LGBT Activists Criticize Obama's Speech for What Wasn't There, But Miss a Very Big Thing That Was

If you needed evidence that the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not monolithic in its politics, reaction to President Obama's speech to the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner offered plenty.

Expectations were high.  When word came that the president would address the dinner, many assumed that the was coming to make news: to announce a new move that would advance the cause of equality -- maybe even use his executive powers to suspend Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the law that prevents LGBT people from serving openly in the military.

In his speech, the president mentioned all of the major legislative issues that motivate LGBT activists: He said that he had called upon Congress "to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act," which forbids the allocation of federal marriage benefits (like collecting a spouse's Social Security) to LGBT folks legally married in a state, and protects any state from having to recognize LGBT marriages performed by another. Obama rattled off other LGBT priorities, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for which he said his administration is "pushing hard," and a domestic partnership bill.  And he promised to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

But he offered no timetable, no specifics. He failed to mention the anti-same-sex marriage  ballot measures percolating in several states, most notably, Maine, where the religious right is organized to overturn marriage equality in that state.

A foreshadowing of the president's addressed was offered in an e-mail blast from Joe Solmonese, president of HRC, in which he urged readers not to judge the president too hastily, and seemed to suggest that the time to judge the president's record on LGBT rights would come at the conclusion of his second term.

But what has he [Obama] done?

I've written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I'm not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It's not January 19, 2017.

That matters for two reasons: first, the accomplishments that we've seen thus far are not the Obama Administration's record. They are the Administration's record so far....

An avalanche of criticism ensued in the gay blogosphere and other opinion fora. Solmonese felt compelled to clarify his statement. After Obama spoke, activists focused on what they did not hear. It sounded old to them. To me, it sounded remarkably new.

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