This Saturday, October 10, President Obama will be the keynote speaker at a Human Rights Campaign awards ceremony and fundraiser. He'll be the first president in history to participate in a gay activist campaign event outside of the White House. (In June 1999, President Clinton had invited HRC along with other gay activist groups to the White House to celebrate "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.")
But all is not right between the president and some of his most reliable supporters.
On the campaign trail, Obama offered plenty to the gay lobby, promising to end "Don't Ask - Don't Tell" and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Back in March he went so far as to name HRC's Harry Knox to the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Knox is an anti-Catholic bigot who has repeatedly attacked the Pope and the Church, and even called the Knights of Columbus "foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression."
But gestures and unfulfilled promises aren't enough. As Peter LaBarbera, the president of the conservative group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, told CNS News, "One of the problems with allying yourself with the homosexual movement is they are very demanding and they will continue to push, based on the promises you made."
And so Obama faces a litany of complaints at the HRC gala.
The Gay Liberation Network (GLN), which originates from Chicago, Obama's adopted hometown, will actually be picketing outside the Washington Convention Center during the speech. Andy Thayer, a spokesman for GLN, said:
The time for talking is over ... (Obama) has not only not moved quickly enough, he has actually backtracked. People may remember the flap about him removing most of his campaign promises from his Web site. It was only after protest that those things were returned to his Web site.
Accordingly, on October 7, the liberal Huffington Post Web Site asked a group of contributors to comment on Obama's standing with gays, and some penned "The Speech I wish Obama Would Give."
Jose Antonio Vargas, the blog's technical and innovations editor, warned that expectations for the speech were high, and that so far, Obama "has not delivered on his promises in his nearly nine months in office. Not enough. Not fast enough."
And although those inside the event won't have picket signs, they promise that they're going to "make demands of this president," according to Vargas, quoting Blake Wilkerson of a group called Queer Liberaction. "As the great anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass put it, 'Power concedes nothing without a demand.'"
Wayne Besen of the gay group Truth Wins Out was equally strident in his HuffPo piece:
Let it be known that the GLBT community is no longer interested in being pals with the powerful or having the famous tell us we are fabulous - unless it leads to action. If the goal of this evening were simply to provide an interesting dinner guest, Meryl Streep or Michael Moore would have sufficed. What we want from Obama, however, is a fighter working to set us free. We need signed paper in the form of laws, not paper-thin promises and illusive signs of hope. Unless a concrete vision is offered at this event, Obama's speech will sink like concrete in the Potomac River.
Contributor Emma Ruby-Sachs imagined Obama marrying the gay agenda to another liberal issue, having him say:
Within one year, by November 2010, we will introduce comprehensive immigration reform. This immigration package will include spousal sponsorship for same-sex couples in a committed relationship. Immigration reform is a priority for my administration and no reform package will be complete without this provision for the unification of American families thus far separated by discriminatory immigration policies.
Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago had Obama cast the issue of gay rights as a "moral crisis" because "in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on gay and lesbian citizens and there are no remedies at law." Stone's Obama therefore proposed "the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which will give all Americans the right to work without regard to sexual orientation."
Most of the bloggers also called for passage of hate crimes legislation now in Congress, a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act removal of all restrictions on gays serving in the military.
And while we know Obama gives a great speech, it sounds like he'll have to do better than sweet talk for this particular audience.
Co-authored with Matt Philbin