Bil Browning

Obama will speak at HRC National Dinner on eve of March

Filed By Bil Browning | October 05, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, Equality Across America, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, National Equality March

The Human Rights Campaign announced today that President Obama will address their annual national dinner on Saturday evening. No matter what your thoughts are about HRC or President Obama, it is worth noting that this is only the second time a sitting President has deigned to talk to "teh gays." President Clinton was first, but it was after he'd won re-election.

"We are honored to share this night with President Obama, who has called upon our nation to embrace LGBT people as brothers and sisters," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "It is fitting that he will speak to our community on the night that we pay tribute to his friend and mentor Senator Edward Kennedy, who knew that as president, Barack Obama would take on the unfinished business of this nation - equal rights for the LGBT community, and for every person who believes in liberty and justice for all."

My inbox has been flooded today with activists, community leaders and Projectors complaining that Obama will be addressing HRC's dinner guests and not the march participants the next day. Some have suggested conspiracy theories about HRC and the administration undermining Equality Across America and the march. My take?

People are hung up about President Obama's whereabouts, but he's the wrong adminstration figure to be concentrating on.

There's a kernel of truth to all of the issues people are raising. Yes, it would be more uplifting and empowering for march attendees if the President of the United States addressed them directly. Yes, HRC endorsed the march quickly but has remained unnaturally silent since; I've not had one single e-mail from the org about attending the March.

What's missing from those views though is a little bit of history and some imagination.

No President has addressed a march on Washington by a constituent group. JFK didn't speak at the 1964 March on Washington. Clinton didn't stand on stage to rally LGBT citizens in 1993. Bush didn't speak at all of the anti-abortion rallies that happened during his years in office. The President doesn't speak at these sort of events. He sends a video.

Think about it for a second. You've see the Obama campaign rallies and large events now that he's President. You know about the assassination threats, overt racism, and teabaggers carrying guns. Do you think that President Obama will be sauntering through a crowd of people who've been through no security procedures to check for weapons? There's no way in hell.

What will be interesting will be to see who the White House actually does send to speak to the gathering of LGBT activists. Will we rate the top ranking Michelle Obama, Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton? Will we get second string political celebrities Jill Biden, Eric Holder, or (being gracious) John Berry? Or do we rank the bottom level "Hey! At least I'm gay too!" administration department heads or political appointees?

Beyond all else involving the march, that will show you how much importance the administration puts on our rights.

The best bellwether of how concerned the administration is about keeping this constituency group happy is to watch and see if hate crimes legislation gets passed before Saturday night. The administration is desperate for something LGBT positive to buoy flagging support and and temper increasingly critical voters and community members.

Combine all of the above with the chance for this to look like a gay teabagging party if a bunch of people show up to complain about the President's record on LGBT rights and you've got the media's attention - but not in a good way. With Obama addressing a room that will probably be mostly white gays and lesbians at the HRC dinner, surely the administration isn't dumb enough to let the HRC appearance be the only nod to all the gays in town marching past the White House the next afternoon.

Or else we don't matter at all.

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"Or else we don't matter at all."

The answer to that is:

1. Our votes matter;

2. Our money matters.

Period. End of sentence. End of importance.

It's a much much BIGGER DEAL to have an in-person President Obama at the dinner, than a video Obama at the March. GLBTQ folks need to get a grip- who would talk to us these last 8 years under Bush-Cheny et al? We have to trust the guy, he is on a trajectory to fulfill his promises to us. His administration has had Pride Proclamations, new policies on State Department employees, etc. Things are moving in the right direction. I hear too many people who are anti- organizatins (but want the benefits they are fighting for) and those who think that we will get our entire agenda with the snap of the fingers. Well, although we deserve equality immeditely, our political process moves more slowly, and heh , we are giant steps ahead of where things were the day before Obama was inaugurated. WE have a friend in the White House, let's work with him.

Minor correction: It was the 1963 (not 1964) March on Washington.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 5, 2009 10:08 PM

Wonderful synopsis Bil,

On the one side I would love to see us get the *respect* we deserve (of course without the president being on hand).

On the other if we get a sprinkling of the "bottom" level you mention it would go a long way toward underscoring the realities. No free lunch, get back to work, we have a need for singular unity. Learn to compromise with rather than confront allies. Keep getting our clear and consistent message out. That is why it is our responsibility to get *ourselves organized* rather than one LGBT organization going after another all the time.

I question whether the administration is "desperate for something LGBT positive" in light of all the more media saturated problems foreign and domestic. Don't get me wrong, I am sure they would like something LGBT positive, but desperate?

I still think things like the economy, health care, closing Gitmo, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Korea, Israel... are going to rank in the areas where they are "desperate" for progress.

"we are giant steps ahead of where things were the day before Obama was inaugurated"???? What planet are you writing from, Pete? Just put down the Kool Aid and step away from the keyboard! Fan Girl much?

You must have fallen asleep during the movie "Obama, Messiah for the Gays" last fall and just woke up not realizing the plot 180 that happened in the second reel.

ATTENTION: We don't need "a friend in the White House," we need a LEADER...which he PROMISED to be on our issues repeatedly. Virtually NOTHING is "moving," what you call great accomplishments have been, for the most part, reruns of what Clinton did [gay appointees, Pride proclamations, inviting faygolas to the White House]. He came to an HRC dinner bearing promises, too. Look how that turned out.

While you were still sawing logs, one would have thought by this June that if not the "leaders" then the "leading indicators" in the community would have had their ears unstopped and their eyes opened about what an invertebrate our self-proclaimed "fierce advocate" had turned out to be. Yet the very momentum of anger that frightened the White House into throwing together the "Stonewall celebration" at the last minute was almost totally narcotized by his, yet again, just sprinkling a bunch of pretty words on them like so much multicolored sugar granules on cupcakes. There was icing but there was no cake.

Now, clearly fearing being further damaged by the NEM the next day, he's descending briefly in a big pink bubble to work the lavendar crowd again. Maybe he'll actually bring with him a long overdue savory morsel, but my bet is that the lingering taste from the evening will be from his recipe for dessert: Pie In The Sky.

Maybe he'll take requests. If so, my suggestion is that the greatest Gay Icon [for some] since Judy go for that gay classic "Over the Rainbow" ... because that's where you'll find any likelihood that he's going to find his missing balls ..."it's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train, but far, far away, behind the moon, beyond the rain."

For those wide awake who care more about LGBT rights than perpetuating a personality cult, even if you're going to the dinner [I spoke to Frank Kameny today and he's going] there's still the DADT Protest at 2 Saturday afternoon in Congressional Cemetery [where Frank will also be]and the march and rally Sunday.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 6, 2009 2:52 AM

This is humongous! It’s supercalifragilistic expialidocious! It's much more important than the Easter egg roll and the medals and even his statement that that he’ll defend us fiercely all rolled up together.

Or… it could just be more patronizing bullshit from Democrats who seem to think that an occasional speech will make up for our two year experience with Obama the bigot and his refusal to take the lead in repealing DADT and DOMA because, doncha just know it, there’s an election in three years.

Actually the only thing this does prove is that you can fool some of the people all the time. We call them Democrats and Republicans.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 7, 2009 3:30 AM

OK, I held off as long as I could:

"Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad,

Me father gave me nose a tweak and told me I was bad,

But along came a word that saved me aching nose,

The biggest word you ever hear and this is how it goes,

Super-silly-Socialistic-balderdash among us,

Though oft, we find, it as intelligent as fungus,

Neither party you will find is naturally among us,

Super-silly-Socialistic-balderdash among us."

Now, get to work with both important political parties in a constructive manner instead of alienating both.

OMG, could you imagine what would happen if Obama addressed the crowd and the march organizers agreed to installing a security detail, and then the angry marchers went through it? I know at least one person out there would lose any respect for these folks.

Although is this really the first we hear about obama speaking at hrc's dinner? What's up with that?

Stop dreaming, Alex ... chances aren't good that you would get a thorough cavity search by a hot Secret Service agent ... were it so, that line would be so long you'd be lucky to emerge in time for Thanksgiving.

So much nonconstructive drama!

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | October 6, 2009 11:41 AM

not to anyone who thought that Obama would show at the march - I'll have what you are having, clinton appeared on video in 2000 and bush would phone into the pro-life marches but this is not something that happens in person

hey wait - why don't we ask cnn if we can borrow their funky hologram machine.

seriously. i would love to see the blame spread out a bit more - obama is not harry potter - we need congress and the rest to get things ON his desk for him to sign them...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 6, 2009 8:57 PM

I believe that getting things through congress is hand in hand with "getting ourselves organized." It should also be for more than a week end and should involve none of the following:

roller skates
beer floats
anyone dressed as anything resembling a prostitute

It should involve:

Negotiations among the major GLBT organizations to merge into a single cohesive organization with clear and non conflicting goals.

Regular contacts with your congressional representatives individual by individual and not crying for others to do it for you.

Public demonstrations that are inspirational rather than confrontational. These should include the American Flag just as Civil Rights marches of the 1960's did.

LGBT family units, including their children, to demonstrate the need for civil rights for all to insure the quality of life for all children, seniors and survivors in these relationships.

Commitment to a long term solution both individually and organizationally.


No President has gone to shill for an Olympics either. I guess some people/issues are more equal than others.

Boundless respect for you, Cathy, but let's recap on one subject alone:

Barack Obama, 11-29-07: "As president, I will work with Congress and place the weight of my administration behind enactment of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which will make nondiscrimination the official policy of the U.S. military. I will task the Defense Department and the senior command structure in every branch of the armed forces with developing an action plan for the implementation of a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. ... America is ready to get rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. All that is required is leadership. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office."

Barack Obama, 2-28-08: "Equality is a moral imperative. ... Americans are yearning for leadership that can empower us to reach for what we know is possible. I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country. To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership."

Primordial DADT opponent & Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin, June 2009: [DADT repeal] requires presidential leadership. This cannot be addressed successfully without that kind of leadership.”

To date, TWO messages "sent through the press" and one formal letter to Obama from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid begging for leadership [and, in one instance, for a freeze]. No change.

TWO letters from Cong. Alcee Hastings, the first with 76 cosigning members of the House, asking for a suspension of discharges. No response.

Hastings' effort to get a bill on Obama's desk for him to sign...the House version of the defense budget appropriation with an amendment denying funding for discharges.... withdrawn after pressure from the White House.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's plan to get a bill on Obama's desk for him to sign...the Senate version of the defense budget appropriation including an 18-month moratorium on discharges, endorsed by Harry Reid....withdrawn for lack of support [See Levin prerequisite above.]

Obama DOJ defended DADT in court using the same homophobic reasoning used to pass it in 1993.

Gay DADT experts who were asked to meet with Obama transition team last fall begged him not to keep Bush-appointed Secty of Defense Robert Gates because he had a record of defending DADT. He has continued both as Secty and obstructionist, grouped under warnings re repeal, "we don't have time," and "the sky would fall."

Other supposed subordinates to the Commander-in-Chief...Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Homophobia Adm. Mike Mullen, whose spokesman has formally denied that the anti-DADT article last week in the Pentagon publication he sponsors reflected Mullen's views, and National Homohatred Advisor James Jones...harmonize with Gates song and dance. Mullen has added a repulsive [and unexplained] new verse: potential damage to "military families" if out gays are admitted.

Finally, the president's post election indifference is no more transparent than in his pretense that he cannot act on his own...without ANY need for a bill from Congress on his stop the discharges that HE, himself, declared in June "weaken national security." It does not take a former Constitutional law prof, which he is, to understand the unequivocal legal authority given a president by the law passed in 1983: 10 U.S.C. § 12305 - “Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Laws Relating to Promotion, Retirement, and Separation”:

"Notwithstanding ANY other provision of law, during any period members of a reserve component are serving on active duty pursuant to an order to
active duty under authority of section 12301, 12302, or 12304 of this title, the President may suspend ANY provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to ANY member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States."

In short, the issue is not the absence of ways for Obama to act on DADT but the will.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 6, 2009 9:01 PM

When a president says: "I will work with congress" it means that he cannot do it alone.

I hope I'm wrong but Obama's speaking at HRC seems to indicate to me that even after all this time he and his administration just don't get us and they probably never will.

Here's a guy who was swept into the Presidency by massive wave of grassroots activism. So of course when he goes to speak about LGBT civil rights he ignores the huge grassroots gathering and goes to speak to a room full of wealthy elites.

Obama just doesn't get it. His administration doesn't get it. From all the evidence presented so far, it appears he and his people don't see us as a persecuted minority needing advocacy and equal protection under the law but rather as a political problem to be finessed and worked around.

I hope he proves me wrong, but in all honesty given what I've already seen, I don't really expect him to.

Also, I understand Obama probably couldn't appear at the March in person but he could certainly appear by video.

Wealthy elites????? I wish that LGBTQ titans of industry and finance were out and present at this gathering . This is a dinner filled with regular people, and costs what most people spend at the bars in a few weekends, or Starbucks in a month. I am tired of people who are so accustomed to being down, that when things are looking brighter, they long for the gloomy old days, so that they can relish their victimhood.
Count me with the folks who are demanding equality, glad that we have the President's ear and support, and willing to do the hard work to see the job through.

Chitown Kev | October 7, 2009 2:28 PM

What Rebecca said.

I would give Obama points if he were addressing this, say, at a gay community center to an audience of wealthy gays AND gay seniors and/or homeless LGBT children (with the seniors and the kids that need to use the community center's services). I would give him huge points if he simply went to an LGBT affirming church (and idea suggested by someone at Pam's House Blend which I hadn't thought of). This is a little unbecoming for someone who, after all, prides himself on grassroots community organizing.

Angela Brightfeather | October 7, 2009 4:03 PM

Lets face it folks, HRC has the inside track on the administrations horse race. They set the agenda for him. Joe was at his side at every opportunity from the Democrat Convention in Colorado, to the present. They have his ear and they are keeping it and they are not going to share it for one second with anyone that they feel is to far left of their center position. That was more than obvious when people were invited to the White House tea party a few months back. Hey Becky, did you get an invite? I know I didn't and a lot of other "activists" didn't either who have been fighting for Transgender rights for many, many years.

The only time that anyone who is GLBT is going to get a conversation with President Obama, is when someone from HRC is glued to his side to remind him just how radical it is to take our word for anything that might be going on in a community center or a support group meeting.

Just once in my life, I would like to see someone like President Obama or his wife, offer to sit down with a local Transgender support group some Saturday night at one of their monthly meetings and listen to what is really happening to people in our community. Leave all the political hacks and hanger on's outside the door and let him sit down with a few Trans people to hear their stories about family, friends and jobs they used to have and see how he comes out of that meeting. No people like me or you or Donna Rose or Mara Keisling or the many others who tend to dominate a conversation. Just some common Trans0 folk who gather once a month to offer each other support in the hundreds of support groups across the country. Just once I would like to hear about him listening to them, instead of the ones who claim they represent them, like HRC or NGLTF or TAVA or GLADD or PFLAG. Even though they all try and do a great job and are dedicated to equality, as a person who has been to literally hundreds of those support group meetings, I know there simply is no comparison to hearing it direct from the mouth of those who are suffering and being directly discriminated against.

But, we both know that he is a busy man with a lot to do. If he can't talk directly to a group of thousands of us or a group of twenty of us, he will continue to go to places like HRC dinners where the money is and hope the word gets out through them that he really gives a hoot about the rest of us.

I hope that in the back of his mind, he remembers that good old Italian saying, "The fish always stinks at the head first."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 9, 2009 8:07 AM


HRC's center is significantly to the left of the majority of American voters.

Michelle Obama's office is in the East Wing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Michelle will go to a soup kitchen, why not a support group? What are you doing to make it happen? Which allies in DC to you have and can you show a group she could attend in DC?

Can you show a written refusal to attend a "T" support group? I am asking because I want to know if she has even been asked before being criticized.