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation -- I felt sucker-punched. My mind drifted to the opening paragraph of the famous book by Ralph Ellison -- "Invisible Man."

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids =- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

At the end of the book, Ellison writes: "Perhaps, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you."

I finally got it.

It's not that Obama thinks of this as a "Sister Souljah" moment as I first thought. The fact is -- Obama doesn't think of us at all. The gays who might be near him are staffers who happen to be gay and for whom being gay is apparently not an issue. He doesn't see them as gay -- and therefore he doesn't see us at all.

We are not a substantive part of his vision.

What to do? Well, for one -- expect nothing from this new president for whom we are a nuisance, given how huge are his priorities. Let the national organizations push to their hearts content. But the real work on securing our equality with other American citizens will be done on the ground -- locally, statewide and through grassroots networking and coalition building. Through the Victory Fund and electing our own. Through the political clubs and electing delegates to rise up through the ranks to start running the parties. There are as many options as there are creative imaginations among us. Let us be the visionaries. At least we see each other.

Now that's a cause for hope.

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