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Queer Town: President Barack Obama and the Gays


Almost a year ago to the day, I stood in the large kitchen of an elegant mansion in the Pacific Palisades at a political fund raiser, waiting to the shake hand of our future president, Barack Obama. When he approached, I said hello and immediately told him I was gay. I then asked Obama to include gays in his agenda of reaching out to communities of faith.  Obama listened intently, and told me he was already telling people in churches that homophobia had to stop. But he also said he would do better.

At the time, I was working on a feature story about Obama's most important fund raisers, Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford, who are a gay couple based in Los Angeles. They could have worked for Hillary Clinton, but instead they followed their gut and heart and signed up with the Obama team. Gifford and Bernard ended up raising, at the very least, tens of millions of dollars for their candidate. Without them and their connections to wealthy Angelenos, Obama would not have been nearly as effective in setting up campaign offices across the nation, buying ad time on television in battleground states, and flying around the country in his long campaign to become president of the United States.

Several months later, in September, Michelle Obama flew into Los Angeles and attended a fund raiser at the Holmby Hills home of CAA managing partner Bryan Lourd, an openly gay man. Gifford and Bernard were also behind that event, which was specifically held to reach out to the gay community -- and its money.  And I was asked by the Obama campaign to cover the party as a pool reporter.

As I stood in Lourd's backyard near a lap pool, the wife of Barack Obama spoke to the A-List crowd and promised that her husband's administration would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that designates marriage as a bond existing only between a man and a woman.  Michelle Obama also said the new president would fight for gay adoption rights. Barack Obama's political agenda, in other words, seemed to include the gays.

Now that Obama has been sworn-in as the 44th President of the United States, we'll see if those campaign promises will be followed through in a timely fashion. At a panel at the Outfest film festival over the summer, Jeremy Bernard told the crowd, a few months before Proposition 8 was passed, that the gay community should not expect change overnight. But he also said gays and lesbians needed to speak loud and keep pressure on an Obama administration.

Bernard was essentially saying that it wasn't only up to Obama to stay true to his word -- we also needed to be a part of the political process. It was probably the best advice anyone had given on that day, and now we'll see if gays, who have sometimes been hesitant to rock the boat, will follow it.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.