Obama Works to Address Concerns Among Gay Supporters

White House lending a deaf ear to LGBT community, some leaders say.

June 29, 2009, 11:42 AM

June 29, 2009 -- When hundreds of leaders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathered in the East Room of the White House Monday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the launch of the gay rights movement, President Obama worked to assuage concerns that his administration has not made much progress in addressing gay issues.

Democratic activists in the LGBT community have said that President Obama's campaign promises to end the military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act do not seem to be top-tier priorities. When a legal brief, filed earlier this month by the Obama administration defended DOMA it provided another spark to the current intraparty strain.

"I cannot overstate the pain that we feel as human beings and as families when we read an argument, presented in federal court, implying that our own marriages have no more constitutional standing than incestuous ones," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese at the time of the filing.

The New York Times reported Sunday that one of Obama's top campaign lieutenants expressed some of that pain directly to the president in an Oval Office conversation last week.

One Democratic Party leader said the concerns from the LGBT community are not falling on deaf ears. "They are very aware of the frustration that some members of our community are having, and they are taking them very seriously," said Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and head of the DNC's Association of State Democratic Chairs, who is gay.

Last week, the DNC held a fundraiser with LGBT activists in Washington, D.C., where Vice President Joe Biden served as the keynote speaker. There were approximately 50 protesters outside the fundraiser and several high-profile Democratic donors from the LGBT community reportedly boycotted the dinner.

"I am not unaware of the controversy swirling around this dinner and swirling around the speed or lack thereof that we are moving on issues that are of great importance to you," said Biden. He then pledged that the Obama administration would "put some pace on the ball" on gay rights policies going forward.

Clearly, the Obama administration has put economic recovery, health care reform, energy legislation, and financial regulatory reform all on the front burner, which leaves little room for any one special interest group's agenda items.

To be sure, every president has to tend to the politics of the base while pushing a broad overall agenda forward. Obama will be doing just that at the White House event later today, but there is little reason to see the considerable disenchantment within the gay community as a significantly consequential political hurdle for Obama.

In addition to touting more than 60 appointments of LGBT individuals to his administration, Obama pointed to progress his administration has made on policy, including his signing a presidential memorandum extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

The president also announced that the Department of Health and Human Services is expected this week to implement the final phase of repealing the HIV travel and immigration ban that has been in place for more than 20 years.

As with any interest group, gay Democratic activists are hardly monolithic.

"Certainly for those of us who have served in public office, who have been around, who have tried to pass or successfully passed legislation on the state level, we understand the process and how this works and are working for that," said Buckley, the New Hampshire party chairman.

"There are others who have never served in public office, not participated in lobbying their legislators, getting their governor, and all that sort of work that has to be done and so, of course, they are frustrated because they don't have that experience," he said. "That doesn't mean their frustration is wrong. Their frustration is very real."

ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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