Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast
I have taken the past 12 days to process the impact of the 2008 election. On the one hand Barack Obama’s landslide has provided me the greatest hope that I have felt in decades; on the other I feel disgust at the hatred codified into law in the anti-gay ballot initiatives that passed in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.
I’ve been a Barack Obama fan since I first heard Obama deliver his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Three years ago I heard Obama speak in person at a park near where Rodolfo and I live here in Dallas. As fate would have it, Joe Biden also spoke at that gathering, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. I was impressed with Obama as I sat on the lawn listening to him address a large crowd and felt as if he was speaking directly to me. He had no notes. He just spoke from his heart.
Last December I listened to the audio book version of Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” read by Obama himself. He won a Grammy Award for the audio book. For six hours I felt as if Obama was sitting beside me sharing his views of the world, his background and his vision. After listening to his audio book Barack Obama had me. I felt that Barack Obama was the best bet for our country and he was the best hope that I, a gay man, would receive the same rights held by other Americans.
During the past year I have blogged in his support, delivered commentaries on my “John Selig Outspoken” podcast spoken out in support of him on my friend Rick Vanderslices’s weekly podcast “The Vanderslice Salon” on which I am a regular salon member. You can access Rick’s podcast at www.vanderslicesalon.com. I suggest that you give a listen to The Vanderslice Salon, previously called “The Buli Salon,” as our discussions are quite different from what one hears in the mainstream media or on other podcasts. I featured a two-part interview on episodes 35 and 36 of John Selig Outspoken. I have forwarded numerous emails containing news items, commentaries and action steps in support of Obama to a list of over 200 people. I’ve been addicted to Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s “Countdown” and more recently Rachel Maddow’s new “The Rachel Maddow Show” also on MSNBC.
I remained glued to the TV and spent countless hours scouring election coverage on the Internet throughout the past year but especially during the last six weeks of the campaign as McCain and Palin made mistake after mistake and Obama pulled ahead in the polls. I was guardedly optimistic that Obama would win. But I was still mortified that an October Surprise or Republican Party dirty tricks, including voter suppression, would stick us with John McCain and “Mooseolini.”
As I sat transfixed in front of the TV on election night I watched the results as each state’s returns were announced. When Pennsylvania turned blue on the electoral map I was elated, as I knew without Pennsylvania McCain faced insurmountable odds in reaching the critical 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president. When Obama won Ohio I knew it was over. As other states turned blue from Iowa to Virginia, to Florida to Nevada, New Mexico and others I was able to relax for the first time in years.
John McCain gave a concession speech filled with grace and compassion. Had McCain campaigned in a similar manner he would have done far better in the election. When Barack Obama walked on stage I lost it! I started sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. The tears kept flowing as my husband Rodolfo held me. I told him “for the first time in decades I could hope again.” I had pretty much given up on our country. I stopped celebrating the 4th of July several years ago as I no longer saw much worth celebrating, as under the Bush Doctrine the U.S. had become one of the bad guys.
I couldn’t believe it. We won! We have suffered through the Reagan Revolution for twenty-eight years (with an all too short eight year respite with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office). This election gave the Democrats stronger control of both houses of Congress, as well as a landslide for Obama that mandated a change in course that will impact our nation for decades. Throughout election night as I checked the Internet I continued to cry. When I got up the next morning and turned on the “Today Show” I started sobbing all over again and as I spoke with others throughout that day my eyes continued to well up.
Perhaps because I have such a diverse group of friends I tend to see a person for what they mean to me and not their color, religious preference, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or nationality. So when I’ve watched Barack Obama speak I haven’t seen an African American, I have just seen somebody that I have grown to respect, admire and trust. But as I’ve spoken with African American friends since the election the sheer magnitude of Obama wining has overwhelmed me through their pride, hope and a renewed feeling of self-respect. Obama’s election I hope will heal the great divide in this country that has nearly crippled us during the past nearly three decades. We need to grow beyond greed that has been too dominant in our society and be more concerned with community; for when we succeed together we also succeed as individuals.
During the past 12 days I’ve watched reaction from around the world as the whole globe held their breath hoping for Obama to win. Upon Obama’s victory the photos of joy seemed to melt away the hatred of America that George W. Bush inspired. The election of Obama has restored hope not only in America but also around the world. Now, I can start celebrating July 4th again.
And then there was the devastating news from the elections on same-sex marriage from California as well as Arizona and Florida along with Arkansas banning adoption by gays and lesbians. I was disgusted by this news but not disheartened. Civil rights are gained mainly through the courts, not from the voting booth. If the Bill of Rights were up for a vote by the American public today they most likely would not pass. From “Brown v. Board of Education” in 1954 to “Lawrence et al v. The State of Texas” in 2003 countless cases to end discrimination have been won in the U.S. Supreme Court. We will eventually win the right to marry from the highest court in the land. But first President Obama will need to appoint a net gain of at least one more progressive justice in order for the court to side with us.
We lost in California for a variety of reasons. Once again, we underestimated the financial and organizational power of the religious fundamentalists who oppose us. Many have argued about the fact that we didn’t include a single gay person in our ads and that that hurt us in the voting booths. Certainly our community didn’t contribute enough money to adequately fund the advertising that was needed.
A lesson that we must learn is that no matter the threat the LGBT community must be united and get behind any issue that makes it into the public discourse be it gays in the military, ENDA, hate crimes, gays in the Boy Scouts or same-sex marriage. All too often I hear LGBT people say that an issue on the table isn’t that important to them so they don’t get involved. Typically we don’t pick the issue, the issue picks us. Every issue confronting the LGBT community is critical to each and every one of us. When we lose on any LGBT issue we lose big and our adversaries capitalize on a win on any issue to keep picking away at our rights and to raise money by propagating fear against us. Every one of us should have contributed money to the campaigns in each of these states but especially in California, which was a critical beachfront for our fight, since we had already won the right to marry there.
Vilifying African Americans in California who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama while voting in favor of Proposition 8 by 70% for and 30% against isn’t the answer. African Americans only accounted for 6% of the total vote in California so they can’t be blamed for our loss. As a white person it is certainly perplexing that African Americans who have suffered unimaginable hate could turn around and vote against the civil rights of others. However, the power of religious dogma knows no boundary when it comes to race. We as a community have a great deal of work to do to overcome the hate spewed from the pulpit. Marginalizing another minority is not the answer. Opening minds by coming out and telling our stories is the answer. Empowering African Americans who are also LGBT in telling their stories to their families, friends, coworkers and neighbors is also the answer. Spreading hate makes us just as culpable as our adversaries.
Fortunately, thanks to the November 4th election come January we will have a Congress under even stronger Democratic control and a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. During the campaign I pointed out that the most important issue of this election was the U.S. Supreme Court. The two justices on the bench that are the oldest, John Paul Stevens (age 88) and Ruth Baider Ginsburg (age 75) are amongst the most liberal. Had McCain been elected we would have been screwed. Stevens and Ginsburg, along with several other justices, are likely to be replaced by President Obama whether he is in office for four years or eight. If Obama is able to replace one conservative justice with a liberal one the court will be much more likely to rule in our favor. Once that is accomplished we have a much stronger position to make advances.
The results on the federal level on November 4th were extremely positive. But we cannot sit back and wait for those in power to grant us our rights. We must demand them. Nobody is going to just hand them to us. The election results means that we have executive and legislative branches more open towards our demands and who are more likely favor us whereas us prior to November 4th we had a president who wouldn’t even listen to us. But, and this is a big but, we must not make the mistake of being complacent. We must continue to raise our voices so that our civil rights are protected.
Just a few days after the November 4th election I started hearing about a nationwide protest on November 15th, yesterday, against the passage of the hateful Proposition 8 in California and the rights for gays and lesbians to marry their same-sex partner. The national protest for same-sex marriage was organized by “Join The impact” (www.jointheimpact.com). In just ten days they were able to pull off protests in over 300 cities in all 50 states around the U.S.
Rodolfo and I attended the Dallas protest yesterday, which was a huge success. It was held in front of Dallas City Hall and estimated by the press to be between 1,000 and 1,200 people in attendance. I have been to many protests by the LGBT community and have even organized several myself during my StopDrLaura.com days. This protest had the largest turnout in Dallas I have ever seen of the LGBT community. The crowd was energized and there was tons of media coverage. I stood next to Rodolfo as we held our signs reading “Married 5 Years — The Sky Isn’t Falling” complete with a photo of us during our marriage in Toronto, Canada. I looked out at a sea of signs and saw proud members of the LGBT community as well as many straight allies sticking up for our rights. I was extremely proud. My gay activist friends that always attend protests were there but so were many faces that I didn’t know. There were many young people and many older people and many straight people. Their was a straight mom with her young daughter whose dad was gay; the mom wanted her daughter to see that all people should have the right to marry regardless of their sexual orientation. And all this came together in over 300 cities in 50 states in just ten days! It happened right after we got our country back, when hope was reignited. Be sure to check out the podcast blog at www.johnseligoutspoken.com to see some photos that I took at the Dallas protest as well as a video or two of the event. If you look closely you might notice Rodolfo and yours truly. There is also a link to an emotional “Special Comment” that Keith Olbermann delivered on his “Countdown show on MSNBC on Monday November 10th called “Gay Marriage Is a Question of Love.” Keith had tears in his eyes as he delivered his “Special Comment.”
How easy it would be to become complacent. How easy it would be to just let Obama and a Democratic Congress do our work for us. How easy it would be to let activists in the Blue States do all the work as well. Fortunately it appears that we have woken up to realize that we must all work to make sure that we have equal rights. If we wait for others it won’t get done.
We in the LGBT community need to stand together and make certain that our voices are heard loudly, far and wide and often. Never forget, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Its time to make some noise!
Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!
© 2008 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.