“Mr. President, let’s have a chat about LGBT issues.”
That’s how I started my discussion with President Obama on Monday when he was in town to talk about healthcare.
Let’s start from the beginning.
About a week ago, we learned that Obama would be taking his fight for healthcare reform to our great city. Soon after, I was approached to be an official greeter. This role took many iterations in the ensuing days, and the last title was “clutch presenter.” To this time no one has explained the meaning of “clutch presenter,” but the title is not important. What is important and different is that in each and every city the president visits, he usually meets with a small group of individuals. They, of course, get their picture with the president, but more importantly these small groups are permitted to engage the president in a short chat — something the long-lined picture cattle calls don’t allow.
And here among the 11 picked for this honor were not one but two from our community: Abbe Fletman and me. That in itself is an indication of our community’s importance to elected officials. It also tells the president that our top officials place importance on our issues.
In these groups, most people are starstruck and in awe of being in a room with POTUS (the president of the United States). This president is so personable he attempts to get people over that shyness, but the power of the office is just too overwhelming. If you know me, I’m neither starstruck nor timid.
After he goes on stage, the president enters the small, class-sized room with a pleasant, “Hi, everyone.” And I see immediately he’s not going to get much feedback here. So I step forward and say, in a friendly and respectful way, “Let’s talk about LGBT issues.” A smile appears on the president’s face as he reaches over and says, “Nice to see you again, Mark.” Even though we have now met on numerous occasions, I’m under no illusions and know he’s been briefed on who’s in the room, but it’s still a kind gesture on his part.
Quickly, I thank him on starting the process on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Then, I ask about social and capital programs for the LGBT community. He pauses, and — this is what I really like about this president — he asks questions.
Here’s the point of this column: Our community has been so focused on ending the military ban and ENDA that we haven’t had the vision to realize the next step in the growth of our community — brick-and-mortar projects and programs for our youth, seniors and other vulnerable populations.
Each year, the U.S. government funds thousands of capital projects and programs for communities. We in the LGBT community must begin to make that a priority and take the bureaucratic and political steps to fund our projects. After all, we are tax-paying citizens, no different from other communities already receiving not millions but billions of dollars for brick and mortar for their communities. We are not addressing funding for HIV/AIDS: We are specifically dealing with LGBT community funding. But the government won’t know that unless we take the proper steps to address this ourselves by researching what programs are offered and applying. This is the next frontier of activism and equality.
Imagine the importance this president would put on our issues if we addressed them on his many visits across the country.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected].