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Obama Invites Gay Rights Advocates to White House



As advocates for gays and lesbians intensify their criticism of the White House, President Obama has invited some of their leaders to an East Room reception next Monday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the 1969 Greenwich Village demonstrations that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement.

 

The White House has not publicized the reception, and officials did not respond to e-mail requests for comment. But gay leaders from here and around the country said they had received either telephone calls from the White House or written invitations to the event, and were told Mr. Obama is expected to speak.

Some said it would take more than a reception to change their view that Mr. Obama has not been aggressive enough in pursuing gay rights. As a candidate, Mr. Obama campaigned to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law barring gay marriage, and ‘’don’t ask don’t tell,’’ the military policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly. But advocates have accused him of dragging his feet.

“What’s going to change the way the community is feeling is seeing the introduction of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’’ said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, a Boston-based advocacy group, referring to two policies Mr. Obama pledged to overturn. She said gay rights advocates want to see “a president who is fulfilling the promises he made on the campaign trail.’’

Mr. Obama would not be the first Democratic president to mark the Stonewall uprising; Ten years ago, Bill Clinton declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. But the Obama reception comes amid growing complaints from gay leaders like Ms. Chrisler, who supported Mr. Obama’s election but are becoming increasingly upset with him as president.

Just last week when Mr. Obama announced a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, several prominent gay and lesbian political leaders attacked the president for failing to extend full health benefits, saying that the initiative was a mere token effort that included benefits that had already existed.

Ms. Chrisler, who was in the Oval Office for the signing of the memorandum, said she was not satisfied by what she called the ‘’limited benefits’’ Mr. Obama offered. She said she hoped Monday’s reception would be “an opportunity for us as a community to highlight again to this president and this administration that real lives are impacted by his decisions.’’

Whether Mr. Obama will address the complaints at Monday’s reception is unclear. One person who received the invitation said the White House was billing the event as a celebration, akin to the festive affairs the administration holds on St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Another said the invitation included an offer to bring a guest. “They want people to understand that their partners are welcome,’’ said this person, speaking anonymously because the White House has not announced the event.

The White House event will be just one of many commemorations of the Stonewall uprising, named for the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street that was the site of a police raid that turned violent in the early hours of the morning of June 28, 1969. The raid led to a series of protests that spawned the creation of gay advocacy groups and, more broadly, empowered gay people to begin fighting for recognition and civil rights.

Update: The White House confirmed the event.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, said, “Next Monday’s event is a chance for the White House to recognize the accomplishments of LGBT Americans. Invited guests include families, volunteers and activists, and community leaders. This event was long planned as a way to applaud these individuals during Pride month.”

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Tags: barack obama, lgbtq / gender & sexual minorities
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