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Friday, July 3, 2009

Obama talks the talk, but will he walk the walk?

By Mark Segal
PGN Publisher

I’m the only writer in the LGBT media who can write this analysis. Let’s get
right down to the facts, for fairness. Before last April, this writer was
considered the most outspoken journalist opposing Sen. Barack Obama in the
Democratic primary; some said I was in the Clinton camp. At the time, I
pointed out that Obama, unlike Clinton, gave few interviews to gay press,
but made many statements with no follow-ups and always held out the
possibility of an interview to local LGBT media until their state primary
was over. The reason personal interviews are so important is that you get to
follow up and not allow a candidate to just recite his/her standard stump
speech; it gets the facts out there. To be sure, answering a questionnaire
is not an interview: It most likely is answered by a low-level campaign

Looking back at my history of activism, going back to Stonewall and the
action group and the community’s fight against the TV networks, it’s ironic
that I was viewed as being in Clinton’s camp — the “establishment”
Democratic candidate.

Needless to say, I received thousands of hateful e-mails and phone calls.
Then, when Obama pulled the same tricks in Pennsylvania — well, sorry, he
wasn’t going to get away with it in my backyard. Next to Clinton’s
front-page interview, we at PGN ran a blank space with a box noting where
you would have read Obama’s interview.

It didn’t end there: We continued to campaign every day. Finally, on his
whistle stop across the state, he gave six exclusive interviews. Five of
them, including two networks and mainstream newspapers, asked him about his
problem with the gay community. Since Pennsylvania was considering
antigay-marriage legislation, he was also forced to take a stand on gay
marriage — the same one he took later with California.

So, that is what might be considered my anti-Obama time. One of my favorite
gay Web sites is Queerty; take a look at how they handled all this. They did
it with fairness, expressing the national LGBT community’s anger with me.
And they were correct.

Next fact. A week before the Pennsylvania primary, I was at a very small VIP
party with Obama, and attempted to stay far away from him. But that didn’t
happen. I took a photo of him at the request of the City Council president,
and he learned I was in the room. He pulled me close and wanted to chat with
me personally about his LGBT positions.

Obama lost Pennsylvania and you’d think that would be it. But, his camp
reached out to me and apologized. Then asked for advice in dealing with gay

Many more gay publications and electronic media got interviews leading up to
his nomination in Denver, after which I made it clear that I expected him to
do at least one interview during the campaign with LGBT media. I had a
similar role with John Kerry’s campaign and others, as far back as Jimmy

There were many media outlets vying for that LGBT interview. I advocated on
behalf of The Gay History project, which won out. I have never done so much
research for an interview in my 33 years in journalism. I checked my
questions and research with two members of Congress, a couple of judges and
a constitutional lawyer. These were questions Obama hadn’t been asked before
and that would surprise him. (Listen to the interview at

In that interview, PGN asked about an amicus brief on the Defense of
Marriage Act for the first time. He was even asked about a signing statement
or executive order to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network helped me with that one.)

If you re-read that interview, which was published in scores of local LGBT
newspapers — Obama’s only LGBT interview as the nominee — you’ll note that
he’s now doing exactly what he said he’d do. In other words, he’s keeping
his promises.

Here’s where the schism comes in. We expect him to live up to everything he
stated during the entire campaign, especially early in the campaign when it
was easy to promise anything to everyone, right now. The mother’s milk of a
campaign is to secure your base early and then go to the middle in the final
days. Obama is an inspirational man, but he is also a politician who wanted
to win. Of course he went to the middle and, if we believe in him, we wanted
to give him room to do so. We also wanted him to win.

Problem two: He wins. He now comes up against the realities of the
presidency. His top staffers are veterans from the Clinton administration,
which made the mistake of taking on gays in the military as one of their
first initiatives. Their efforts backfired and it hampered Clinton for the
remainder of his first term. Put that together with Obama’s need to
completely change our military strategy (let’s not even talk about the
economy, Iran, North Korea, etc.), he needed time on “Don’t Ask, Don’t
Tell.” His administration was at fault in how it was handled. Our community
was lectured, not brought in to assist. While we appreciate that the
president is trying to build a coalition around this issue — and we hope he
continues to do so — the servicemembers who are being discharged right now
need a remedy. We suggest creating a commission or issuing an executive
statement — as we suggested in our interview.

As for the Department of Justice DOMA brief, the attorney general dropped
the ball and should publicly apologize. And whoever wrote those offensive
lines should be dealt with.

As for those blogs — and you should make it a point to visit Pamsblendhouse,
Queerty, Towleroad and PageoneQ — it is their job to question the
administration and create dialogue. For hard news, background and a local
connection, look to your local LGBT weekly publication.

The bottom line: If you thought Obama was a savior, he’s not. He’s dealing
with centuries of hatred and disinformation about our community. Change does
not come in six months. Those who best understand this are those of us who
have talked the talk and walked the walk on gay rights for 20, 30, 50 or
more years. We know it takes time and, in the end, it comes down to this: Do
we trust him to please us by the end of his first term, as he said at the
LGBT White House reception?

Well, this writer does. In fact, I have no doubt. So keep the pressure up
and, in three years and six months, we’ll know that answer.

Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at

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