Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Going to the White House on June 29th 2009

a personal reflection by Robyn Ochs

Peg and I were invited guests at a historic event: June 29, 2009 marked the first time a United States President ever hosted a reception for LGBT people at the White House. I was there representing BiNet USA and the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC).

Yesterday’s reception was an important symbolic moment. While symbols are not the same as action, they have their own value and power. The President and the First Lady warmly welcomed into the White House a group of people that has historically been excluded.

Remember: It was our community's creativity, hard work, and persistence that built the road that brought us to the White House.

When Peg introduced me to the Obamas as her wife, and they looked into our eyes and shook our hands, I was profoundly moved. “We will get there,” President Obama assured me. I’m not certain whether his “there” is exactly the same as my “there,” but I believe him.

Robyn & Peg with President Obama at the White House on Monday June 29th 2009

Looking around the room at elected officials, government workers, seniors, lesbians, gay men, trans activists, activists of color, cultural workers, youth activists – of course, many in the room were wearing multiple hats – I was struck by the size and by the wonderful diversity of our movement. For every familiar face in the room, there were so many more movers and shakers who were not present.

I hope that President Obama understands the sense of urgency that we in the LGBT community are feeling right now. It is very hard to wait to be equal. Every day that passes, actual people are harmed. Qualified and competent soldiers such as Dan Choi are discharged. LGBT families suffer because we lack full legal recognition. People in bi-national couples who love one another are denied the opportunity to be together. I have several friends in this situation. I have friends who have had to emigrate to the United Kingdom, to South Africa, and to Canada to be together. I have other friends who are separated from the one they love because neither their country nor ours recognizes their relationship.

And every day we pay higher taxes than heterosexual couples and receive fewer government benefits. I am married in Massachusetts since the first day it was legal, and since that time I have paid more than $12,000 in extra federal income taxes than I would have had I been married to a man instead of to a woman. You see, I am taxed on the difference in value between an individual and family plan (“imputed income”) because DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing our marriage as valid. Married mixed-sex couples are currently not taxed on their family health plans. Imagine if we could have put this money toward our retirement!

Our level of frustration is so high at this time because, for the first time in our lifetimes, there is a possibility of real, substantive change.

We understand that the President has a great deal on his plate, but he is the best hope that we have ever had and it is hard to wait. We have been waiting for a very long time.