Joe Solmonese Interview: Why Gays Should Trust Obama

Joe Solmonese says he disagrees with gay rights advocates who are disappointed in President Obama.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The news media has paid a lot of attention to disappointment in the gay rights movement over the Obama administration's alleged slow-walking on their issues, especially the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign—the nation's largest gay right group—doesn't share those sentiments. He explained why in a recent hour-long interview with me.

Solmonese's bottom line: He sees a clear legislative strategy and schedule for Obama delivering on his many promises to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, with a number of more modest victories—like signing an expanded hate crimes bill into law—coming before the attempted repeal next spring of don't ask, don't tell. (Solmonese is less sure about repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, noting that legislation to do so hasn't been introduced in Congress.)

Solmonese's continued bullishness on Obama has been criticized by some gay rights activists, who say he's too cozy with the administration and is carrying its water. But Solmonese argues that achieving big victories for LGBT Americans in Washington will be the result of a long legislative slog, with all the organizing, lobbying, and vote counting that entails. It won't be brought about by President Obama snapping his fingers, Solmonese says.

Here's my exchange with him on the military's don't ask, don't tell policy:

How confident are you that Obama will overturn don't ask, don't tell?

I'm certain. The president has made the commitment, and people working for the president that we work with have made the commitment. I have no doubt it will be overturned.

So what's the holdup?

The administration views this in the context of the broader issues agenda they are working with Congress on, everything from the economy and healthcare to hate crimes. They see the overturning of don't ask, don't tell along that spectrum as something that will likely happen next spring. I see a road map of six-month windows: the hate crimes bill, then the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, then don't ask, don't tell. And the administration is building a case in the military leadership and Congress and the rank-and-file members of the military.

So you think LGBT complaints of White House foot-dragging are unfair?

I don't see them dragging their feet. But where the LGBT community is feeling frustration is that the road map and timetable have not been made as clear to them. Sometimes there is simply the need for reassurance from the president. I've seen a great deal less frustration since the president spoke on June 29 [the Stonewall anniversary] and recommitted to [our] issues. And the president signed the memo expanding the nondiscrimination policy for federal employees and calling on Congress to give him a bill extending healthcare benefits to domestic partners. It's probably as frustrating to him and his administration that things are not moving as quickly as we would like.

Read more of the interview here.