Panel: Obama needs to do more on LGBT issues

Jon Barrett and Karl Frisch discuss the Obama adminstration and gay rights issues at a panel held during the 2009 NLGJA conference.

Jon Barrett and Karl Frisch discuss the Obama adminstration and gay rights issues at a panel held during the 2009 NLGJA conference.

Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office promising hope and change ­ a message that resonated with members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community.

But eight months into Obama’s presidency, some gay advocates are starting to lose hope, contending change isn’t coming fast enough.

A panel discussion held at the 2009 convention of the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists addressed what many called a lack of progress made in the fight for LGBT rights.

Moderator Jen Christensen of CNN kicked off the discussion by holding up a recent copy of The Advocate. The magazine featured the iconic “Hope” image of Obama with the headline “NOPE?”

“So how did we go from a guy who really gets us, to ‘nope?’” Christensen asked.

Karl Frisch, Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, answered, “There were promises made that haven’t been fulfilled.”

In addition to Frisch, panelists included Washington blogger Mike Rogers, Jon Barrett, editor-in-chief of The Advocate, and Matthew Bajko, assistant editor for the Bay Area News.

During his campaign, Obama championed himself as “a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans.” The panelists said that too much faith was put into that promise. He had promised to repeal discriminatory policies like “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” and work on legislatively removing the Defense of Marriage act, progress on either issue has yet to be seen.

It’s somewhat our own fault because we thought he was going to be our fiercest advocate,” said Bajko. “We sort of gave him a pass for awhile and didn’t press him on our issues.”

Frisch said there were warning signs that the media, along with the gay community, chose to ignore — citing the choice of openly homophobic minister Rick Warren to lead the country in prayer at Obama’s inauguration.

But Mike Rogers noted that any conversation surrounding gay issues was a good conversation, and that in some ways the choice of Warren was a “victory.”

“Any moment we are able to get our discussion out there it is a victory,” Rogers said.  He pointed out that Warren was forced to change the language on his website after the heated debates surrounding his homophobia.

Christensen wondered if whether the panelists were being too hard on the President, whose term has been dominated by efforts to turn around the economy and pass his controversial healthcare plan. She also pointed out that Obama was the first president to extend benefits to same sex couples, and has invited gay press and leaders into the White House.

Our community has a history of accepting crumbs as bigger meals and being satisfied,” Bajko said. Rogers noted that this sort of thing should have been happening all along.

The panelists said Obama’s top priorities should include fighting for LGBT civil rights legislation. They also called on the media to tell stories about gay rights in America, in an effort to spur the President to action.

“As members of the media we are just being lazy,” said Bajko. “We really only have ourselves to blame waiting and praying for something to happen.”

“When we are absent from the media debate, we don’t get a voice,” Frisch added. “Most Americans have no clue that in 29 states you can get fired just for being gay and your job is not protected, or that there is no federal civil rights legislation.”

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  1. Pingback: Changing the conversation on gay rights | Road Trip

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