If I Could Talk to the President

Let's be honest here. Chances are that someone like me isn't going to get an opportunity to personally tell President Obama what she thinks. I live in New Jersey, a state that President Obama is almost certain to win in this election. I'm a working-class transgender woman, a member of a minority group that the president and his fellow Democrats have completely ignored this election season. I'm unemployed, and I'm poor. Like most in my situation, I can't afford to attend one of those $35,000-a-plate dinners where President Obama discusses his agenda on LGBT rights with voters who care about these issues.

So with the election just a few weeks away, and given that President Obama and the Democratic Party have shown us that the only time they're going to pay any attention to the issues that most directly affect our lives is when they need our money and our votes, I thought now would be a good time to go public with what I'd say to President Obama if I did get the chance to talk to him.

The likelihood that someone in the Obama administration or his reelection campaign will see this blog post and deem it important enough to bring to his attention is likely far greater than the likelihood that he'd ever see a letter I'd written to him personally, or that anyone else of my socioeconomic status would be granted access to discuss these things with him in person. Yeah, I know, if past history is any guide, I wouldn't be betting on my chances of that happening, either, but hey, it never hurts to try, right? So here we go.

Mr. President, when you ran for office in 2008, not only did I vote for you, but I also did something I'd only done once before in my life: I donated to your campaign. I sent you $20, all I could afford on my income from a low-paying retail job, because I believed. I believed you when you said that you'd use the weight of your administration to fight for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Even though I live in a state that protects LGBT people from discrimination by law, I knew from experience that discrimination is a lot like speeding: The fact that there are laws against speeding doesn't necessarily mean that no one ever speeds. In practice, what it really means is that those who speed just do their best to make sure that they won't be caught red-handed when they do.

I also understood that a federal law prohibiting something is, by its nature, more potent and has a greater impact on our national culture than any individual state law can ever reasonably be expected to have. I also understood that when you live in a state that borders on three others that don't protect your basic civil rights, one of which, Delaware, specifically excludes transgender people from the protection of its nondiscrimination laws by statute, your chances of becoming gainfully employed without having to pick up and move to another area of the country are correspondingly slimmer, particularly when the state you live in is currently 47th in job creation and is a state where the unemployment rate has actually gone up at a time when it's gone down in much of the rest of the country.

Mr. President, I believed in you and supported your candidacy in the 2008 primaries because, unlike then-Senator Clinton, you weren't afraid to declare your support for protecting the rights of transgender people under federal law. Like Governor Howard Dean, the first major-party presidential candidate ever to publicly declare his support for an inclusive ENDA, and the first candidate I ever donated to, you seemed unafraid to fight for what was right and fair for all Americans, or to use your power and influence as president to represent the interests of the working class.

Then you won the election, Democrats took full control of Congress with strong majorities, and everything changed. Suddenly, you and your fellow Democrats didn't want to talk about protecting my right to live and work free of discrimination anymore. The election was over, and apparently so was your interest in fighting to protect people like me from unjust discrimination in the workplace.

Oh, sure, we got the hate-crimes law, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and a few positive changes in federal regulations here and there, but nothing that helped LGBT people like me get and keep jobs and raise ourselves out of poverty and homelessness. "If Congress won't act, I will," you said when you were fighting to pass the American Jobs Act, but it became clear when you refused to sign an executive order to protect the LGBT employees of federal contractors that you weren't talking about people like me.

You led the fight to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" to allow open service by gays and lesbians, but you chose to completely ignore the still-standing ban on military service by transgender Americans, even though, as commander-in-chief of our armed forces, it's within your power to do away with that regulation or, at the very least, begin the process of doing so.

As president, you've spoken often about the issue of jobs, but the only time you seem to remember that LGBT Americans need jobs just as much as straight people, and that we also need the protections of an ENDA or a similar law to protect our access to gainful employment in the 34 states where we remain unprotected by state anti-discrimination laws, is when you speak in front of crowds of super-wealthy gay and lesbian elites like those who attend those annual Human Rights Campaign galas in Washington. The time when you focused on and spoke to the concerns of LGBT people like me, working-class Americans who live on our paychecks, not on profits from our investment portfolios, seems to have ended the moment you won the election.

During the 111th Congress we heard excuse after excuse and platitude after platitude from congressional Democrats promising action on protecting our jobs, but the actual end result of all those promises was always the same: nothing. Lots of supportive words, but no action taken, not even so much as a vote on our rights in either house of Congress while Democrats were in full control of the agenda. When your own press secretary was questioned on the issue of our jobs, all we got were more dodges and excuses.

Mr. President, as I've watched this election season play out, as I watched the primetime speeches made by you and your fellow Democrats at this year's Democratic National Convention declare support for same-sex marriage rights over and over but never once mention our right to live and work free of discrimination, I've had to ask myself the obvious questions: Do you and the Democrats in Congress really believe that the right of married same-sex couples who already have good jobs and nice homes to save money on their taxes is a more important concern than the right of working-class LGBT Americans who are still struggling in this economy to make enough money to qualify to pay income taxes in the first place? If the agenda of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration is really about jobs, jobs, jobs, then why is everything we've heard about LGBT rights at the Democratic National Convention and in your campaign ads about marriage, marriage, marriage?

Mr. President, it all boils down to a single set of questions I and many of my fellow working-class LGBT Americans have been waiting four years to hear the answers to, answers I think we deserve to hear, not only as loyal Democrats who supported you and the Democratic Party in the last election and continue to do so in this one but as working-class Americans who look to our president for leadership on the issues that matter most in our lives, the kind of leadership you promised us if we voted you into office four years ago: When will you and your fellow Democrats confront the issues that affect our lives the way you confront the issues that matter to the LGBT Americans who donate millions to your campaigns? When will you stand up and speak out for the equal rights and treatment of working-class LGBT Americans the way you and your fellow Democrats address the concerns of LGBT millionaire donors? How much longer must working-class LGBT Americans patiently wait for you and your fellow Democrats to stand up for us the way you've been asking us to stand up for you throughout this election season?

When will it finally be our turn, Mr. President? Don't you think we have a right to know?