You've probably seen this week's cheeky Newsweek cover,
featuring a rainbow-haloed Obama and the tag line, "America's first gay
president." I had no idea it was that easy to be gay. By this logic, my
family and all my straight friends are now gay.
Absolutely fine by me, but oh, that it were truly so easy.
As you can see, I've struggled with my cynicism about
this. I've waited a long time for an
unambiguous sign of leadership on LGBT rights from the White House, and given
that Obama's brave announcement happened less than 24 hours after the passage
of North Carolina's whackadoo Amendment One, it was hard to do a happy
dance. And when the lovely straight
women I'm bicycling through the heartland with this month cheerily called out,
"Aren't you thrilled?!?" I just muttered something like, yeah, great,
whatever. I probably seemed ungrateful.
This week he said what he's known to be just plain right
since the very day he took office.
Evolution, my eye. I'll believe it when he tells Congress to repeal
DOMA, or else.
And my cynicism only got worse. My uncle sent me an email
saying, "I'm not sure his public declaration actually helps your cause,
because it will galvanize the anti-gay people." Yeah, yeah, I've heard
this argument during every election cycle since San Francisco Mayor Gavin
Newsom started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. People
actually blamed gay people for pushing for equality, stirring up the
conservative zealots and thus getting George Bush elected to a second term in
After President Obama's announcement, my mother took a more
pragmatic approach and said, "Well, they're gonna Swift Boat him anyway;
might as well get it over with now." I agreed and that was the extent of
A few days later, I found myself in the childhood home and
of Alex Haley, in Henning, Tennessee, reading about the author's journey from
being a workman journalist to one of the most influential characters in our
recent cultural history. If you are younger than 40, you may not remember what
a momentous event the book Roots, and in particular the miniseries
adaptation, was. Though sanitized and made safe for prime time, Roots
nonetheless stopped the country in its tracks for one week (no VCRs back
then!), and got us talking openly, as a nation, about the legacy of slavery, in
a way we never had never before. It was just one family's story, but it was the
right story for the moment.
Alex Haley's personal motto was "Find the good, and
praise it." Sounds simple, but think about how hard that is when humans
keep doing atrocious things. Or when our leaders could be doing so much more,
but they don't. To find the good when you know things could be much better --
It's a hell of a lot easier to complain, to be disappointed, to give up on
Those words stayed with me long after I'd peddled my bike
away from Haley's home and continued my journey up the Mississippi. They made
me step back from my Obama bashing, and from politics entirely for a
moment. Instead, I thought about what it
means to regular folks (i.e., not politically obsessed geeks like me and my
family) when our president says out loud that LGBT people are entitled to
equality and dignity. Whatever your party affiliation, right now Obama is our
president. He sets the tone for the country and should, in a perfect universe,
speak to the best part of us. When we as a people go astray from our highest
ideals, it's his job to get us back on track. This is leadership. To any young
or isolated LGBT person, to know that the president is on your side, without
qualification, is no small thing.
Our leaders frequently avoid taking a firm stance for
justice for fear of falling poll numbers. I am, now, thrilled that our
president finally stood up for us. I really don't care today that it came three
years, or even one day, later than I wanted, or even why he did
it. He's here now. Thank you, Mr. President.