The Blank Check

Now that the dust has begun to settle on President Obama’s latest broken promise to the LGBT community — his egregious brief FOR the Defense of Marriage Act, comparing equal marriage rights to incest and pederasty — it’s time to examine how we got to this sorry state of affairs.

To put it simply, candidate Obama, like most Democratic candidates before him, got a blank check from almost all progressive leaders (LGBT and otherwise), and it was a straight line from that to the DOMA debacle, continued expansion in war funding and wars, continuation of the Bushite civil liberties violations through extraordinary renditions and detentions without trial, etc.

As one who has never trusted a politician’s promise — especially a Chicago politician’s promise — Obama’s actions were predictably “been there, done that.” To borrow a line from a Christmas song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Clinton, everywhere you go…”

It’s the same trajectory we saw in the early years of the Clinton Presidency, which also started out with both houses of Congress controlled by the Democrats … proceeded through a trail of broken Democratic promises, and ended with the “Republican Revolution” and all that we hated about US government around the turn of the century.

The howls of protest about Obama’s DOMA-gate from gay Democratic leaders — HRC, NGLTF, Equality California, etc., are frankly getting to become a bit tiresome. Every time there’s a stab in the back, over the Rick Warren invocation for example, they’re in the words of the Vichy police official in the movie “Casablanca”, “Shocked, shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.”

But Rick Warren was presaged by Donny McClurkin in the South Carolina primary. DOMA-gate 2009 was presaged by his announcement days before his US Senate election that his “Christian beliefs” forced him to oppose equal marriage rights, etc., etc.

And yet our community leaders, almost to a one, said muffle your protests during these pre-election debacles — which just reinforced the notion that the Democrats had us in their back pocket and encouraged Obama’s slide to the right.

But we HAVE to support someone in the elections, they say! What civil rights activist worthy of the name wouldn’t support someone in a major election, right?!?

Well according to this standard, then, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t much of a civil rights activist. Dr. King never publicly endorsed a candidate in his life. He always played it coy, playing the parties off against one another, even courting then-Vice President Nixon at one point when the Democratic candidates were deferring to their Dixiecrat wing.

The secret to the success of King, et al’s 1963 March on Washington — with the wave of civil rights legislation which followed it — was not King’s soaring “I have a dream” rhetoric. The secret was that King and his co-organizers put the interests of their community first, above political parties. Democratic President John F. Kennedy tried repeatedly to get King to call off the march. He had his brother Attorney General spy on King. He sat on his hands during most of the violence against Civil Rights marchers.

But King refused to call off the march. It was clear that if Kennedy didn’t move on civil rights legislation, the ’63 march would become an anti-Kennedy administration march. And guess what? In this domestic “Cuban missile crisis,” it was President Kennedy who blinked, the first modern wave of Civil Rights legislation was passed, and it was the beginning of the end of apartheid in the American South.

There is now another DC march in the works for Sunday, October 11, 2009, this time for LGBT rights. I support this march, but will be very disappointed if it repeats the mistakes of so many of our previous marches, instead of doing our best to emulate what made the 1963 march such a success.

The Obama administration has taken the LGBT community for granted. The previous Democratic administration gave us the mess of DOMA and DADT. We must demand that Obama keep his promises to clean up the mess that Clinton created, AND fulfill the other LGBT promises he’s been retreating from – a strong inclusive ENDA, removing the HIV+ travel ban, and instituting safe and legal needle exchanges.

Moreover, we must demand that he drop the continuation of the utterly reactionary, Bushite “faith based” funding of sectarian agencies that refuse to hire openly LGBT people. And as most politicians rightly refuse to associate with open racists and anti-Semites, thus de-legitimizing them, so must Obama cease his dalliances with bigots of the Keith Warren and Donny McClurkin variety. And finally, as the offspring of a bi-racial couple and a man who was a former professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, he must drop his cowardly support of “separate but equal” civil unions and publicly endorse full equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

ANDY THAYER is co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, a Chicago-based LGBT direct action group which has been a local leader in gay rights, anti-police brutality and anti-war organizing, and was co-organizer of Chicago’s big November 15th Join the Impact protest. Andy was national co-organizer of the recent anti-Prop 8 “Day of Decision” protests and was Assistant National Protest Organizer for the successful Stop Dr. Laura campaign against hate radio hostess Dr. Laura Schlessinger. On May 16th he was among 30 LGBT activists arrested in the 4th annual Pride demonstration in Moscow, Russia. He can be reached at

Andy Thayer has written previously about the then-impending Supreme Court decisions here and here. He is a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago and can be reached at