I'm 52 years old, and I've been waiting for your inauguration day since I was old enough to understand what institutionalized oppression was -- perhaps longer, without really being conscious of it.
As I grew older, and gained more life experience, I think that I grew increasingly impatient in my waiting, as I began to understand more about what might actually help dismantle the systems of privilege that keep institutionalized oppressions alive.
I believe with my whole being that your election as President of the United States has, and will continue to, help take apart some of those systems -- not just because you are a person of color and your election breaks a tradition of exclusion that has existed throughout our nation's history, but also because I honestly believe that you want to make change and move this country forward.
So last month, I cast my vote for you with a hopeful heart, and wept during your victory speech. I said to my beloved, as we watched the closing of the speech (where you gathered with family, colleagues, and supporters in a glad mingling, awash in the cheers of thousands): "Look at that stage -- old, young, women, men, faces of many hues-- we're seeing something we've never seen before in our lifetimes."
And I took the opening lines of that speech to heart:
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible -- who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time -- who still questions the power of our democracy -- tonight is your answer."I took a cautious, hopeful in-breath when you actually said the word"gay" in the section where you detailed the diverse groups that played a part in this victory. I didn't notice it before I heard the word, but I think I had been waiting for that word for a long time, too -- yet I had been hopeful, not expectant (a habit I've developed over the years -- perhaps a defense-mechanism against disappointment).
You see, I'm old enough and savvy enough to understand that there will be times when mention of a person like me will be omitted -- because there are elections to win, and assumptions about what works and what doesn't work in political tactics, and polls that indicate the "safe" course that must, perhaps, be steered in the present, in order to make gains in the future. I understand this. I really do.
That's why, when I watched your infomercial the week before the election, I wasn't surprised to see that there was no one like me featured as one of the "average Americans". Yes, I'm a small business owner who can't currently afford health insurance, a person who has raised kids, and who is coupled in a stable, loving relationship, a person who currently faces big challenges in earning enough to simply cover rent, utilities, and groceries for my family -- but I would never be featured in your examples of working folks in this country -- because I'm a lesbian -- and that wouldn't poll well.
And again -- I understand this. I really do. You were attempting to reach out to a segment of the population that you needed to win over, so that you could win the presidency.
But understanding this intellectually doesn't necessarily make it easier to experience -- all the political savvy and realistic assessment in the world didn't make it easier to sit watching your ad (which takes the time to really go into detail about the problems that Americans face today, and how you will work to fix them) -- knowing that I (and others like me) would not be represented, or even referred to.
Last April, during the Democratic primary, I said that I had started to feel like the orphan at the family picnic.
It's not as if that feeling is completely foreign to me. I've sat around bargaining tables as part of my union and argued strenuously for family leave acts and benefits packages that would never cover my family. I've extended understanding to politicians for whom I've campaigned when they had to do the "politically smart" thing, even if it excluded me and mine. I've had compassion for some of my family members, who have acknowledged my orientation and have not outright disowned me, but who also do not ask about my life in any detail, lest an uncomfortable or challenging moment arise.
In fact, I sometimes worry that I've become so used to my position as an outsider that it has dulled my motivation toward change -- that it has made it too easy for me to say things like: "Well, that's the best I can expect -- and it's better than nothing."
So, when I cast my vote for you in November, I had hoped to put that feeling aside, and "........ choose hope over fear, and unity over division -- the promise of change over the power of the status quo".
Which is why I'm writing to you.
I understand that you may have selected (or allowed the selection of) Rick Warren to speak the invocation at your inaugural as part of a plan to demonstrate that you are not closed to the concerns of those who embrace a conservative Christian lifestyle. I understand that, regardless of what your real personal feelings about gay marriage may be, you were probably advised to say that you didn't support it, in order to get elected. I understand that you may have made choices in the past two years which were politically expedient in the short term, with the intention of serving an eventual greater good. I understand all this. I really do.
And when I read about the honor that Pastor Warren is being done in being allowed to perform the spiritual opening for your inaugural ceremony, I was surprised that I didn't feel angry -- instead, I simply felt . . . . profoundly sad.
I believe that sadness is to the heart and soul as hunger is to the body -- and I believe that my hunger is this: I want to be included in your diverse, but United, States of America.
When I hear you talk about the problems of working families, I want to be able to believe that you are talking about my family, too, and when you swear your oath of allegiance, I want to believe that you will be upholding the Constitution of our nation with the clear understanding that my rights are equal to the rights of every other citizen of this country.
I believe in the maxim that one should begin as one means to go on, and as a minister, I understand well the meaning of an opening invocation. It quite intentionally sets the tone of all that is to follow.
Pastor Warren has publicly expressed statements which compare my desire to marry my beloved to pedophilia, incest, and polygamy -- all of which are illegal in this country -- and so, for me, your presidency will begin with an invocation delivered by someone who considers the most precious human relationship I have -- a core and anchor of my daily existence -- as similar to a list of criminal acts.
He will be recorded as the pastor who was given the great honor of speaking first at this most historic presidential inauguration, and I will, once again, be a less-than -- an "other". I am concerned that, for many, the power of your office, and your perceived blessing on his blessing, will give strength to his voice -- and weaken mine further.
As an out lesbian, there are few laws that protect me from discrimination based on my sexual orientation, and many laws (and more prejudices) that curtail my unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I have dealt with these realities since I was 12 years old (when I first realized that I was a lesbian), and often, it has only been the small, symbolic victories and gestures that have kept my hope of eventual equality kindled -- the confrontation of a homophobic remark by a straight co-worker who knew that I couldn't speak up without risking the loss of my job -- the decision of a straight couple to postpone their marriage until their gay and lesbian friends have the same right to wed -- the willingness of my mother and father to speak out in their church when their synod was determining whether or not to sanctify gay and lesbian unions.
These symbolic gestures, while not carrying the weight of law, have given me hope, and helped me to carry on.
Those gestures are sometimes small -- but since I can be pretty sure that I won't show up as an "average American" in the next nationally-broadcast infomercial, and reasonably certain that any candidate who states that they support full marriage rights for gays and lesbians will be declared, soon thereafter, to be "unelectable", symbolic acts of support from allies have become incredibly important to me.
I realize that my letter may not change your mind about having Pastor Warren provide the inaugural invocation. I realize that, at this point, it may be politically nightmarish to even consider such a change, or it may have become such a political hot potato that you are sick to death of hearing about it, or that you may simply dismiss my letter as yet another from some disgruntled LGBTQ person.
My hope, though, is that you will not simply dismiss this letter.
My hope is that you will consider the symbolism that is implicit in the way that your administration begins. If this administration is to be about inclusivity, then I believe that it is best begun with an invocation by someone who truly personifies that concept, who can be relied upon to invoke both the spirit and the language of inclusivity.
My choice to vote for you was like one drop in an ocean, but your choices as President will profoundly influence the currents and tides of that ocean, in which I will swim for many years to come.
I know that you are just one human, with a complex and enormous task before you, but I ask you to . . . . remember me.
When you hear the invocation that Pastor Warren is allowed to give, please listen with my ears.
I realize that this will be "your day" in many ways, and that you are straight, and Christian. I personally have no problem with you wanting to have a spiritual invocation that reflects your belief system - but if you hear prayers which invoke only "traditional" families, or only Christians, or which lean too heavily on any structure which contributes to institutionalized oppression of any sort -- I implore you to remember that you will be President of every citizen of this country, and to listen with the ears of those whose voices are rarely heard from the bully pulpit.
You have power and a great deal of choice around what this ceremony will symbolize -- I hope on that day, you will remember me, and remember that some days, a symbol is all I have.
Congratulations on your election, and thank you for taking the time to read this.