The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton, President
The United States of America
Dear President Clinton,
Four years ago, lesbian and gay Americans cheered your acceptance speech and danced for joy at your Inaugural celebration. This year most of us are not cheering and few will come to dance. Instead, in Dupont Circle and across America people of faith are lighting Justice Candles that will burn through- out your second term. We hope our flickering lights will remind you:
First, that we are deeply grateful for what you and the Vice President have done to include lesbians and gays at the table and to support our struggle for equal rights.
Second, that there is much more to be done to win equal rights, not just for lesbians and gays, but for all who suffer from sexism, racism, poverty, and discrimination in any form.
Third, that we will work and pray to help you do it.
If we were having this conversation in the White House, it would be easier to convince you that our Justice Candles are not a protest or a confrontation. We are here to honor your high office and to assure you that we understand the problems you have in serving all Americans fairly.
At the same time, if you stop by Dupont Circle to light a Justice Candle with us (at 6 p.m. on Inaugural Eve or 6 p.m. on Inaugural Night) you will see the grief in our eyes and feel our pain and disappointment. Your first election brought lesbian and gay Americans hope that you would take a courageous and consistent stand to help us win our equal rights. At the beginning of your second term, we are struggling to keep that hope alive.
In 1992, during your first campaign, you promised to help end our second-class-citizenship and in the first months of your presidency it looked like you would deliver on your promise. You invited our leaders to the White House. You heard the stories of discrimination and violence against us and you were genuinely moved. You included us in your speeches. You appointed several lesbians and gays to high office. You promised us a powerful campaign to find a cure for HIV/AIDS and to mobilize federal resources to help end the suffering. You read the Pentagon and Rand Corporation studies that prove irrefutably that lesbians and gays serve with honor and courage in every branch and at every rank of the military, and you promised to end the ban.
However, when you tried to keep your promise, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and other religious extremists launched another furious misinformation campaign against us. It’s nothing new. They used the same kind of false and inflammatory rhetoric to oppose granting equal rights to women and people of color. Misquoting a handful of biblical texts to support their intolerance, hundreds of thousands of callers jammed switchboards and threatened orderly governance at the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon.
They flexed. You flinched. We understand. We’ve been victims of their media blitzkriegs before. In order to govern the nation, you thought it best to pull back from your commitment to end the ban. You felt it necessary to sacrifice our equal rights for some greater political good. From that day, things got worse instead of better. You didn’t end the military ban as you had promised. You didn’t take a stand against Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2. You didn’t propose legislation to preserve, protect, or defend our rights. In fact, when you signed the Defense of Marriage Act you joined with our adversaries to deny us the 175-250 rights and protections that go with marriage.
In the meantime, while your Inaugural committee calls us to celebrate "An American Journey," we are still being discarded by our families, evicted from our homes, fired from our jobs, excommunicated by our churches, hunted down and hounded out of the military, harassed, beaten and murdered by bullies simply because we’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Our teenagers still commit one-third of all teenage suicides; and our sisters and brothers continue to be ranked among the top three victims of hate crimes in cities and states across the nation.
Mr. President, the greater political good you gained by moving away from us towards the middle continues to cost individual lesbians and gays a terrible price. We are hoping and praying that your re-election will free you from such political expediency to do what is morally right. We thank you for your promise to support again this term the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But passing ENDA would just be the beginning.
At this moment religious extremists are launching new campaigns to end our right to child custody, foster care, and adoption. They are working on dozens of homophobic initiatives, determined to restore and enforce the sodomy laws. The extremists want to burn our books, censor our art and media, prohibit our public gatherings, close our community centers and churches, and ban our AIDS education programs. In the name of God, they are calling for Americans to end our rights and eliminate our influence altogether. The most fanatic are calling for our quarantine and even for our death.
For the next four years our Justice Candles will burn. We hope you will see the light and use your second term to help win equal rights, not just for lesbians and gays, but for all who suffer sexism, racism and injustice in all its tragic forms. More specifically, we ask you to provide courageous, determined leadership in the war against HIV/AIDS; to continue your support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act;
to help lesbian and gay partners win the 175-250 rights that go with marriage;
to defend our rights to child custody, foster care, and adoption;
to stop the military inquisition and end the military ban;
to use your influence to include us in hate crime protections;
to use your powerful voice against the extremist campaign to eliminate us;
to help defeat the move to re-establish and/or enforce the sodomy laws;
to help us gain the equal rights (not special rights) promised all Americans.
We also light our Justice Candles to remind ourselves to pray for you and to back our prayers with actions that support you in this just cause. We, too, promise to give more time and money during the next four years to help win justice for all who suffer second-class-citizenship for any reason.
Mr. President, we are afraid that the extremists may win their war to superimpose their will upon the nation. But we are even more afraid that those who could expose and defeat them will remain silent. Dr. King once said, "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
Please, sir, try to understand why we are not dancing at your Inaugural Ball. We stand outside the White House in the cold, holding up our Justice Candles, feeling a little foolish, consoled by the words that Adlai Stevenson spoke at Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral: "She would rather light one small candle than curse the darkness." We light our Justice Candles in that same, loving spirit.
The Rev. Dr. Mel White
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches
8704 Santa Monica Blvd., Second Floor, West Hollywood, CA 90069
PS: Our Founder, the Rev. Elder Troy Perry, sends his congratulations and sincere regards on the occasion of your second inauguration. Last year he celebrated with you. This year he is lighting a Justice Candle hoping and praying that "you will complete the work that you have begun for Gods lesbian and gay children." As you will remember, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches is the largest Christian denomination in the world with a primary ministry to lesbians and gays.