With Rick Warren Flap, Gay Activists Say Obama Has Long Been a ‘Mixed Bag’

Gay activists question Obama's commitment to LGBT issues.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

In my earlier post about Rick Warren at the inauguration and whether Barack Obama could simultaneously reach out to the gay rights and evangelical movements, I may have overstated the warm reviews from the gay activist community for the performance of the Obama campaign and transition team.

For a story on usnews.com today, I spoke with David Smith, vice president of the Human Rights campaign, who said Obama's gay outreach to date has been a "mixed bag." He said HRC had been disappointed in how few openly gay appointments Obama had made so far. The only such appointment to a prominent White House post so far, according to Smith, is Nancy Sutley as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Here's what Smith told me:

"The Obama team has sent a very uplifting message that positive change is coming for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] Americans, but we haven't seen it yet. There has been no concrete evidence of inclusion. That's the environment in which this Warren announcement happened—it exacerbates the level of disappointment that exists."

He also stressed that symbolism—not just policy—matters to the gay rights community:

"The inauguration represents the dawn of his presidency, so the symbolism is unmistakable. To have a man who so vociferously opposes LGBT equality . . . it almost gives license that the reverend's views are somehow tolerable or acceptable.

"You can think of a whole host of people who the president wouldn't have selected for the inauguration because of their viewpoints on race or because of their religious bigotry. By having this man [Rick Warren] speak at the dawn of the presidency, it's like saying his views are not unacceptable.

"Even though he says he disagreed with [Warren], it's like having an anti-Semite open the program."

Wow. That's pretty strong language. But it's a reminder that many of the groups that embraced Obama on the campaign trail won't necessarily fall in line with him now.

For instance, here's what Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said about Obama when his organization endorsed him last June: "I've been consistently impressed by Senator Obama's willingness to speak about GLBT issues in front of diverse audiences. Matters of life and livelihood for GLBT Americans are on the line in this election and after eight years of an antigay stranglehold on the presidency, Senator Obama's message of fairness and acceptance is a breath of fresh air."

Here's what Solmonese said yesterday in a protest letter to Obama:

"Your invitation to Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans. Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8, which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry, is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years. And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans have a place at your table."

  • Read more about evangelical voters.
  • Read more about Rick Warren giving the invocation at Obamas inauguration.
  • Read more about gay rights.
  • Read more by Dan Gilgoff.