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The Last Thing We Should Do is Wait

Between President Obama’s speech at the HRC National Dinner on Saturday night and the inspiring crowd of pro-equality marchers who gathered at the Capitol on Sunday, it was quite a weekend. In my mind, it all reflected the undeniable fact that we in the LGBT community and our allies have a new-found energy and focus on what needs to be done to achieve the equality we’ve been promised and that we deserve. Of course, we are not a community that sees everything through the same lens (and thank goodness for that!), so there have been nearly as many different views of what really went down this weekend as there were people marching past the White House. With this in mind, I want to address some of the issues people have been discussing and talk about how I see us all moving forward.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the reaction some people had to my comment that on the last day of President Obama’s term, we will be able to look back on many accomplishments in LGBT rights. I still find it hard to believe that anyone thought I was saying that we should be content to wait patiently for our equality. What I said—and what I believe in my heart—is just the opposite.

We all worked hard to elect a President who supports our rights and now that we’re in a position to make change happen, the last thing we should do is wait. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA are still on the books and an inclusive ENDA has yet to become law. Real families are left without protections and people living with HIV and AIDS aren’t getting the care they need. Students are being bullied in school because they’re different and bi-national couples are treated like they’ve never met. While we’ve started to turn the tide, it’s clear that our community has a lot of reasons to be angry and impatient, and I’m thankful to the tens of thousands who joined us in Washington this weekend to demand a change.

So while I steadfastly believe that we will have accomplished an awful lot by the time President Obama leaves office, I know that wishing won’t make it so.

The fact is, we’ve got an agenda. It includes repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, passing an inclusive ENDA, repealing DOMA, and getting real protections for families and people with HIV/AIDS. How do we make all this happen? We have to pass laws. When it comes to changing the lives of LGBT Americans, that’s the name of the game. Whatever the president does or doesn’t say, whatever I say and however anyone decides to read it, there is only one way to pass a law: secure a majority of votes in the House and a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. This is a lot easier said than done, but one thing is certain: when an LGBT bill gets to the Oval Office, this president will sign it.

We’re on the cusp of an inclusive hate crimes bill becoming law and that monumental victory provides some useful lessons moving forward. We didn’t get to this point by sitting around waiting. Since its introduction 12 years ago, we have faced a promised veto from the Bush White House and at times unfriendly congressional majorities. But our members and supporters fought hard, filling Capitol Hill switchboards and inboxes. As part of strong coalitions, we put pressure on Members of Congress – working with our allies and standing up to our opponents. When the right-wing called the bill the “Pedophile Protection Act” we fought back. When our opponents claimed the bill was a threat to religious liberty we brought hundreds of clergy to Washington to unmask the lie. That’s how we won and we’re going to have to keep doing it with more energy than we thought possible.

I measure our success by the impact we’re having on the people who vote for our bills. So far this year we have engaged thousands of people to go to in-district lobbying visits on Hate Crimes, ENDA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DOMA, and our family benefits and protections agenda. We’ve reinforced that with our own lobbying work here in Washington. Now, the measure of this weekend’s march will be how many people put the pressure on their Members of Congress when they go back home.

Will Obama be with us? Absolutely. Has he made his position clear? He has. Can he generate all of the votes that we need? No. Only we as a community can. We all know by watching the health care debate that the President can’t make those votes happen without pressure from the grassroots. And that’s us.

In the uproar over what President Obama didn’t say, something he did say got lost. He said that we will pass this agenda “day by day, law by law.” We can only move each law day by day if we move Congress, vote by vote. We as a community can do that. We have been doing that and no one who believes in our equality has a moment to wait.

That is why our confidence in what we will accomplish under this President is not misplaced. At the end of the day, it is confidence in ourselves. I have confidence in the LGBT community and the people who support us. We will claim the equality that is our birthright, day by day, vote by vote, law by law.