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.


  1. Congratulations, Robyn!!! The bisexual community could not have been represented by a better person. Thanks so much for going, and for this wonderful summary of the events :)

  2. Anonymous4:15 PM

    Robyn, thank you for sharing this. Shame on the USA for such an inequal difference they make. Greetings from the Netherlands. HildeV

  3. Congratulations Robyn and Peg for meeting the "OTHER" First Couple! Thanks for representing us at the White House. Now, everybody please sign the petition to Nancy Pelosi to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as the ignominious and destructive policy that it is. Thank you.

  4. Anonymous7:35 AM

    I agree. We are so fortunate to have had you, Robyn, as a representative of bisexuality. I'm glad you have the faith in him.

  5. Anonymous1:05 AM

    Hi Robyn, Thanks for the report! Very inspiring! Thanks too for going to represent us/many.

    I'd like to offer a caveat/counterpoint about taxes: You cited the taxable benefits you pay for. Indeed, this is unfair. But you didn't mention that MF married couples OFTEN pay lots more income tax (primarily if both have income, and fairly similar income). Are you aware of this? Have you figured out what the effect on your taxes would be?

    The HRC was dispensing incorrect info on this, and encouraging same-sex marriage supporters to cite particulars that were incorrect. Please look further. Please do NOT spread this incorrect information. Our queer bothers and sisters need to know.

    One more detail: do you really mean what you said about paying $12,000 in extra taxes? Or do you mean, rather, that you paid TAX on an extra $12,000 of income? In the latter case the tax is much less than $12,000. In the former case, you'd have to have $36,000 in benefits (if you pay 33% taxes).

    I also believe that we will get there, and none too soon.

  6. Hi there, it's Robyn. This is in response to the question about taxation:

    Compared to my mixed-sex-coupled counterparts, I have paid approximately $12,000 in extra taxes since 2004 (Federal taxation on the "imputed income" based on the difference in value between an individual health/dental plan and a family plan. And where I work, a family plan costs 3x as much as as an individual plan, whether your family is 2 people or 20).

    And to respond to your comment about MF married couples and taxation: filing jointly or married/filing separately can be a benefit or a burden, depending upon one's situation. But to this I would reply, give me that tax penalty, but give me the 1300+ federal benefits of marriage.

    (And while we're at it, let's give health insurance to EVERYONE!)

    Thanks to all who have posted so far.