On the September day that Tyler Clementi threw himself off the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, his thoughts may have dwelt only on the absolute need to escape his demons. He probably assumed that his suicide, like others before his, would go unreported, as our American news media finds Lindsey Lohan’s most recent rehab stint more compelling than thousands of annual suicides committed by members of the LGBT minority. His death, however, and the string of suicides by gay teens that followed in the next twenty days awakened the sleeping conscious of the American public. The month of October brought not only Facebook campaigns to wear purple in solidarity with the LGBT community, but also a widespread response to stop bullying from public figures.
Of all the messages springing up across the U.S., the most watched and perhaps most controversial of them all belongs to the resident champion of hope himself, President Barack Obama. In a three minute video, Obama calls on the bullied members of the LGBT community to fight discrimination “in all of its forms” not only for themselves but also for the greater public good. Drawing from self- proclaimed personal experience of being picked on for his dissimilarities, he asserts that, with time, the victims will see their “differences as a source of pride and…strength.” However, it is in his least intricate moments that his sincerity takes center stage–the phrase “you are not alone” comes across as a fatherly reminder to persevere, as does his premonition that “it does, indeed, get better.”
Apparently, it gets better for everyone but the President himself, who suffered a negative backlash for his video message. His comments would not be causing such a negative outpouring of criticism if not for his administration’s consistent inaction in response to the LGBT community’s plea for the repeal of the military’s policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It appears downright traitorous that the President, who based some of his early campaigning on gay rights and fully backed the repeal of DADT from the start, would now turn his back on the LGBT community, almost as if he abused their needs for his own gains.
That conclusion, however, is fundamentally wrong. There’s a stark difference between getting the job done and getting the job done right. We cannot hope to permanently move past the outdated DADT issue without the same Congressional action that imposed it. True, Obama could go behind closed doors and order the removal of the ban under the guise of utilizing all available troops in the face of war, but that strategy would not only bring minor and temporary relief to the problem but also en-danger future Democratic policies. If he forced the removal of DADT without Congressional consent, he could not guarantee the permanency of its absence, as the next Republican president who comes along could easily reverse Obama’s order. Moreover, the dire consequences of ignoring an old tradition loom over the President’s head, as the Justice Department habitually defends Congressional laws when a court case calls those rulings into question. This ritual puts Obama in a corner, forcing him to publically endorse an appeal to a ruling he personally supports. Supporting the ruling would overwhelmingly politicize the issue in favor of the GOP, so that the Democrats would have to hold their tongues the next time a Republican president declined to defend a progressive and liberal supported measure.
So instead of accusing the President of possessing a cold heart and turning our backs on him, as a nation we need to be patient in allowing Obama to maneuver through the confining legalities of Congress to make a permanent change, not just one that can be disposed of at the whim of the next President.
Sarah Hulsman is a freshman media studies major
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