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June 29, 2009

Getting the President's ear


Toward the end of the Stonewall 40 celebration in the White House this afternoon, I spied Frank Kameny (whose guest I was at the event) sitting on an upholstered bench at the foot of the main staircase, and sat down next to him. I told him of a conversation I had just had: "So I said, 'Will you support the Uniting American Families Act — Jerry Nadler's bill?' He said, 'I haven't read it yet.' I said, 'Please take a look at it,' to which he said, 'I will.'"

Frank asked, "Who said this to you?" I replied, "The President of the United States."

Now I realize that getting the President to tell you that he'll look at a bill is not the most earth-shaking development, but if John Aravosis thinks I am going to pass up a chance to get a few moments of input to the most powerful man in the world, he can kiss my you-know-what.

After I chatted with Frank, I walked over to gay White House staffer Brian Bond, to whom I described my conversation with the President. Now there were a couple of hundred people at the reception, and dozens of them spoke with the President. Talking with our President is not enough, to be sure, but it is better than not talking.

Earlier, as we were waiting for Barack and Michelle to arrive, I found myself standing across the aisle from former National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Urvashi Vaid, so I said, "Urv, you're not going to get dragged out this time, are you?" referring back to 1990 when she interrupted a speech on AIDS by President George H.W. Bush by holding up a sign saying, "Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not," for which she was removed by police. Urvashi laughed and said, "No, but talk is still cheap!"

Urvashi is right. The President himself today said he expects to be judged on how he keeps his promises. We ourselves have much work to do to help see that he keeps them. But as Frank Kameny said to Deb Price in an interview after the event, "We have a friend in the White House."

The complete text of the President's remarks from the White House website is here. Washington Blade story here. I'll post more pictures when I get them.

By the way: Yes, I stood in the Blue Room and did my best Jackie Kennedy impression, telling people, "We decided to leave it just the way it was when President Blue lived here."

(Photos courtesy Bob Connelly)


Update: Being totally homosexual, I wanted to greet Reggie Love, the President's so-called body man, whose face is partially obscured in the upper right of the photo immediately above. Alas, every time I had a chance, there seemed to be a uniformed guard between him and me. So it was easier reaching POTUS than Mister Love.


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'Will you support the Uniting American Families Act — Jerry Nadler's bill?' He said, 'I haven't read it yet.' I said, 'Please take a look at it,' to which he said, 'I will.'"

Um...where to start.

Do you realize Obama and the W.H. have commented directly on the UAFA before?

I went back just two years-

Obama raised similar concerns. "As someone who believes that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights as married couples and that our immigration laws should unite families, I support the Uniting American Families Act in concept," says Obama. "But I also believe that changes need to be made to the bill to minimize the potential for fraud and abuse of the immigration system." (Obama 6/07)

“Senator Obama says ‘It’s wrong to have millions of Americans living as second-class citizens in this nation,’ but if you’re in a same-sex binational relationship, you simply have no status at all,” said Lim. “Every year thousands of gay and lesbian American citizens are forced to choose between the country they love and the person they love. Out4Immigration is heartened that the potential Democratic candidate for president has spoken so positively in favor of the UAFA.” (02/08)

Asked about Obama’s stance on UAFA [the Uniting American Families Act] and the likelihood of its inclusion in comprehensive immigration legislation, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement that: “The president thinks Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country. We will work closely with Congress to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation.” (3/30/09)


Not sure what I'm more dissappointed about- Obama's sudden selective memory or the questioner not calling him out on his previous statements. I mean since your "in his ear", wouldn't -

"Mr. President, you've come out in support of UAFA multiple times - so what's the hold up?" - have been alot more effective question?

And to back slap yourself on here, w/o even questining his response????

Ryan, those are legitimate points, but I had maybe ten seconds with the President. We were surrounded by other people eager to talk to him, in addition to Secret Service agents making sure that we didn't linger. The President is not going to commit to something in a receiving line. I just wanted to make sure that the issue was raised, and didn't get lost among all the others that get more play. I followed up with a White House staffer, and will do so further. I am aware that Obama has dodged the issue. But I wanted to be constructive, not accusatory, in my first encounter with the President. I regard that briefest of conversations as a beginning, not an end. That is what many people are missing in all this Obama has been President for less than six months. Yes, yes, yes, we must press him, but it's absurd and counterproductive to leap so quickly to denunciations and dismissals.

Rick, thanks for your response.

Perhaps if you'd noted that he DID dodge the issue, in your post. This reads more like you have a personal ax to grind with those that were critical of your attendance. The fact that you had 10 seconds in a receiving line - I believe was their point. (although, personally I can see both sides to this argument.)

However, to color this as roses w/ no mention, in the post, of the previous comments regarding the WH and UAFA seems a bit self serving.

As to the 6 month comment -

Easy to say when (I assuming) your family isn't ripped apart by the discriminatory immigration Laws in this country. Presently 40,000 BiNational couples are forced to either - Split up, live in exile in a foreign Country or live illegally in the US. Thousands have been waiting nearly a decade for movement on UAFA . Many have spent thousands of dollars jumping through the hoops that is the US Immigration System or relocating in another country. Many can not see their aging parents or family for many years.

So you’ll excuse these folks if their patience is a bit frazzled, while you bring the President ‘up to speed’ on this issue! 21 Senators and 114 Congressman have co-sponsored the measure and the White House/ candidate Obama, has given it’s/his conditional support numerous times. There was a Hearing in front of the SJC on June 3rd, that received much press. “I haven’t read it yet”- cripe it adds “Permanent Partnership” everywhere after “spouse“ in the Immigration Law - there you’ve read it!!!!

Meanwhile- the raids continue, the exiles continue, the thousands spent on Immigration and the Lawyers continue, the separation from family and loved ones continue and an apathy even from w/I our own community continues.

Surely you are aware, that the USA lags woefully behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to this issue. 19 Countries offer the right for their Citizens to sponsor their same sex partner for immigration. Most of these countries DO NOT offer same sex marriage, but realize Not to offer their citizens a path to sponsorship would rip apart families and be INHUMANE! In fact the US is the only English speaking country in the free world NOT to offer these rights to it’s LGBT citizens.

(sorry last paragraph got cut off)

With all that said and speaking as someone who's only brother is directly effected by the discriminatory immigration Laws in America - your intentions are certainly appreciated and any press is good press.

Of course those who wish to support the Uniting American families Act can do so @

Ryan, you assume wrong. I am all too painifully aware of the costs of the current discriminatory policy. My Partner Patrick, whom I met eight years ago in Cape Town, is a native of Burundi currently living in Brussels. The fact that I am part of a bi-national couple is the reason I brought up UAFA in the first place. I had wanted to pull out my wallet photo of Patrick and show it to the President to personalize the issue, but there wasn't enough time. But I have written quite a bit about what Patrick and I have been through. Here are some examples.

I have written elsewhere about the need for us to put our anger to work. It is not enough to express our anger and frustration; we must channel those feelings into productive effort. In any case, after the emotional and financial strain of the past several years of living under immigration inequality, I need no lecture on the subject.

As good as the president's brain is (and I don't want to make excuses for him), it is quite possible that in a 10 second conversation, he had no idea what the Uniting American Families Act was at that moment and gave you the standard safe answer that he gives for any piece of legislation that he doesn't immediately know what the questioner is talking about. If you had 30 seconds to talk to him, he might have asked what that bill deals with, but alas, this was merely a shake hands and smile type of situation.
If you had it to do over again, you question might have been, "Mr. President, will you support immigration for same sex partners in comprehensive immigration reform?"

Don, I know from conversations with the President's staff that he knew what I was talking about. He was just being noncommittal in a receiving line, which is understandable.

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