Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Waiting for Change

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I would like to be on the right side of history for once. I would like to say I saw Obama's landslide victory, and the cheering crowds, and heard his speech, declaring, "Change has come to America" where anything is possible, I would like to say I saw all that, my heart melted, and I was swept away by a sudden burst of optimism and joy.

But in truth, my heart didn't melt. I didn't rejoice. I was relieved that the end of the Bush administration was official, but as a dyke, as a woman, what I felt was something more like grief, wondering just who the change was for, and who was going to pay for it.

I don't mean to minimize what Obama's done, what Americans have done, standing in line for hours to vote, turning out in record numbers, many for the first time. And by sweeping away every Republican in sight from the White House all the way down to the House of Representatives, voters literally changed the face of power, above all by electing the first black president. God yes, that means something. Even if it's just a sign of change, a symbol, a promise.

But how can we celebrate as queers when Obama raises his hands in victory and declares the world changed, when he has changed things so little for us? When he has made so few gestures to include lesbian, gay and transgender concerns, and actually moved his Democratic party backwards in the last two years?

Where's the change in his promises to give enormous amounts of our tax dollars like Bush to the same faith-based programs that fire queer employees and run programs that shun us, humiliate us, or try to convert us?

Like Bush, Obama campaigned extensively with anti-gay preachers condemning us as a sinners and degenerates. No doubt their hate converted a few red states into blue. Who gives a shit about the increase in gay-bashings, homeless kids, youth suicides? Who cares if they raise rates of HIV in communities, especially black communities, where churches fight AIDS by "converting" queers? Should we pop open the champagne for that? Should we celebrate votes bought with queer blood?

As he lauded the dreams of our founders and the power of democracy, voters across the nation were negating the rights of gay Americans. In California, they passed Proposition 8, stripping away our right to marriage. All Obama has had to say on the matter was that it wasn't at all the same as the miscegenation laws prohibiting the marriage of blacks and whites, and his religion taught him marriage was between a man and woman, but hey, he could be "misguided."

What change is that for queers?

Even straight Americans in search of change will have to take to the sidewalks and streets where they waited in line to vote because politicians themselves are always the same. For two years, Democrats have had a majority in the U.S. Congress and they've done nothing with it, claiming it was impossible without a filibuster proof majority. I think they just didn't want to take responsibility for anything, with their eyes on the 2008 election. What excuse will they come up with now? What risks will they take unless we push them? Who or what will they hide behind? The economy? The endless War on Terror that can justify anything?

Queers are even worse off. How can we hold Obama accountable for promises he didn't make, in meetings he was too cautious, too political, too homophobic to hold? All we can do is assert that the "American dream," that the democracy his election proved, also promises equality under the law to everyone, even queers. Even on the subject of marriage.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe when Barack Obama coasts into the oval office on the flood of an overwhelming victory, and sits down at that storied desk, he will slowly gain the solidity and weight of 305,600,000 American souls, many of them queer, and he will be transformed into more than a symbol of change, but a force for it. And he will remember and know that he is truly a president of all Americans.

I'm not holding my breath. If all our donated millions to the Democrats couldn't buy us a chicken dinner with Barack the candidate, we're not going to feast with Barack the president. I suspect he and his Democrats will continue to keep us at arms' length, and that our only hope for progress will be to extract ourselves from the national Democratic machinery that ground us up for red state votes.

Frankly my hope is the failing economy. Maybe he'll skip the faith-based payoff if the country's broke. Maybe pigs will fly.

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