Rachel Bunting

the president has left the building: an open letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Obama:

You are officially uninvited from all future gatherings at Casa Buneke. We will be removing your visage from our front window, and your life-size cardboard cutout, which we have lovingly displayed for the past year, will be put away in the far reaches of a closet we never go into. That’s right: it’s your turn to be in the closet.

Oh, we had such high hopes for you last November – when John Stewart displayed your picture and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the 44th president of the United States,” we were stunned into happy, happy silence. The people crammed into our small apartment to watch the election results on our small tv were so pleased we couldn’t react. We couldn’t believe the victory had been won so quickly, so early in the night – before the West Coast was counted.Who needs California, right?

Since then, I have spent the past year defending you to a number of people, including my frustrated and skeptical girlfriend. I tried to remind her of the wonderful things you’ve done: signing the Ledbetter Act into law; advancing communication from the White House through new media channels; pushing through the economic stimulus; calling Kanye West a “jackass.” I even tried to talk her through the gay rights frustrations – of course Obama’s not tackling federal gay marriage right now, I told her, because how can we offer marriage to a minority group when it won’t apply to those in the military? And of course he’s not taking on DADT – but I bet he’ll do it before the end of his first term. And besides, I reminded her, he did sign the Matthew Shepard Act, and he supports a trans-inclusive ENDA. I still had hope, Mr. Obama.

But this, my friend, is entirely too much.

On the heels of gay marriage defeats in Maine and New York, and a postponement (which looks, at this point, to be indefinite) in New Jersey, followed by a Senate healthcare reform bill that reinstates the gay tax, this is so entirely heartbreaking. Here you have a chance to make good on your promises to the gay community, who you courted so carefully during your presidency. You were a shining star in our eyes, Mr. Obama, a tiny spark of hope in the long darkness left behind by the Bush Administration. You gave us a reason to believe that soon enough, we would be equal.

And you have let us down again.

During your campaign, when you participated in the HRC discussion panel, you captured my attention. You talked about being unwilling to compare victimology, that while you saw parallels between the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and the gay rights momentum building now, you wanted to be careful about making too many comparisons. I respected that, I thought it was wise. And you talked about how you could empathize with our struggle, you, the child of an interracial couple. You set yourself up as an ally, you made us believe – despite your insistence on civil unions – that we could trust you. And we did.

But I wonder now: how much do you really understand? Have you ever been afraid of angering friends, parents, siblings, because of your relationship? Have you ever had that fear come to fruition? Have you ever been afraid of talking about your partner at work because you are surrounded by people who don’t value the qualities and characteristics that make people unique? Have you ever engaged in debate where someone tells you that you are not part of a class of people that deserves protected status? Perhaps you have. I don’t know your life experience as well as you do, but perhaps you have. And if so, shame on you for forgetting what that’s like.

So now, I will put you away, in the closet. I know it’s nothing more than a futile, silly, symbolic gesture on my part. But I hope somewhere, in the depths of your being, you feel it.



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