There is a scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault explains to Rick that he is shocked to find gambling going on in the nightclub. He then turns to immediately collect his winnings from the night. Whenever I hear disappointment for President Obama’s policy choices and priorities I tend to think of this scene.
When talking to friends and neighbors I am shocked that they are appalled at the President’s lack of movement on queer rights. “Why are you shocked?” He’s doing exactly what we he told us to do. Now, I am not blaming you; I also fall for his waxing eloquence. It sounds so good to hear a president who enjoys the English language for its magnitude rather than its flexibility. However, it’s not just how you say it, but what you say that counts.
From the beginning he has been a lukewarm ally in our constant struggle for equality. He openly opposes our efforts for gay marriage. His White House says that priorities like The Defense of Marriage Act have fallen from the agenda. The reality is that after the first year of his presidency the romance is wearing thin.
Our community should not feel tricked. We really did not have any other place to turn. The republicans had proven themselves to be repugnant sadists, benefitting off of our suffering. Third parties, though tempting, are still a joke in the United States. The Democratic Party was our best choice and the party knows it. The reality is that the queer community is not going to get the attention we deserve any time soon.
How did we get ourselves in this predicament? How did we align ourselves with a party that takes us for granted and another that bullies voters with tales of us? There was a time in the United States when the queer community was aligned with all sorts of progressive groups and communities. We were part of a movement that was tired of being crushed and dramatic social upheaval seemed near. We were women, latinos, blacks, queers, differently abled, asians, socialists, basically everyone that was sick and tired of being marginalized. And we didn’t rise up. Before we knew it the movement splintered and fell apart. Everyone was left to decide their own fates. For many that was the last time the queer rights movement was to be part of something bigger.
HIV/AIDS ravaged our community and left us in the precarious position of working with politicians not out of love of their politics, but because of the government purse strings they held. Democrats were more generous on health issues than Republicans at the time so we found friends in the party. People will do anything to save their family and in the 1980’s the queer community was its own family. Saving the ones we loved introduced us to a political arena devoid of radicalism and we did what we could to make sure people survived.
By the time the 1990’s had arrived there was no doubt we were a constituency of the Democratic Party. The Republicans had proven themselves to be inadequate when it came to helping those with HIV/AIDS. This led us to herald in a new Democratic President. We then watched Bill Clinton stab the queer community in the back, and then turn us over and stab us in the gut. The community should have risen up and said “No more!” but we did no such thing. There was no movement of seething anti-establishment groups left for us to reach out to and the Republican Party was no “safe zone.” We took what the Democrats gave us.
There is no need to rehash the nightmare decade as it should be remembered, but we came to the democrats again in 2008. In any other time we should have been wary of the party that had treated us so poorly in the past, but it was a time of hope and change. However, none of it really happened. There was little change. By 2010 I have lost hope. We have seen no big legislation pass that would help the queer community, unless there is some hidden Wall St. investment no one told me about. The Bush-Obama Wars continue on at full speed and in some cases accelerating. Rendition continues as an official U.S. policy. Warrantless wiretapping is still around too! At least queer people aren’t being used as a political whipping boy.
This is why I am not shocked by the President’s lack of usefulness to the queer community. At the end of the day, he’s still a democrat.