We need a national leader who can unify community, win equality.
As Barack Obama ascended the Capitol steps to be sworn in as the nation’s 44th president, he will have a menu of problems not seen by any other president in history. Two foreign wars, an economy on the brink of collapse, environmental crises, the Mideast sitting on a powder keg, sniping from members of his own party, scandals all over the place—the list goes on and on.
But Mr. Obama, more than any other president in memory, has the potential to meet these challenges and threats with a good chance of success. Why? For starters he has the intelligence and vision required to steer the ship. He also has a mindset that emphasizes collaboration over confrontation, which is the first step in uniting a divided country. But most importantly he is a leader.
To effect change there must be leadership. Of course, Mr. Obama can draw on his near-mandate in the November election to press his case. But he also has the ability to go beyond simply pointing to the election numbers.
He inspires millions of people. His storybook and historic rise to the presidency was accomplished through his no-nonsense stewardship of his campaign and his extraordinary ability to communicate. If change does come, you can credit Mr. Obama for inspiring the masses using his innate ability to lift people up and mobilizing them to join in a movement.
Imagine if we had such a leader in the LGBT community.
No individual has yet to emerge who possesses the kind of charismatic qualities that can persuade, inspire and unite a diverse, fragmented and divided lgbt community. For example, we have seen Joe Solomnese, the head of the Human Rights Campaign—the nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy organization—attempt to lead the LGBT community during legislative battles in Congress, the Proposition 8 debacle, and the controversial selection of Pastor Rick Warren by Mr. Obama to deliver the Inauguration’s invocation.
Being the face of this large organization provides Mr. Solomnese with a platform to be such a leader. The problem is that the HRC (and by extension Mr. Solomnese) is viewed by many lgbt activists as nothing more than a fundraising machine with pricey, glittery, star-studded dinners with few legislative triumphs to boast. That subverts his leadership potential.
Mr. Solomnese and HRC do excellent work, and it is unfair to ignore their efforts to secure rights for gays and lesbians. Congress and the American people have been slow to come around to our cause, so success has been elusive. I don’t believe any individual and any lgbt organization would have been able to produce key legislative victories given the political and social climate over the past three decades.
There have been missteps to be sure. Mr. Solomnese’s unwise, highly publicized letter to Mr. Obama asking him to withdraw the selection of Rick Warren is a good example. He should have clearly known that the President-elect would not reverse his decision based on the demands of a leader of a gay rights organization. That lack of political sagacity set Mr. Solomnese up for immediate failure and raises the question, who then can ever be our leader?
That question remains unanswered after California’s passage of Prop 8. The immediate knee-jerk reaction by LGBT activists was to blame the voters, mainly African-Americans, for the failure to stop the referendum’s passage.
The blame game went on for weeks before there were reports that the individuals and organizations leading the fight against Prop 8 were incompetent or missing in action. Once again, it proves that if all you do is raise money and don’t know how to properly spend it, you are destined to fail—both in the results and in the perception of the folks you are trying to help.
The grossly inadequate outreach to people of color and seniors during the marketing phase stands out. Moreover, one of the "leaders" spent a month-long vacation during the prime time of the campaign. Other horror stories continue to surface about the execution of the "No to Prop 8" effort. Clearly, the leadership failures contributed significantly to the outcome.
Ineptitude and incompetence have impaired our ability to progress. The fallout from the Prop 8 mess exposed deep fissures within the gay population. Daunting as it might be, is there such a person with majestic communication skills who can successfully inspire, unify and lead our community? We would need a leader who can:
Help heal the ugly sore of racism that exists among gays and lesbians—on all sides.
Bridge the gender divide.
Lead young and old alike.
Recognize that fundraising is imperative but the community also includes people who cannot afford lavish events.
Gain the confidence of Congress, state legislatures and other elected officials, including our President, and work with them to achieve equality.
Engage in productive dialogue with clergy of all religions and denominations.
Embrace our transgendered friends and work hard to secure them the protections they deserve.