Obama: I was hurt that LGBT activists didn’t trust me at first
President Obama has reflected on his LGBT rights record during his Presidency – admitting he felt hurt by protests early on.
Though Obama was elected on a liberal platform in 2008, during the first few years of his Presidency, progress was slow-going on LGBT rights.
The Democrat was still officially opposed to same-sex marriage until 2012, though his private support was an open secret. Momentum on issues from the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to anti-discrimination protections was also slow, thanks to bureaucratic hurdles.
In an interview with The Atlantic, the outgoing President reflected on the protests he faced from LGBT rights activists during his first few years in office.
He said: “There have been times where on LGBT issues… when we were trying to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I got the Pentagon and Bob Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, to authorize a study of how you might end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“It was going to take a year to conduct that study, issue a report, and figure out how it might be implemented, what effect it would have on unit cohesion and military effectiveness.
“I had laid out this strategy because if I could get the Pentagon’s imprimatur on this thing, then I knew that we could end up getting legislation passed to reverse the policy, and we could get the branches of all the military to implement it.
“But during the course of that year, probably every speech I gave, I’d have gay activists just screaming at me during rallies.
“You just say, ‘Come on, man. Not only do I agree with you, but I’ve actually got a strategy to execute, we are executing it, and in what sense do you think that you yelling at me here is going to advance your cause?’.”
He added: “The problem was… they hadn’t done sufficient homework to know that I didn’t have all the capacity they thought I did in order to just execute this through the stroke of a pen.
“So I think that where I’ve gotten frustrated during the course of my presidency has never been because I was getting pushed too hard by activists to see the justness of a cause or the essence of an issue; I think where I get frustrated at times was the belief that the president can do anything if he just decides he wants to do it.
“That sort of lack of awareness on the part of an activist about the constraints of our political system and the constraints on this office.
“I think, sometimes would leave me to mutter under my breath. Very rarely did I lose it publicly. Yeah, usually I’d just smile.
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“Those are the times where sometimes you feel actually a little bit hurt. Because you feel like saying to these folks, ‘[Don’t] you think if I could do it, I [would] have just done it. Do you think that the only problem is that I don’t care enough about the plight of poor people, or gay people, or immigrants, or…?'”
Asked if the issue was trust, the President continued: “Well, I think, yes. Which is why I don’t get too hurt.
“I mean, I think there is a benefit to wanting to hold power’s feet to the fire until you actually see the goods. I get that. And I think it is important.
“Frankly, sometimes it’s useful for activists just to be out there to keep you mindful and not get complacent, even if ultimately you think some of their criticism is misguided.”
Of course, President Obama went on to have a distinguished record on LGBT rights, becoming by far the most progressive President on LGBT issues in US history.
Despite facing a hostile Congress for most of his Presidency, he signed a federal hate crime law, filed legal briefs that helped bring about equal marriage, overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, helped bring down the Defence of Marriage Act, banned homophobic discrimination for federal contractors, appointed an LGBT rights envoy, appointed a string of openly gay ambassadors and officials, oversaw a State Department that defends equality around the world, challenged anti-gay world leaders to their face, lit up the White House as a symbol of Pride, held a number of LGBT rights receptions, enshrined protections for LGBT people in healthcare law under Obamacare, issued a directive urging schools to protect LGBT students, helped block a number of homophobic Republican bills, recognised Ellen DeGeneres with a Congressional Medal of Freedom, made the Stonewall Inn a national monument, and led a nation in mourning after the Pulse tragedy.