President Obama will be looking to iron out his differences with the gay community at a White House cocktail party Monday night, but he may find himself dealing with a skeptical audience.
Obama has been taking heat from some gays and lesbians who feel jilted over the President's foot-dragging on such campaign pledges as repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military and repudiating the Defense of Marriage act. The president is working to heal those divisions with some legislative steps, but Monday's reception for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride month appears to be an effort to woo the groups up close and personal.
A cocktail hour, however, may do little to quiet his critics.
Gay advocates would like to see real movement on the issues, and some have called for a fundraising boycott after Obama's Justice Department, in a court filing, compared gay marriages to incest.
After the Defense of Marriage snafu caused some of Obama's most ardent gay supporters to rebuke the president, Obama signed a presidential memorandum extending some benefits to same-sex federal employees. But health care was not part of the deal, and the move did little to allay the frustration of gay rights advocates who saw it as hollow pandering.
"Unless the president on Monday articulates a strong action plan, and is willing to do it with cameras rolling, it is going to go from bad to worse," said Richard Socarides, who advised President Bill Clinton on gay issues and did not plan to attend the event.
The reception, which was announced by the White House in early June, is not designed as a political event, so it remains to be seen whether the president will address key issues. Some who were invited to the event, however, reported receiving a phone call from the White House alerting them that the president would speak.
Before it became a highly political event with fundraising implications, the reception was supposed to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. The seminal event in the gay rights movement took place at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, where a police raid 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.
This event is similar to one the President Clinton and wife Hillary hosted in 1999. But Obama's footing with the gay community is slipperier than Clinton's was at the time.
"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 gay advocacy group.