Wednesday, November 11, 2009

LGBT Leaders and "Low-Hanging Fruit"

Last week on the show I discussed some of the issues that leaders of LGBT groups -- the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and others -- had expected the Obama White House to address early on in the administration, perhaps within weeks or a few months in office. These are the "low-hanging fruit," as Rea Carey of NGLTF said to the Washington Blade in an article published in December of last year. (For some reason this quote is only in the cached version of the story, so that is what I linked here):

"Obviously, they've got the economic crisis that they have to attend to first, so everybody is expecting and hoping that's what they will focus on," [Carey] said, "but certainly some of these changes can be made very easily and are low-hanging fruit."

This sparked quite a discussion on the show and I thought it important to point it out here as well. Most of the items that Carey was talking about, as you'll see, are items that do not require legislation or heavy lifting with Congress. They are issues that the agencies within the White House and the federal government can easily work on and get done.

In the same article, back in December of 2008, Chuck Wolfe of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, talking about LGBT appointments, said that "anything less than a cabinet-level appointment would demonstrate they did not hear us." Wolfe also said that, "President-elect Obama promises a diverse administration filled with talented individuals from all walks of life. This must include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Anything less is not fully inclusive, and that could be seen as an indication that our community is little more than an ATM for campaigns."

Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign agreed, adding, "there is going to be that censure if there is not a high-level person" in the Obama administration who is openly gay. (I suppose Solmonese might argue that that "high-level" person is John Berry, who was eventually named head of the Office of Personnel Management. But that is a far cry from a cabinet-level position. And, in the article in Demember of 2008, as well as elsewhere at the time, it is noted that the Victory Fund was in fact pushing for Berry to be named to a cabinet-level position. There has of course been no cabinet-level appointment of any gay person by the Obama administration, but I don't recall Wolfe or any other group leader noting since then that the White House "did not hear us" or that we're just being used as "little more than an ATM for campaigns.")

Together, heading into the transition team meeting a year ago, the groups also put together lists of items that the administration could tackle -- HRC gave the administration it's own list, but essentially its the same as that of the others -- and these lists included many of the items which Rea Carey called "low-hanging fruit."

Here's a link to the exhaustive list on NGLTF's web site that Carey was talking about. As you will see , only one item -- just one out of dozens and dozens, pages and pages -- has a check mark next to it denoting that it has been completed. I guess that fruit wasn't so "low-hanging" after all.

Why then, after looking at what these leaders expected in December of 2008 and what has not nearly been accomplished, are they not adamantly criticizing the White House? Why, in the case of Joe Solmonese and HRC, which was enthralled by the President's speech to the group, are they actually praising him at this point for simply continuing to reiterate promises but not follow through? I think we need some answers and accountability for their comments -- and the low-hanging fruit list -- from a year ago.