Viewpoint: We really were invited to the White House. Really!

I'm sure on Sunday, Dec. 20 at some non-affirming church somewhere in Washington, D.C., some hellfire-and-brimstone minister blamed the 16 inches of snow blanketing the nation's capital on the invitation of some 50-plus members of the LGBT community to the White House the preceding Thursday. But if he knew what was really happening, he'd know it's a new day where sermons on hatred and homophobia are passe.
When the possibility of a White House visit was first hinted by the National Black Justice Coalition's new executive director, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, I had my doubts. Of course one would expect it for the Human Rights Campaign or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,but for the National Black Justice Coalition, it was a bit of a stretch. Yes, we have a black president, but was the world really ready to recognize the black gay community? I was hopeful but reluctant to talk about the visit. What if it fell through? What if it was all hype? What if I was being punked? What if? What if? What if?
But as the details began to come together, I really started to get excited. And when I had to provide information for White House security clearance I knew it was real and I couldn't keep it to myself any longer. I read the e-mails on White House etiquette, started planning the perfect outfit to wear and hit the gym to buff up my arms just in case I went sleeveless and Michelle Obama was in the room.
All joking aside, this invite was huge and another moment when the LGBT community – especially the black LGBT community – took yet another step toward being recognized as equal threads in the fabric of America and that the LGBT community was as diverse as the country.
I felt the shift in October shortly after joining the board of NBJC with the announcement of the organization's new executive director. Even before meeting Sharon Lettman, I was reading about her. This straight ally with a stellar track record in social justice, known and respected by funders and skilled at uniting diverse interests to benefit the greater good, was joining our team.
At the HRC National dinner I saw her in action and realized "it was on now!" How could anyone who had worked with her politically and on social justice issues, who claimed to be progressive, look her in the eye and say, "Yes, but not for the LGBT community"?
It's a new day – not just for gay America, but especially for black gay America, which often is underrepresented in what is perceived as a white male issue. A strong, empowered black gay community is a powerful weapon in eradicating racism and homophobia. This was a message of hope and new direction I was able to share with my LGBT family each time I told someone that I was going to the White House.
Two days before leaving for Washington, D.C., I spoke before a class from Michigan State University on the future of gay civil rights. I followed an aide from Rep. Pam Byrnes office who talked about her hopes to repeal Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. After he finished, I was asked, "What can we do?" by the students.
We talked about the 2010 elections and civic engagement. We talked about how each of them needed to be OUTstanding in their community – not just being out at whatever level was best for them but also encouraging their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to be out as allies, which would immediately increase our voice – changing hearts, minds and votes.
As usual, I ended with my pet project, lobbying – locally and nationally – a perfect lead-in to what had become my tag line:
"I'm going to the White House."
Now I was under no illusion that the President and I were going to sit down for a one-on-one talk, but I was just tickled pink to be in the same space. But one student made me think when they asked "If you could say one thing to President Obama, what would you say was important for LGBT equality?"
My answer to her and to the President would be about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
If you want the country to recover economically, every American – LGBTQI and straight – must be able to bring our best, our energy, our fresh ideas to the table. We must be able to find jobs and know we will be evaluated by our performance and not be discriminated against, denied employment or fired just because we are gay. We should be able to talk about, show pictures of and provide benefits for our families so we can help build strong communities.
I was ready. I had my bag packed, my outfit selected and my statement, if asked, prepared. But as fate would have it, life through me a curve ball. It was a little something called the "Copenhagen Summit." Instead of attending the beginning of the summit, President Obama would be speaking at the end and leaving on Thursday, our night.
So we strolled through the White House. One gay man from another organization, disturbed by a picture being crooked tried to straighten it and knocked it on the floor (too funny). We took photos by the Christmas tree then waved good bye as our President boarded the helicopter.
No pose down of arms with Michelle Obama. No tete-a-tete with President Obama. But we were invited to the White House and, in its own way, that was another small step in our march toward full equality.
And the snow? Well, that was God throwing confetti in the joy that maybe, just maybe, the day is near when we will all come together in peace and equality.

Topics: Opinions

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