Zack's Ramblings: A Gay Man’s Letter to President Obama
Dear President Obama,
It still feels weird to type that. Remember a couple months ago when you were simply Barack Obama? You were our friend then, and we all believed in you. You had a first and last name just like we all do, and you staked a claim in your accessibility and the fact that people really liked you. Your political aims were admirable as well and you promised things that this country needed. And now you are on your long road to delivering them. And I do not envy you.
The fact is, you have inherited a country in tatters. And I do believe you can fix it. It won’t be an easy process and you are going to lose some friend along the way. But isn’t that the president’s main job? You traffic in hard choices, President Obama. We elected you so we wouldn’t have to make them ourselves.
However, you have forgotten the fact that the country is not an abstract concept like change or pride. The fact is that our country is made up of a population of individuals that are just as tired and ragged as the flag that flies above them. You cannot neglect one group of people in name of a “greater good.” President Obama, the well-being of your people is the greater good. The economy, universal healthcare, those are just key pieces of a larger puzzle. They are not a tarp that you place above your huddle masses to keep them dry.
As you might have guessed by the name of the publication I write for, I am referring to the queer Americans you have left in the dust. Those gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and any other sexual/gender minorities are starting to feel just a wee bit betrayed by you.
When we elected you last november, you stood in Grant park and said you planned to help all Americans, “Gay and Straight.” When I walked home down 18th street that night, holding my boyfriends hand, strangers kept looking at us and shouting that. “Gay AND straight.” It was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt being gay on 18th St. You did that. More recently, the panhandlers in Gallery Place have been saying “Obama” to us when they see us kiss on the street corner. There’s no judgement in it. They just acknowledge that we have as much a place here as they do. You did that.
But really, that’s all you’ve done. If three little words in an inauguration speech can touch people so much, imagine what would happen if you passed a law? Allowed us to get married or serve in the army? Why, people would have to start treating us as equals.
And that, President Obama, is where you are failing. Right now my day to day life is pretty nice. I don’t have a desire to get married or serve in the army, I’ve lucky enough to have never been gay-bashed and I’ve never faced discrimination in the workplace. So my problem is the most basic one: You are not making me feel very good about myself. By sending a message that our most basic rights can be put off until some other time, by saying that our civil rights as a people will somehow hamper a bevvy of entirely unrelated causes, by turning your back as a culture war tears our country in two and we stand as bullet-riddled black sheep in its middle. And I am a cisgendered white male living in the midst of a major American city. I’m the least in need of the protections you aren’t offering us.
A lot of people believe in our causes. A lot of people don’t. Where do you fall?
My grandfather, who watched the branches of his family tree crumble away in the Holocaust, always says that the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral. So what are you going to do? If you agree with most of the country, that we are not worth expending energy on, then I just wish you’d say it. “GLBT Americans, I regret to inform you that I don’t care about your plight. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
Otherwise, you better fucking do something, President Obama. Because right now you are simply a doll with a string in your back, parroting back the message we’ve heard since we first became visible: “It is not your turn. It is not your turn. It is not your turn.”
Last week, a transgender woman named Nana-Boo was murdered brutally on the street at 2:30 in the afternoon. And her blood is partially on your hands. When you ignore an entire group of people, or push them to the back burner of your political agenda, you send a message to the country at large that we’re not worth it. That we’re second class. That we’re expendable, and that violent or disparaging acts against us are as deplorable as swatting a mosquito. You have the power to stop this violence from the top down. Will you exercise it?
It’s about more than just a set of tangible rights. It’s about sending a message to every person in this country that we queer Americans count. That we deserve kindness and protection, and we are not the source of all social ills or “moral reprehensibility,” whatever that means.
You can do this for us. You can do anything. But you just have to do it.
Your house in Chicago is right across the street from my parents synagogue. They showed it to me last time I was home for Rosh Hashanah. There was a time when I felt that I could simply go to your house and slip a note like this under your door, and you would read it. You’d peruse it in some overstuffed chair while you had a cup of tea, and you’d wonder how to reverse the fortunes of a group of people who have had only the most mild of successes in a long battle against the thousand faces of hate.
But now? I’m just going to put this on the internet and hope it gets to you somehow. Please remember that it is entirely in your power to finally, finally, start doing something to help us.
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