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To Mr. Obama From His Newly Gay Constituents

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Message Elizabeth Ferrari
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"I cannot sit here idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham." -- Dr. King, 16 April 1963

The news of your choice to honor Rick Warren with the privilege of delivering your inaugural Invocation -- on a day that so many of us worked for with every wit, penny or hope we had -- has caused more pain and sadness than you can imagine. Because any invocation that issues from Rick Warren cannot be an appeal to a higher power's blessing but a conjuring of the basest spirits plaguing and dividing the American people.

While you may be right that the American people and in particular, that your supporters are "noisy, diverse and opinionated', Mr. Obama, civil rights are not an opinion. Civil rights is not one side of a balanced disagreement and it was saddening beyond expression to hear you frame the rightful and widespread recoiling from your choice in this way. Contrary to the headlines, it's not only the gay community that has been hurt by this choice to showcase Warren. It is also women like me who believe our choice is inherent and who seek to safeguard it for our daughters. It's also those of us who will never countenance anti-Semitism no matter the fount, and especially those of us who will never agree to the idea that there are some people in our society who are not fully human and so, whose life and dignity are somehow available as a bargaining chip in political negotiations.

The GLBT community has been made, unfairly, to bear the brunt of the opposition to Mr. Warren. Warren is a Dominionist, an extreme ideology associated with white supremacy, with homophobia, with anti-Semitism, with misogyny and with the intrusion of radical right wing religious views on our secular democracy. If the repudiation of Mr. Warren and his views is being labeled "gay" at the moment, then anyone who supports the Constitution and equal rights must also be gay by that measure. Mr. Obama, it seems that as people of conscience, many of us are proudly gay right now.

"This is our time". At some point soon, we will come to the understanding that "social conservatism" is a euphemism, code for "public discrimination we still accept". Because "social conservatism" has nothing to do with conservatism or with civil society. It is an implicit packaging of a group of bigotries that we as a nation still allow to pass as acceptable in our democratic society. "Social conservatism" is a rubric that allows racists to face the light of day and to openly pray for harm to come to women and to gay people. We accept that these bigotries are fanned in radical churches much as anti-American sentiment is fanned in radical madrasas. We accept them to be broadcast in public, too, just as open racism once was. The agency that a woman has over her body or that a gay person has over their life are now both more commonly accepted targets. To our shame, we have normalized these hatreds and accept them as "social" and "conservative" when they are anti-social and destructive.

Normalizing this group of institutionalized bigotries is what Rick Warren does for a living.  

I can't know why you chose Warren but, with respect, it cannot be as a credible gesture of unity. The authoritarian right reads all such gestures as surrenders and surely you know that. Reaching out to Warren and all he stands for (all that he advocates, anyway, in his cottage industry of division and disrespect) is to reach out to discrimination and so, to exclusion -- the antithesis of the purpose you describe. One of the very particular delights in your candidacy was a pleasure in your nimble intelligence, education and sweeping empathy. It's exactly because of such bright promise that seeing you embrace this destructive man and hearing you invoke "inclusion" is particularly painful. How can it be our moment when the man you've chosen to hail an Almighty advocates against the human dignity of so many? Adding that negative man to our national celebration is clearly subtraction, not addition.

It may be that the American people have for once surprised even you, Mr. Obama. It may be that for once, we're a little ahead of your estimation in our appreciation and in our respect for our fellow citizens and so, can calmly and rationally tell you: Rick Warren cannot possibly represent us well enough to summon any greater spirit of peace and strength and unity from his toxic, public positions of dehumanizing exclusion and ofdivision. Especially not on the one day every four years when we yearn most to cohere as a people. I hope coming to know we're a little better than we seem to be, noisy and diverse and opinionated as we are, is not an unwelcome surprise to you.

On the night of your election, you reminded us that what we had achieved was only a chance to effect change. While you seem to be saying your goal is to bring us together as a nation,  trading political cover to discrimination cannot result in unity. On the contrary, it's the premature precluding, the closing off of our hard won chance. That surely is the old politics that you so often dismissed on the stump. As Dr. King said in a letter you might recognize, "I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."

May you see the wisdom of that affirmation anew so all Americans can share the joy of your inauguration on that so long awaited day.


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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.
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