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Thursday, 14 May 2009

'It's The Economy, Faggot'



By Paul Canning

Brilliant blog post by Andrew Sullivan, the influential conservative American blogger, about his sinking feeling about Obama and LGBT rights. It includes the shock news that a deadline looms for his US residency - he may have to return to the UK due to lack of federal gay relationship recognition and anti-HIV immigration rules.

'It's The Economy, Faggot' was a proposed book title related to him by Bob Hattoy, who was a gay and HIV+ Bill Clinton staffer.

He was going to write a memoir of working with people who thought of homosexual rights as wonderful things to say you support (especially if you're fundraising or at a Hollywood dinner party) but far, far too controversial to ever do anything about, let alone risk anything for. In the end, of course, the Clintons enacted a slew of brutally anti-gay measures - passing DOMA [Defence of marriage act], doubling the rate of gay discharges from the military, signing the ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants - and expected standing ovations as pioneers of civil rights. The pathetic gay rights leaders gave it to them, so delighted were they to have their checks cashed. The proposed title of Bob's book was a summary of the priorities of the Clinton years.

[Hattoy died before the memoir was written and published.]

Sullivan relates how he immensely impressed with Obama during the campaign and how Obama had stood up for LGBT rights in unlikely places, such as from the bully pulpit at Martin Luther King's church in the face of homophobic black preachers.

I listened to him in the early days and found him sincere

In this he had the same experience as myself. In this post I explored how:

On the trail he consistently mentioned the word and often.

This was in stark contrast to Hillary.

But nearly four months into Obama in power Sullivan has "a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach".

Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We're firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won't recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they're, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There's a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know. Would you like to join Joe Solmonese and John Berry [leaders of the biggest national LGBT organisations in the USA] for cocktails? The inside of the White House is fabulous these days.

Yesterday, [White House Press Secretary] Robert Gibbs gave non-answer after non-answer on civil unions and Obama's clear campaign pledge to grant equal federal rights for gay couples; non-answer after non-answer on the military's remaining ban on honest service members. What was once a categorical pledge is now - well let's call it the toilet paper that it is. I spent yesterday trying to get a better idea of what's intended on all fronts, and the overwhelming sense - apart from a terror of saying anything about gay people on the record - is that we are in the same spot as in every Democratic administration: the well-paid leaders of the established groups get jobs and invites, and that's about it. Worse: we will get a purely symbolic, practically useless hate crimes bill that they will then wave in our faces to prove they need do nothing more.

I would add to this that the pogram against LGBT in Iraq, which is believed to be being supported by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, has seen absolutely no action from either the President or Hillary Clinton's State Department.

Sullivan's attitude to Obama mirrors my increasing distaste with the Labour Party on LGBT rights. See 'Brown opposes Prop. 8, refuses to act on homophobic Home Office' for more on that. Although Blair, like Clinton and Obama, spoke visibly of supporting LGBT rights, the reality with Blair was that most of New Labour's legal changes came about due to pressure from Europe. Brown, although voting the right way, has almost no record of visible support prior to becoming PM.

In one of his farewell speeches, Blair also sounded like Clinton is praising the 'nice gays':

What actually matters enormously is that the people from outside politics that you are trying to do it with have a sufficient intelligence and sensitivity, which I think has really defined the Stonewall campaign, I define it as a polite determination.

There is another parallel between the US and UK as the current gay legal interest here by groups like Stonewall is also with a hate crimes bill - rather than, say, the more politically difficult homophobia located in the Home Office or the failure to act in any way on the Iragi gay pogram.

Fortunately, LGBT Labour have a resolution on LGBT asylum and immigration up for debate at their AGM so it is to be hoped that Labour supporters will finally exert some pressure on that issue.

If Andrew Sullivan does have to - effectively - go into exile I can't think of a better symbol of how far the realities of LGBT life in America would be from the rhetoric exposed by the politician many enthusiastic voted for on November 5.

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