gwen smith

You don’t need me to tell you that change is in the air. Our president—and it is refreshing to be able to say “Our President” and mean it—hit the ground running, making a clean break from the policies of his predecessor.

I have never seen so much good news come out of the oval office so quickly. After eight years of dread about what might happen next, I feel heartened, even emboldened.

In the midst of the inauguration, there had been some concern over President Obama’s choice of pastor for his inauguration, Rick Warren, as well as further bitterness over his choice of Gene Robinson at another event as, seemingly, a “token”. Many felt that this was a signal that this administration would not be as friendly to GLBT Americans as once thought.

For me personally, I think the choice of pastor for inauguration day is a far smaller issue than what happens every other day during a president’s term. I am heartened by his stance on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepherd Act, with what I believe would be the first time that the White House website has used the phrased “gender identity or expression.” Certainly the first time in a positive form.

Yet maybe it was good that President Obama picked Rick Warren for one reason alone. It is, to me, a reminder that we must avoid complacency. We need to make sure that our needs are known. Indeed, we may need this more now than we have in the last eight years.

It was not that long ago that a fresh-faced President Clinton took the Oath of Office. Many felt that he would be the president for GLBT issues, and that we would see an ENDA passed on his watch. Many quickly slid into complacency, feeling that he would simply handle things for us. We quickly discovered, as he passed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, that maybe we had not thought our clever plan all the way through.

The selection of Rick Warren reminds us that we need to press on, rather than assume someone else can do our fighting for us. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” We need our next generation of leaders to stand alongside those who have been on the front lines, and take the fight for our rights back to the grassroots. We all need to make our voices heard in Washington, without assuming that someone else will do the work we want to see done.

This is our community’s failure in allowing HRC to be our spokes-organization in Washington. We feed them money and, well, haven’t seen much in return aside from a posh office in Washington, D.C. and a lot of promises. Oh, and a lot of statements about how sorry they are that they had to throw transpeople under the bus yet again. This is also our community’s failing in California with Proposition 8. Outside strategists were brought in to run the campaign, and they missed all the things that were important to us—including, I would add, that there are transgender couples affected by this bill as well.

Likewise, let us not forget that our opponents will also be pressing at the local, state, and federal levels in attempts to keep our rights from becoming law. For example, a group calling themselves MassResistance is using the Proposition 8 victory as justification to fight a transgender rights bill in Massachusetts, claiming that this bill—which they dubbed the “Cross-dresser bill”—will allow men to use women’s gym locker rooms and restrooms. There will be plenty more where this came from, regardless of who is in the White House. This is why we must continue to fight, and not give in to complacency.

Anyone can write a note to President Obama. There’s a whole page of possible ways to do so at www.whitehouse.gov/contact/, including phone, fax, TTY and TTD numbers, as well as a handy web-based form. Tell him that our rights matter. Remind him that ENDA does need to cover transgender people, and that it does indeed need to pass. Push on the Matthew Shepherd Act. Heck, just simply let the president know that you are a transgender person or an ally, and that the rights of transgender people matter to you. While you’re at it, let’s not forget that bills need to pass through congress before they can alight on the president’s desk. Find your representative at writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and your senators at www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm, and let them know these issues are important.

Likewise, your state and local elected officials should know that your rights matter. You’ll find all their contact information on the World Wide Web as well—there’s simply too many for me to attempt to list here.

There’s one more thing to consider: Our president has called each of us to service, in one way or another. While we’re letting our elected officials know our rights mater, why not give a bit of ourselves, when we can, to others. Our organizations can provide service and action beyond simply fighting for our needs, and can seek to help offset some of the bigger issues we as Americans face. We can and should make ourselves known not only for what we need, but for what we can do to help the needs of others.

This is change, good and hopeful. Let’s be a part of it, now.

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