HRC’s Harry Knox on White House Event
June 30, 2009
This post from Harry Knox -- director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Religion and Faith Program -- reflects on yesterday afternoon's White House event marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and LGBT pride month. My husband, Michael Bozeman, and I were privileged to attend the reception at the White House in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Having felt for so many years as if the White House was not safe space for me and mine, it felt good to be in the People’s House surrounded by so many people that I consider heroes – Frank Kameny, Bishop Yvette Flunder and her wife, Shirley Miller, Bishop Gene Robinson and his husband Mark Andrew, Rev. Darlene Garner, Rev. Candy Holmes, Rev. Elder Troy Perry and his husband, Philip De Blieck… It was very nice to hold Mike’s hand while listening to President Obama honor the courage of the transgender people of color who were the catalysts for change at the Stonewall Inn 40 years ago. If the event was largely symbolic, it was a potent symbol of how far we have come since the days when I hid in the stacks of the university library reading Troy Perry’s and Fr. John McNeil’s books as fast as I could because I was afraid to actually check them out. I had very much in my mind, though, the folks I met with after church last Sunday in Elwyn, PA. They knew I was going to the event at the White House and wanted me to tell the President they need hate crimes and employment protections now, not later. With more than 250 people in the room yesterday, I wasn’t invited to interact with the President, but I and many others bent the ears of all the administration staff and Democratic Party operatives we could find to tell them that 40 years is too long for a community to organize, work, and give of its blood, sweat, tears and dollars only to have token gains to show for it. I was heartened by the President’s remarks as he made clear that he and his administration are aware of our collective frustration with the pace of change on behalf of LGBT justice. Translating that awareness into action is the hard work of advocating consistently in community. I left the White House not giddy with excitement, but more determined than ever to keep doing what I can to help the President keep his promises to us. That doesn’t mean making excuses for him or accepting excuses from him. It means continuing to mobilize everyone I can find to urge them to write or call him to tell their own stories and explain how our families are as good as anyone else’s and why we need the protections and supports that should go along with the responsibilities we willingly embrace. It means asking everyone who believes in equality for LGBT people to contact their members of Congress and ask them, not just to support pro-LGBT legislation when it finally comes to a vote, but to report on how those senators and representatives are giving leadership to make that legislation successful. There’s a powerful story about President Franklin Roosevelt that I find instructive. It is said that a group of labor leaders met with him and laid out a list of things they wanted from him. President Roosevelt is said to have ended the meeting by uttering something like this – “Fellows, I agree with everything you’ve said. Now get out there and make me do it!” It is time for us LGBT and allied folk to set aside any sense that justice work is ever as easy as voting for one candidate or another, pick up our phones, fire up our keyboards, lift our picket signs and do whatever we can, as often as we can, in every venue we can, to demand the respect we are due as human beings. We don’t have the luxury of being disappointed that just voting right last fall wasn’t enough. We have to help our friends in government keep their promises to us.