Sunday, November 8, 2009

Preaching Patience

From the Parkville Luminary 11-6-09

At our house, our favorite character in “Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is Veruca Salt, the spoiled girl who constantly whines “I want it nooowww”. As you recall, this bad attitude leads to trouble, specifically, Veruca impudently snatching some experimental gum and turning into a giant, juicy blueberry.

My wife and I use Veruca’s story regularly on our impatient son, much to his chagrin.

Veruca’s story is equally applicable to groups attempting to sway public policy, like, for example, the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Gay rights activists: You would not look good in purple.

“I want it nooowww” sentiments seem to run rampant in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community. This disenchantment exists despite more progress in this area last few months than during eight years of the previous administration, including extending federal hate crime laws to cover homosexuals. Also, “Obama has expanded some federal benefits to same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their same-sex partners in certain embassy programs available to opposite-sex spouses,” according to the Associated Press (10-29-09).
Still, a few weeks ago, negative sentiments were on display at an equal rights rally in Washington, D.C. attended by thousands. One newspaper account of the rally characterized the attendees as “impatient and discouraged” by the lack of progress on key issues like don’t-ask, don’t tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Washington Post reported, “Attendees expressed complicated feelings about Obama….Many people said they were disappointed by what they see as a lack of action on key gay-rights issues…”

Rather than emulate Veruca, the wisest policy for supporters of LGBT rights would be to exercise a little patience and understanding.

The president is swamped with health care reform and Afghanistan. Half of politics is 90% timing, as Yogi Berra might say, and the timing isn’t right yet to tackle the key LGBT issues. For a lesson on timing, examine the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark legislation, which outlawed public segregation, would not have been possible a year earlier, while JFK was alive, nor a year later, when the goodwill towards JFK’s agenda after his assassination had largely evaporated.

President Obama will be a more effective, empowered advocate for LGBT causes if he has a few months to pass health care and articulate a vision for Afghanistan. Once he does these things, Obama has pledged to tackle don’t-ask, don’t tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act.

These are vital issues not only for the LGBT community, but for all Americans who value freedom and equality. As long as any of us is subject to discrimination or bigotry, our society can never be considered free. Years from now, those who currently oppose gay rights will be scorned the same way, decades later, that we deride the bigots who opposed civil rights in the 50’s and 60’s.

However righteous the cause, political realities and expediencies can not be ignored. The supporters of LGBT rights must allow the president to get his feet underneath him, and allow him to get a few noteworthy successes under his belt, before he deals with these admittedly contentious issues.

Don’t forget, in “Willy Wonka”, the patient Charlie came out the winner, while Veruca was rolled off to oblivion.

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