President Obama, for the second year in a row, issued a statement on LGBT Pride month (see 2009 statement here). The address finished just about two hours ago, and I will make a video available on this blog as soon as possible (which should be any minute now). The President reiterated his promise to change the course of our nation when it comes to equality for the LGBT community. But being a policy person, what was far more impressive to me was the list of concrete accomplishments and plans the President rolled out:
With Judy Sheppard present, the President signed into law last year a federal hate crimes law that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes protection. Watch the President's address at the signing ceremony:
The President has directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue regulations requiring any hospital that accepts Medicare and Medicaid patients to treat same sex partners the same way they treat opposite sex spouses - with full visitation rights and the right to make medical decisions on their behalf. The Secretary is nearing the finalization of those regulations, the President said today. This isn't just one state, or just one locality - this is the entire United States. Nearly all hospitals accept Medicaid and Medicare. Once these rules are final, no matter where in the country you are - California or Kansas, New York or Texas, hospitals will be required to respect the dignity of same sex families.
Obama also signed an executive order extending as many federal benefits to same sex partners of federal employees as current law would allow. The benefits include counseling services, including adoption counseling. Despite a bru-ha-ha from the conservative reactionaries, those benefits will go a long way towards treating gay federal employees as equally as possible (under current law) as their straight counterparts.
At the direction of President Obama, the Department of Labor will announce tomorrow regulations that will mandate family leave for same-sex parents the same way federal law now does for married, heterosexual couples. The Family Leave Act of 1993 already allows for time off for adoptive parents, and this administration is the first to apply that law to same sex couples. It will also allow gay employees to take time off to care for a loved one.
There is no doubt that the LGBT community has not seen a friendlier administration, and that this President is committed to fairness. The end of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is on track, and Congress is ready to pass it with this year's Defense Appropriations bill. I believe this will happen, despite the Republicans' threat to filibuster funding for our troops altogether if the repeal of DADT is in the bill.
In his speech today, the President also called for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the adoption of a law allowing equal rights and benefits for same sex couples. He also urged swift passage of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
I wanted to lay this out today because too many members of our community are hard pressed to realize that change is hard, but that it is happening. Too many of us are too quick to blame the President for not making progress on LGBT rights, when he already has. Our fight is far from over, but we must acknowledge that President Obama is our ally, not our adversary. We must work with him, not against him.
Update 7:55 pm Pacific: Video of the President's remarks is now available: