Obama Redux: I Think We Can

I spoke too soon (or didn’t research enough) before I posted my last blog about Obama. His new transition team-generated web site, www.change.gov, has retooled the rhetoric of his campaign in ways that make me much more hopeful, especially about LGBTQ civil rights issues.

Under “arts,” which are still listed in “additional issues,” the web site notes, “Our nation’s creativity has filled the world’s libraries, museums, recital halls, movie houses, and marketplaces with works of genius. The arts embody the American spirit of self-definition. As the author of two best-selling books—Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope—Barack Obama uniquely appreciates the role and value of creative expression.” The NEA/NEH Review Team includes Bill Ivey, who served as Chair of the NEA under Clinton. Ivey now directs the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. His book, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect have Destroyed our Cultural Rights (U of California Press, 2008), offers a pretty smart, interesting critique of how the arts have been professionalized away from direct participation by what he calls “citizen-artists.”

Better still, change.gov now includes a full section called “Support for the LGBT Community.” I’m quoting it in its entirety here, from the civil rights agenda, then commenting below:

“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

— Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

The Obama-Biden Plan

  • Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. Barack Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
  • Fight Workplace Discrimination: Barack Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. Obama also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: Barack Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
  • Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: Barack Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
  • Expand Adoption Rights: Barack Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. Obama will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. Obama also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma — too often tied to homophobia — that continues to surround HIV/AIDS. He will continue to speak out on this issue as president.
  • Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. Barack Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

A few things are notable here. First, in the first several statements, Obama includes “gender identity” under those he would protect legislatively, which is a very good sign. ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) foundered in Congress because of disagreements about the place of gender identity in its language, and some liberal LGBT advocacy organizations have been harshly criticized for their willingness to compromise gender identity to win ENDA for sexual orientation. Obama’s language links them here, and seems to indicate no compromise will be necessary for his backing.

Second, under what might generally be called “family” or “domestic” issues, he skirts close to implying that he would indeed support same-sex marriage. While the statement above spells out his support for civil unions that mimic (supposedly) the legal rights and privileges of married couples, he also calls for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and stands against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Including adoption rights for LGBTQ couples also seems to me a step forward, given the recent vote in Arkansas banning such rights at its state-level policy.

Likewise, Obama’s willingness to repeal the ludicrous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that Clinton instituted when he couldn’t fulfill his promise to allow gays into the military also seems to move him in a progressive direction. His language on HIV/AIDS, too, adopts more forward-thinking language and practices, indicating that he’ll repeal the federal ban on needle exchange and work against the homophobia that stigmatizes HIV/AIDS policy and prevention strategies. Including women in his HIV/AIDS policy also seems positive.

Thanks to reading through www.change.gov, I feel less ambivalent and more hopeful about the real changes an Obama administration might bring. While news commentators note that his recent appointments—especially of Tim Weithler as Treasury Secretary and even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State—lean farther to center-right than they do left, I respect his decision to fill his cabinet with experienced leaders who can advise him well. I continue to hope that he won’t sell out his more progressive principles, including those I’ve quoted here.

It’s looking like maybe we really can . . .

The Feminist Spectator

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