President Obama seeks to reassure skeptical gay community

President Barack Obama continues to extend olive branches to the gay community, but he has yet to take up the big issues that many activists are waiting for.

Many gay activists say they welcome Obama’s gesture of speaking at this weekend’s dinner for the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization in the country.

They also appreciated his nomination this week of David Huebner, an openly gay attorney, to be the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Huebner is the first openly gay person to be nominated for such a position.

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Still, they say there is a growing sense that Obama has not been forceful enough in pushing for the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines a marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Obama has repeatedly said he opposes the two laws and that he will seek to rectify them, but prominent activists and publications have questioned his commitment.

In August, The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine, published a cover story intensely critical of Obama’s lack of movement on DOMA and the policy on gays serving in the military.

In a later story on the dinner, the magazine said thousands of activists would take part in a march to take place Saturday “in order to register their discontent with the administration.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs this week said Obama continues to believe the two laws are “unfair” and that he is making progress in instituting a new rule to extend benefits to the partners of gay federal employees.

“The president made commitments on those issues not just … in a presidential race but ran on some of those commitments in a Senate race,” Gibbs said.

“They are commitments that are important to him and he is intent on making progress on those issues and is working with the Pentagon to ensure, at least in ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that we make progress on it.”

Obama has tried to illustrate his commitment to the gay community.

In June, he invited representatives of the gay community to the East Room of the White House both to honor Gay Pride Month and to ask them to be patient. He said he knew that some in the community “don’t believe progress has come fast enough.”

“It is not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago,” Obama said at the time. “But I say this, we have made progress and we will make more.”

The president said that he expects and hopes “to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.”

“We’ve been in office six months now, and I suspect that by the time this administration is over I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration,” the president said.

Some are preaching patience with a president who inherited an economy in crisis and two wars.

Democratic strategist and gay activist Steve Elmendorf said Obama needs to reaffirm his commitment to issues important to the gay community during Saturday’s speech, and he needs to outline “what his plan is to do it.”

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Changing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is “probably a next-year issue,” Elmendorf said, but there has been considerable progress on other issues. He mentioned the extension of federal hate-crimes laws to cover sexual orientation, which was included in the Department of Defense authorization conference report released on Wednesday.

Elmendorf said the bigger issues require congressional help that Obama lacks.

“I think on all this stuff he’s got to get the votes,” Elmendorf said. “And I think all the impatient people in the community need to help him get those votes.

“He’s got to be given some benefit of the doubt.”

Elmendorf noted that Obama is addressing the Human Rights Commission in his first year in office, something he said is not a small gesture. Former President Bill Clinton did not address the group until he won reelection.

LZ Granderson, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine who will be attending Saturday’s dinner, said while the gay community shouldn’t be satisfied, he thinks Obama is doing a good job of addressing issues important to it.

“There are a lot of a--holes who call themselves gay leaders who are so caught up in what he’s not doing, they aren’t paying attention to what he is doing,” Granderson said.

Granderson told The Hill that he’s “not saying that we should be satisfied and not to continue to ask him for more.”

“But at least take a deep breath and realize what he’s done so far,” Granderson said.