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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rainbow Glass is Half Full

What a vein-popping summer! Such anger, such hatred. This vitriol is mainly centered on the tug-of-war battle concerning health-care reform. Other interest groups are still angry and frustrated because their priorities haven’t been acted upon in the first 8 months of this administration. LGBT activists, immigration reform folks and environmentalists all have gripes with this administration and Congress.

It’s not a happy time with a slow economy and joblessness serving as the backdrop. And health-care proposals—fact and fiction—are keeping the dialogue hot.

We hear the contradictory epithets of "Nazi!" "Fascist!" "Radical!" "Socialist!" "Communist!" and "Terrorist!" Many nasty signs have been hoisted and yes, some messages were racist—all being ascribed to President Obama. Some have even taken to calling Obama "homophobe." It makes me long for the days when "Liberal" was considered to be a dirty slur, the former ultimate insult aside from "faggot."

Everyone is in a sour mood it seems, including me because of the idiots dominating the debate. But I was uplifted when I recently saw the images of Ellen DeGeneres interviewing her guest Neil Patrick Harris on her show.

It was a needed burst of fresh air for sure and a calming influence. Two out gay people on national television, comfortable in their own skin and wildly successful both in their personal lives and professionally. They have reached the heights in their respective careers and have broad appeal across most demographic groups.

And add the fact that Ellen has been named as a judge on American Idol—the highest rated show on TV—and Harris was handed the high-profile hosting job at the Emmys, following his splendid performance emceeing the Tony Award extravaganza this spring. Wow!

I reflected upon the progress that we are making when you see these two gay stars on the set together during a popular TV show. This would not have been possible 40, 30 or even 20 years ago. Is this symbolic of our finally turning the corner and on the path towards equality? We’ll find out, won’t we?

Gay activists, impatient with the workings of government and the political sludge that gums up the gears of progress, will be taking to the streets at the National Equality March on Washington October 10-11. Using Obama’s campaign pledges and the current lack of substantive results as the fuel, the marchers and demonstrators will be calling for several main initiatives that are at the top of the must-have list.

Among them is the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes bill. Introduced once again, the bill has passed both houses in Congress and is awaiting a conference committee to iron out the details. This should pass this year and the President will sign it.

The Employee Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA was also introduced in the 111th Congress by Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in the House with 117 original co-sponsors. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Again, the President will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

A bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was just introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO). Again, despite the administration’s all-too-vigorous defense of DOMA during litigation, Obama had campaigned to repeal the entire law.

This measure will have to navigate through tricky terrain, however, as legislators can and will be politically attacked for supporting the weakening of the institution of marriage as well as the other canards to be expected during the debate.

Frankly, I am surprised this bill was introduced this soon. It could very well be as a result of the anger that LGBT activists have levied towards the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress for scant progress.

As reported in the Washington Blade, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) expects that House hearings on the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy will begin early next year. On the Senate side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), announced plans this summer for a fall hearing, according to the Blade. Rep. Barney Frank predicts that Congress will repeal the law in 2010.

These are all promising signs. Nonetheless, we must be cautious about our optimism because ENDA, for example, has been languishing in Congress for three decades. We need all of us to keep the pressure on Congress and the President to act swiftly on these measures. We must not let up.

But the prospects are certainly brighter today. Public opinion is on our side on all of these initiatives and that helps our elected officials who are not dominated by right-wing dogma to make the right decisions.

We have a President, who despite the misplaced anger by some of our lgbt friends, will do right by us. We have openly gay celebrities not just taking up our cause but maintaining high visibility without threatened boycotts and other anti-gay backlash.

At this point in time, I say our rainbow glass is half full, and filling up more day by day, albeit slowly.

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