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Elizabeth Birch guest post: "I am going to work as hard as I can to reelect this President"

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I remember how excited people were about Elizabeth Birch being hired to run the Human Rights Campaign back in 1995 - the worldwide director of litigation for Apple computers coming to run America's largest gay rights group, wow. I met Elizabeth for the first time right after she took the HRC job. She held a meet-and-greet on the House side of the Hill, and like many of us who have a legal education, myself included, you wouldn't be surprised on meeting Elizabeth to discover that she's a lawyer. ;-) She's quite smart, has a quick mind, and a no-bs attitude towards things. At the time, she brought a new level of expertise to the gay rights movement that I don't recall seeing before.

I asked Elizabeth if she'd be interested in penning a guest post for AMERICAblog Gay since she was mentioned a few days ago in another post on this blog written by Heather Cronk of GetEQUAL, discussing the recent $1.4m Obama re-election fundraiser she attended at the home of a lesbian couple in Washington, DC. Elizabeth graciously accepted.

Elizabeth Birch is General Partner of True Blue Inclusion.

A Dinner
by Elizabeth Birch

I have known I was gay since I was a little kid. I am a US-born, and Canadian bred, lesbian. I have been out since 1975. I have been out in every setting since I left home in my mid-teens.

I ran off with my first young girlfriend to Hawaii, supported myself, put myself through undergraduate and law schools, and I have done everything in my power over the course of my life to translate my experience as a gay person in whatever setting I have found myself in -- whether that was working in the carnival, food joints and other survival jobs, eventually a law firm, a high tech firm (Apple) or on Capital Hill. It has been true for every place I have lived in or visited both here and around the globe. I came from a modest beginning and ventured out into the world with very little. But I was always intimately aware that I was gay -- and that was a source of strength and distinction.

So what is the greatest and worst thing about our community these days? First, the greatest is that we are alive at this time of history. We are alive at a great awakening where in some parts of the globe, there is a growing understanding that LGBT people exist, are part of every community and should be accepted. At times it begins in the culture and at times it begins with policy and law -- it's slow and hard, but mostly humanity seems to plod forward.

What is the worst part? It is the shooting gallery that sometimes marks our discourse. I attended a dinner, as the guest of Andy Tobias, with President Obama last week. I had many dealings with both the Clinton and Bush Administrations over the years. The overwhelming point I made when I came away from that meal was the same point I have been making for a couple of years: that is, President Obama has done the nearly impossible. He actually broke through the long, hard, toxic wall commonly known as the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Congress is designed to stop things from happening. Then add "LGBT" to anything, and multiply that difficulty by ten. There are a myriad of ways to bottle, burn, strip out and generally mutilate any idea, initiative, or dream. Congress is the dream killer. I once told Senator Kennedy that I thought of Congress as watching people play chess under water in a toxic swamp. It is remarkable that anything ever becomes law.

When I moved to Washington to head up HRC, I arrogantly thought I could bring fresh energy and Silicon Valley smarts, and we would bust through Congress in no time. That was 1995. ENDA is still a bill floating around Congress. But this young President has delivered something essential and remarkable. He has actually broken through -- first with a small hole (the Hate Crime bill) and then with a cannonball (DADT). He does not do it with fanfare or demand approval or take victory laps. He just does it. You cannot speed him up or slow him down. He works through each issue, expends the political capital necessary, twists the arms that need twisting, he leads -- and he gets it done. I know because I witnessed it from Pentagon where I worked quietly with clients on DADT for a couple of years leading up to certification.

So, it is remarkable that we get to be the beneficiaries of these vitally important new holes that have opened in a very old wall. And, if one can break through the industrial military complex, as our President has done, so much more seems inevitable.

What is the worst part of our time? It is not the debating or the pushing or the demanding of higher standards and principles. That is the job of our community and it is all good and important. No, the worst part is that we think it is okay to engage in incomplete discourse. I went to dinner. That's all. No one called to have a solid conversation about my thoughts -- a real discussion about anything.

I went because I deeply respect this President. Maybe it's the kid that ran off to Hawaii to survive. Or maybe it is the kid that came from Hawaii to be President. I don't know what anyone else owes President Obama. But I owe him my gratitude for actually leading a nation that finally includes LGBT people in its federal law. He is a leader. I think we need to nurture leadership and, as gay people, we should recognize that the greatest attribute is not necessarily "tough skin." We should work harder to not thicken it in one another.

I am going to work as hard as I can to reelect this President. I will leave the shooting galleries to others.

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