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1 September 2009, 2:00 pm 15 Comments

Zack's Ramblings: A Gay Man’s Letter to President Obama

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen


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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  • Queer Blogger said:

    Amen, Zack. Can I co-sign this?

  • Evan McLaren said:

    Not to spoil your mood, Zack, but what happens when you look at actual crime statistics in aggregate, and instead of noticing an epidemic of straight-on-gay violent crime you notice instead an epidemic of black and black-on-white violent crime? Since I lost my PC script I’ll need someone to remind me what I’m obligated to say about this.

  • Hans said:

    I have a dark feeling that he’s going to leave the social issues for the lame duck phase of his presidency. Good move for him politically, but bad news for us considering that he’d have to get to a second term before that could happen. The insistence on reform coming from the legislature also doesn’t bode well. Most representatives and senators won’t touch hot-button social issues while campaigning for another term, and the window on that is growing ever smaller. And for some nagging reason, I just don’t see the Dems having a supermajority in the next Congress. If the Republicans get a simple majority back in either house, we’re screwed. In short, I share a lot of your sentiment, Zack.

  • Drew said:

    We’ve actually seen pretty steady progress towards the repeal of DADT over the last couple months: they’re working on getting a solid base in Congress with Dems like Patrick Murphy leading the way so that when the changes do come, they have the sort of broad support and public backing that will make it just a matter of fact rather than an iffy fight (like healthcare has become). And frankly, I think that approach makes sense: the idea that Obama could simply issue an order and it would be done is simplistic. For it to be a powerful and positive social signal it has to be done right, and well. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

    DOMA is the real question, and I could definitely see that getting neglected, which is why it’s important to keep the pressure on.

    But I think trying to pin Nana-Boo on Obama is a little over the top. We don’t know the full story there, but I’m betting that whomever did it would not have been any less likely to do it even if Obama had legalized gay marriage on Day 1. In fact, the sad reality is that when gay marriage and gay service are finally made legal, we’ll probably also see a spike in anti-gay violence from bitter zealots raving about the end of society. Will people be justified in saying that THAT blood will be on the hands of people who supported a rapid change approach that riled up the bigots into one last gasp of hate? No: that would ALSO be over-the-top and wrong. So let’s not employ that kind of rhetoric to begin with. Bigots are bigots. And politicians that need their priorities and political tactics adjusted are just that. Lets not confuse the two.

  • Kevin said:

    Hey! While I agree that more can be done for the LGBT movement, I fear we overlook the actions being taken now.

    1. The number one issue for Americans – especially LGBT Americans – is access to affordable health care. A lot of LGBT Americans suffer from HIV/AIDS or other illnesses for which they do not have insurance, and hence little to no treatment. Obama is focusing on this issue like a laser beam. And we need to help him.

    2. I have a growing concern of the LGBT folks who say they will sit out the next elections. We only harm ourselves — and our chief allies – by staying at home. Republicans are – and will be – energized in 2010. We need to be a firewall, especially in places like Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont where legislators voted to legalize marriage equality, or in Iowa where the politicians are blocking an attempt to put a marriage ban on the ballot, or in Massachusetts where Gov. Deval Patrick staked his political reputation early in his administration to prevent marriage from going on the ballot. These people will be hurt (read: defeated) if we stay home because we feel slighted because Obama didn’t spend enough time talking about marriage.

    But staying home and watching our friends get defeated sends a double message – not only will right wing republican haters take their place, we will send a message to pro-gay legislators that we take them for granted and we will not put ourselves on the line for us, when they put their careers on the line for us.

    To play on the old ACT-UP line, apathy = death

  • The Great Gay White Hope. « Pieces of String said:

    [...] I came across another letter to President Obama from “the LGBT” community today, here, via The Sexist.  Once again, we have a cry for help out of the mouth of a Great White Hope.  [...]

  • Queer Blogger said:

    Why would anyone stay at home on election day to protest? That’s like shooting yourself in the foot to protest the fact that you don’t have health insurance: totally backwards and damaging.

  • Straight, Sympathetic said:

    I hate to sound incredibly rude with this, but if you’re not a black person calling false racial hate crimes against a white person or white police officer, Obama won’t do anything for you. He’s fought for healthcare and been racist towards white police. That’s pretty much the only memorable things our “great” president has done for us.

    I do wish and hope he does something for the GLBT community, but I honestly don’t see that happening. Those words looked to be sprinkles on top of a cake of presidential promises that never come true.

  • A Letter I wish I had written said:

    [...] encourage each of you to read Zack’s complete letter. VN:F [1.6.3_896]please wait…Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes [...]

  • David said:

    Thanks for writing this. That’s all I can say.

  • Joseph T said:

    Really interesting letter and I understand your frustration. It gets old being told to wait or that we will be treated like equal citizens down the road. I think the additional slap in the face comes when actions like inviting Rick Saddleback Warren to speak or laughing off transgender health concerns. I want him to follow through on his promises made before November but I also think it is important to give him the time… though that time in my perspective is running out.

    Another issue though, is that many in the lgbt community do want to hold Obama or the Congress accountable because lord knows they are better at least than what we had for 8 years. I think this logic is flawed and that Democrat or Republican, the elected officials have to have their feet held to the fire on LGBT issues/concerns.

  • thomas said:

    let me bring a foreign view ( so it’s a restreint view of course) about this… i feel americans have no other choice than to continue to support obama; i can only emphasize that since the bush administration has ended we (= the rest of the world) don’t see americans as morons anymore… i’m sorry if it’s sounds (very) rude but it’s as plain as it gets… you finally broke through, it’s like american society is finally making a step into the 21 century…
    it’s so important to stick to the left wing in your country… republicains are laughing stocks uphere (= belgium in my case, but there are the netherlands, france and germany as my neighbours also)… when a mccain is calling up a palin… here we have to look at the extremist wings of our politic to see such political choices and they’re never getting elected… here such choices are equal at political suicide!!
    voting for the democrats is the only way out of the crisis you’re in! the struggle your president is having right now for passing an elementary health care improvement in the american social system is for us europeans outraging… and how can any thruthfull american compare him to hitler; he’s the best president you ever had…
    what he’s standing for has so much more meaning to the rest of the world than any republican president has ever had…
    and i’m not going to make more friends uphere, but if he has to let go of the lgbt-agenda untill he’s elected for a second mandate than so be it… don’t forget he’s maybe not very ostentive in his support of gayrights but his not blocking them in anyway at all… (wich manoeuvres would a bush administration have done to block gay marriage in the states it’s now legalized… think about that!)
    but in the first year of his second mandate he’ll really have to push things a level up in the gayrights-agenda… he’ll have no more excuse anymore… at that point history will be judging!!
    well, hopefully it’s not too crapy what i’ve been trying to write down, i’m also ventalizing 8 years of anger towards bush and other lifetime anger for anytime a republican president has been elected like the other bush and reagan… thank god for the clintons i say!!

    but i’m not criticizing this letter: it’s very well illustrated and necessary… the obama-adminisration will take account of any positiv criticism ( in opposit of what a bush administration would do!)

    god bless america and obama :)

  • Zach Taylor said:

    This letter brought tears to my eyes. Well written and well done, Zack. Thank you for being all of our voices.

  • Joe G said:

    The comment about Nana-boo’s blood being on Obama’s hands kind of threw me for a loop, especially with the recent passage of the hate crimes act. There’s an element of intense hyperbole in terms of the rhetoric gay activists throw at President Obama, who has done more for us and promised more for us and spoken more to us than any president, ever. I’m not sure how a person can claim to understand why Obama can’t move forcefully on gay rights right now for fear of losing a second term and then complain about the fact that he can not do this. Our country faces enormous problems and it would not do to try to correct them too fast only to have Sarah Palin be voted in in 2012 and undo it all with the vast executive power Republicans would quickly set about amassing once more.

    Please, I urge patience. It’s counter productive. The guy is on your side.

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