A news release on the White House website this week officially proclaims June 2009 as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month" in the U.S. The press release combines recognition of LGBT contributions with commitments to further a gay civil rights agenda. After a recent lack of movement on key gay issues, however, some are left wondering whether the newly-instituted Pride Month is being offered in lieu of real action.
The Obama press release begins by invoking the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, in which, as the White House recounts, "patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born." LGBT Pride Month, therefore, is intended to "commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans."
The proclamation then goes on to describe LGBT contributions to the fabric of American society: "LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country's response to the HIV pandemic."
From there, the President describes his administration's contributions to the gay rights movement, including appointing openly LGBT officials, supporting a United Nations resolution to decriminalize homosexuality across the globe, and supporting a civil rights agenda here at home. That agenda, the proclamation says, includes, "enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [DADT] policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security."
Much of this language is drawn from the WhiteHouse.gov website, which is itself an extreme reduction of an originally extensive LGBT civil rights agenda proposed by the president-elect before he took office. Some LGBT activists, however, are concerned that Pride Month predates any substantive action on this agenda. The phrasing "supporting civil unions and Federal rights" dodges an acknowledgment of gay marriage, and renders ambiguous the President's current commitment to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which currently stands in the way of any federal recognition of same sex unions of any sort (whether marriage or civil unions). The commitment to end DADT is likewise softened by a "national security" caveat, one that has already been publicly invoked by both the White House National Security Adviser and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to suggest that the policy is firmly in place for the foreseeable future.
If civil rights are to advance—as the proud men of Stonewall knew well—real action must eventually balance rhetoric. Whether President Obama will go beyond the symbolism of Pride Month to make concrete changes in the civil rights of LGBT Americans remains to be seen.