Out lesbian Kerry Eleveld takes us behind the scenes to Obama’s evolution on LGBT rights in “Don’t Tell Me to Wait”

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Even the most rational, the most evolved, the most well-informed followers of current events and politics are often guilty of swallowing infotainment spewed by mainstream media, no questions asked. We watch CNN regularly, even though we know, as liberals and progressives, we are only accepting breadcrumbs because CNN is by no means a liberal news source. It’s the closest thing we’ve got. We channel surf and begrudgingly pause (for as long as we can stand) on Fox News, knowing that doing so is part of being fair and balanced. We force ourselves to consume as much C-Span as possible knowing listening to a Ben Carson lecture on repeat would be more entertaining. 

We do this because we want to be more than sheep. We want to see issues concerning politics, social justice, and equality for what they are–not for what they purport to be. And we know a brief scan of HuffPo will not suffice. 

Despite all our efforts, we remain naïve to certain things. We find ourselves believing, not everything we hear, but more than we should. As diligently as we’ve trained ourselves to question everything, sometimes we don’t. And every now and then the Kerry Elevelds of the world come along, in all their power lesbian glory, to slap us in the face with a truth so full of grit and heart, we cannot help but humbly and appreciatively consume.

Out journalist Kerry Eleveld brilliantly takes the reader behind the scenes of the president’s evolution on LGBT equality in her new book Don’t Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s Presidency. While some might assume that our president’s change of heart was just that–a change of heart–as with most things, there is so much more to the story. Eleveld humbly shares the happenings behind closed doors, which led to Obama’s crucial conversion, thanks to herself and other persistent queer advocates. 

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Don’t Tell Me to Wait gracefully yet firmly takes the reader back to the rarely thought of and oft forgotten days before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and long before nationwide marriage equality was even a dream we dared to dream. Well, we dared to dream it, but we didn’t yet dare to believe it could possibly occur in our lifetime. Were we fighting for these issues? Absolutely. Were activists all over the country rallying to move forward with regard to LGBT equality? Of course they were. But we were in a dramatically different place than we are now. And the Barack Obama we have come to have so much affection for was not the evolved, enlightened, progressive man we now know him to be. Many of us, myself included, drank the kool-aid of hope and change and fainted at the idea of having a person of color as our country’s commander in chief. (Please know I still continue to believe in each of these sentiments and do not diminish the significance of Obama’s leadership and presidency.) However, as we celebrated his election, we failed to acknowledge his glaring shortcomings–especially concerning our own community.

The author, a former White House correspondent for The Advocate and DailyKos columnist, highlights the real heroes behind Obama’s transition from the much loathed and grossly overused “one man, one woman” position on marriage equality. Thanks to a smart investment in SiriusXM radio, I’ve become a slightly late to the game fan of Joe Sudbay. I knew he was smart, I knew he was capable, and I knew his contribution to our movement was important. But I had no idea that, when we’re sending out our thank you cards for wedding gifts, we should be including Mr. Sudbay knowing that, without his advocacy and activism, our legal wedding in downtown Dallas, Texas on June 26th might not have happened. 

Don’t Tell Me to Wait takes the reader behind the scenes of a meeting held in an effort to devise a plan to both pressure President Obama to take executive action on LGBT workplace protections while also informing the general public on this much neglected issue:

At that meeting, we talked about different ways to achieve the executive order, how to build pressure for it by placing certain stories in the LGBT media, and how to educate the mainstream media about it….our biggest hurdle by far was getting the White House press corps interested in the order when marriage equality was the hot LGBT topic of the day. In fact, many members of the press, just like the general public, believed federal protections already existed for LGBT workers.

If we weren’t already aware of the fact that news story releases are calculated, we are now. And thank god we have powerful people on our side–working tirelessly to ensure our voices are heard.

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Don’t Tell Me to Wait is not without heart and feeling. While a straightforward and even cold delivery of the facts would’ve sufficed for me, Eleveld is sure to include the emotion and passion that lay beneath the surface of the heroes of this story. She shares her personal and very relatable reaction to Obama’s long awaited and much hoped for endorsement of same sex marriage. And like the disciplined lesbian she is, Eleveld witnessed his assertion at the gym:

He did it. He really did it. At first, it felt almost anticlimactic; I must have still been in a state of disbelief. But as I exited the gym into the lobby the tears came fast, without warning, as the enormity of what just happened pulled me to the floor for a few moments. Nearly everything I had hoped to accomplish in Washington had happened—just not at all how I had envisioned it. And certainly not without a price. I had come to Washington a journalist who intended to document history through even-tempered reporting, but along the way I had become a frustrated activist.

There are moments in which the reader is reminded that, under their polished appearance and impeccably articulated language, Eleveld and fellow activists are just people with feelings and passions and desires just like you and me. And while we hold their work in the highest esteem–as we should–they are simply humans who have channeled their values into their life’s work–and done a damn good job of it.

In a world of armchair political debates via social media by amateur activists and revolutionary advocacy diminished to message tees and ill-advised arguments, we could all learn a thing or two from Eleveld’s forthright story on the real hope and change Obama touted while little known activists held his feet to the fire. While Don’t Tell Me to Wait, serves as a highly informative piece on how transformation actually occurs in political leadership, it also gracefully teaches us a lesson on our responsibility. We have a stake in this game; issues of equality directly affect our daily lives. Same-sex couples all over the country have been beneficiaries of the blood, sweat, and tears of advocates like the ones paid tribute to in Eleveld’s book. 

While direct access to state and national lawmakers may not be realistic for all of us, we all have the means to take democracy into our own hands. Whether holding a sign in protest of the disgusting number of trans murders, canvassing our neighborhoods in order to inform locals on more equitable laws and propositions, or volunteering our time campaigning for progressive candidates, we all have ways in which we can contribute to the equality movement. And should we need a little inspiration to do so along with an honest education on the rewards in store for our hard work, Don’t Tell Me to Wait may be just what the doctor ordered.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy

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