Thursday, January 28, 2010

DADT repeal this year? I'll believe it when I see it.

In his first State of the Union address since taking office, President Obama restated his commitment to repealing the discriminatory Clinton era policy, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military. You'll probably read a lot about how big this news is for the LGBT rights movement, but being the died in the wool cynic that I am, I'll believe it when I see it.

There was much in the president's speech last night that we've heard before. It's why we voted for him. Forgive me if I'm not as easily bowled over as some others. The time for pretty speeches is long past. Now is the time for action.

I've gotten into some enjoyable and sometimes heated debates with other LGBT bloggers and activists who are of the old school "slow and steady" mindset. They advise patience, just as they have throughout the four decades since Stonewall. They say those of us who call for the president to, at the very least, begin the process of fulfilling his campaign promises are expecting too much, too soon. They say we're naive and don't understand the political process.

As someone who grew up, lived and worked in and around DC, I can tell you, I understand how politics works. You can't simply ask your leaders to do something because its the right thing to do, you have to schmooze. You go to the right parties, laugh at unfunny jokes, kiss the right asses and maybe, just maybe, the right people will give you the time of day.

It helps if you have something to offer in return. If Senator A wants Senator B to support his bill, Sentor A has to support Senator B's bill. It's never about what's right for the American people or creating a more fair and just society, it's about back room deals and "what can you do for me?". Then there are the lobbyists who, with huge financial backing, scurry all over the city like rats trying to gain support for the special interests of their clients. They play both sides of the fence, donating huge sums of money to both parties, just to hedge their bets.

It's a very old and very ugly game that, despite Obama's calls for change, is not going down without a fight. We saw that last week when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same right to free speech as actual people and can therefore donate as much money as they want to a political campaign. RIP Campaign Finance Reform.

There is a small group of LGBT Rights activists and organizations that have learned how to play the game over the years. They have gained access to power that the rest of us don't have. They claim to represent our community, although none of us has ever voted for them. They are collectively referred to as "Gay, Inc.", although their most visible player is HRC's Joe Solomonese. You can't miss him around DC. He's at all the right fundraisers and black tie events. He's had lots of photo ops with the president and leaders on Capital Hill. He's kinda cute in a dorky sort of way. But like most of the folks at Gay, Inc. -- and in DC in general -- he's a little too full of himself.

Granted, these folks have worked hard for many years to gain access and now that they have it, they don't want to lose it. It's that fear of losing access that has stagnated our movement. The ironic part is that in a city whose main function is to make deals, Gay, Inc. sits at the table without any bargaining power. They have yet to convince anyone inside the beltway that we have anything they need. Some may support us for purely ethical reasons, but they are few.

It doesn't matter that DADT hurts our military preparedness or that DOMA is unconstitutional. We'll never get any backing for their repeal if we have nothing to bargain with except our votes. That's why we must keep marching in the streets and making noise and making our stories heard and our faces visible. That is why we will continue to hold the president's feet to the fire.

The folks from Gay, Inc.remind me of a term once used on southern plantations to describe servants who worked inside the house and thought they were better than the field hands. I think the gay equivalent would be "palace eunuch". They may be surrounded by power, glitz and glamor, but it's not theirs. Their presence is tolerated by the grace of the sultan and they can be barred from the palace with a snap of the fingers if he is displeased.

It is time for a new strategy in the fight for equality that includes getting LGBT people elected sending them to Washington as more than just observers. It's time we became the power brokers. It's time for our LGBT leaders to (re)grow a pair.

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