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Fri04182014

Opinion

Why Mrs. Obama got heckled

LZ granderson-160

(CNN) – I'm a big fan of Michelle Obama's, but if she's going to be hitting the circuit to raise money for Democrats, she has to be prepared for heckling. Especially heckling from gay rights activists like the one who interrupted her speech Tuesday night.

"Lesbian looking for federal equality before I die." That's how Ellen Sturtz, the woman identified as the heckler, identified herself.

Apparently the first lady's husband said something about signing an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sturtz had the nerve to ask the president to keep his word.

And it's not like signing an order will rock Washington's world – as The Washington Post pointed out, of the "employees of federal contractors that are in the Fortune 1000, 92 percent are already protected by a company-wide sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy, and 58 percent are already protected by a gender identity nondiscrimination policy."

Still President Barack Obama made a promise: It's not unreasonable to expect him to keep it.

Especially when one out of every 16 of his "bundlers" – those who organize super fund-raisers – during the 2012 election was openly gay. The Washington Post says of his top 2012 bundlers, one is six was gay. And that more than 75 percent of voters who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voted for him. And yet the changes Obama has wrought since he was first elected often feel as if they're being handed out like doggie treats, and not championed with the same urgency that Democrats showed on the campaign trail.

Heckling the first lady wasn't fair because she isn't responsible for policy. But the incident sent a message to those who are responsible: We are people, not pawns.

But this is what happens when a bloc of voters – be it the LGBT community, Latinos, women – surrenders its voting power to a political party as opposed to a principle. Not all Republicans are anti-gay, not all Democrats are pro, and it's the rare politician who will do something "bold" that isn't politically expedient.

In Illinois, the House of Representatives, controlled 71-47 by Democrats, chose not to vote on same-sex marriage legislation, with some members saying they needed to talk it over with their constituents. A rationale that doesn't hold much water because the Senate passed the bill 34-21 in February. State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican, voted in support of same-sex marriage after adding a religious liberty amendment to the bill.

Many activists are pointing fingers at the Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus for not playing ball. This seems ironic, considering the first item under the subject line "What Are They Fighting for?" is civil equality.

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, chairman of the Black Caucus, did not return my calls. But he did tell the Windy City Times that it was unfair to pin the bill's failure on the caucus, adding, "This is not the Black Caucus' burden."

Because lord knows black folks have nothing to do with gay folks, right Ken?

Gregory Angelo, the Log Cabin Republicans' national executive director, told me that "if there's any lesson to learn from this is that Democrats can't pass marriage equality on their own. They need Republican support."

And the LGBT community would be wise to remember that. The Republican Party may house the most vocal, and sometimes offensive, opponents – but that doesn't mean that all Democrats are proponents or courageous enough to fight. The Senate Republicans in Rhode Island became the first legislative caucus in the country, of either party, to vote unanimously for same-sex marriage.

The truth is the Illinois Democrats promised to bring the bill to a vote and they didn't. It's likely they are stalling to see what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the two same-sex marriage cases it heard this spring. Decisions are expected later this month. The Illinois House has until August 31 to vote.

This is a little political cover that may be smart but flies in the face of the party's national platform: "We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples."

But Democrats have trampled on that promise before, and fairly recently.

In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he supported marriage for same-sex couples. But he recently opposed an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would have included same-sex couples because he thought it would make Republicans kill the bill. The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't even want to vote on it. Basically Schumer wants same-sex couples to get married in his home state – but if you're binational, he'll let the government deport your spouse.

So the LGBT community gets tossed under the bus – again – as if our families are not worth voting for. As if we don't deserve a public record of which Democrat is for us and which is against us.

Heckling Mrs. Obama wasn't fair to her.

But taking the LGBT community for granted isn't fair to us either.

(LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com.)

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