American Artists LGBTQ Life and Life Only Media National Politics Obama

Is American Idol Braver Than Barack Obama?

When American Idol creator, Simon Fuller, chose the song for finalist Adam Lambert
to sing on the show’s last night of competition, there was a moment of real trepidation after it was announced that Fuller had selected A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke’s heart-shattering ballad that, after Cooke’s death in 1964, came to so thoroughly embody the pain and the hope of the civil rights era that it has forever lodged itself in the realm of the sacred.

As a consequence of its historic status combined with Cooke’s devastating delivery on that original recording, there are precious few people who have the license to sing that song without making us cringe. Bettye LaVette had the license, when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial. Jon Bon Jovi, who sang with her, despite his solid performance, did not.

So what in the world were the American Idol people thinking by handing a Hollywood-styled white boy this of all songs?

As it turned out, Simon Fuller knew exactly what he was doing. On the resolutely middle-of-the-road mega-hit music show, the gay kid with the black fingernails, the guyliner and the killer voice remade Sam Cooke’s anthem into a reminder of the basic rights that we have yet to grant the segment of our citizenry of which Lambert is a member.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich asks why—if even American Idol has tip-toed into the gay rights conversation—has Barack Obama failed to speak up on, for example, the issue that has resulted in 12,500 US service people being bounced out of our armed services for their sexual orientation?

Two-hundred and fifteen have been fired since Obama was sworn in alone, the most recent casualty of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being experienced Arabic translator, Lt. Dan Choi.

Here are some relevant clips from Rich’s column:

Despite Barack Obama’s pledges as a candidate and president, there is no discernible movement on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or the Defense of Marriage Act. Both seem more cruelly discriminatory by the day.

When yet another Arabic translator was thrown out of the Army this month for being gay, Jon Stewart nailed the self-destructive Catch-22 of “don’t ask”: We allow interrogators to waterboard detainees and then banish a soldier who can tell us what that detainee is saying. The equally egregious Defense of Marriage Act, a k a DOMA, punishes same-sex spouses by voiding their federal marital rights even in states that have legalized gay marriage. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the widower of America’s first openly gay congressman, Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, must mount a long-shot court battle to try to collect the survivor benefits from his federal pension and health insurance plans. (Studds died in 2006.) Nothing short of Congressional repeal of DOMA is likely to rectify that injustice.


Most Congressional Republicans will still vote against gay civil rights. Some may take the politically risky path of demonizing same-sex marriage during the coming debate over the new Supreme Court nominee. Old prejudices and defense mechanisms die hard, after all: there are still many gay men in the party’s hierarchy hiding in fear from what remains of the old religious-right base. In “Outrage,” a new documentary addressing precisely this point, Kirk Fordham, who had been chief of staff to Mark Foley, the former Republican congressman, says, “If they tried to fire gay staff like they do booting people out of the military, the legislative process would screech to a halt.” A closet divided against itself cannot stand.


But when Congressional Republicans try to block gay civil rights — last week one cadre introduced a bill to void the recognition of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia — they just don’t have the votes to get their way. The Democrats do have the votes to advance the gay civil rights legislation Obama has promised to sign. And they have a serious responsibility to do so. Let’s not forget that “don’t ask” and DOMA both happened on Bill Clinton’s watch and with his approval. Indeed, in the 2008 campaign, Obama’s promise to repeal DOMA outright was a position meant to outflank Hillary Clinton, who favored only a partial revision.

So what’s stopping the Democrats from rectifying that legacy now?

Dr. King addressed such dawdling in 1963.
“For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait,’ ” King wrote. “It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ ”

The gay civil rights movement has fewer obstacles in its path than did Dr. King’s Herculean mission to overthrow the singular legacy of slavery. That makes it all the more shameful that it has fewer courageous allies in Washington than King did. If “American Idol” can sing out for change on Fox in prime time, it ill becomes Obama, of all presidents, to remain mute in the White House.

When I was hiking in the hills with my best friend, Janet, yesterday,
we discussed the issue; she was bothered by all that the President had not said, while I took the position of defending Obama’s inaction. “You have to pick your battles. So much is at stake on every front right now,” I said. Blah-blah-blah.

Of course that’s true.
A leader facing the challenges of this young president cannot fight everywhere at once. Yet on the issue of gay rights, both Janet and Frank Rich called it correctly: The excuses are wearing thin. Yes, Mr. President. Pick your battles. But this needs to be one of the battles chosen—sooner rather than later.

Monday, as we honor the military’s men and women who have fallen in our name, and our brave sons and daughters who still serve, it is my hope that next year at this time, we can honestly and openly honor all of them.


Cartoon by Chan Lowe, of the Sun-Sentinel in Southern Florida


  • Tomorrow, as we honor the military’s men and women who have fallen in our name…

    This post is a pretty sorry way to do that.

    You people on the left hate the military and, typically, find some way to inject your left-wing causes into what should be a solemn day of remembrance and thanks for those in the military who gave their lives for this nation. Once you have your gays taking over the barrack showers and require women on the field of battle, real heroes will emerge and will have to work even harder and give up more lives to protect our country.

    The military is not a place for your social causes.

    From the news:

    A senior military official said that while President Barack Obama has been clear that he wants to repeal the Clinton-era policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there is no specific timeline to do it. The official says that leaves room that the military wants to use to make sure the eventual change goes well.

    Today, homosexuals flaunt their perversions, politicize their immorality, and expect everyone to pretend that their sins are normal – along with wanting special privileges.

    Our nation was better off when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the unspoken decorum of society.

    Now, is it possible for you to honor our military dead in a respectful way?

  • Maybe “Sesame Street” should have spent more of our tax money brainwashing kids into accepting homosexuality…or, did they?

    But the show was never just about improving test scores. Perhaps the most radical part of the Sesame DNA has always been its social activism.

    You can’t even leave education alone without injecting your “social causes.” No wonder this country is so dumbed-down and elected an inexperienced, feel-good person as President.

  • Woody, you prove ondce again you’re a shameless, un-American bigoted piece of shit. You have no more right to invoke “honor” than the Ku Klux Klan or a Nazi. Really. You’re a sick little bigot and the country will be better off when rotten, hatemongering pricks like you are part of the past.

  • Good lord, Celeste, you & my goth friends, I just don’t get you guys on this Lambert fellow. Talented, sure, but so overblown, no subtlety if you ask me. As for his “political significance,” am I suddenly living in an alternative universe where David Bowie & Elton John were not pop gods, just to name the most obvious examples? Though indeed The Gays still face huge issues in everyday life, the entertainment industry is hardly one of those places.

  • Dacalicious, it’s not that his presence was politically significant, it more had to do with that one song choice by the show for Adam Lambert, which was blatantly political. Plus starting the post there made for a more energized blog post title than “Damnit, Why isn’t Obama Addressing This Issue?!”

    (And clearly being gay is not a liability in the pop world. That wasn’t my point nor was it Frank Rich’s)

    As for liking Lambert or not….hey, there’s no accounting for taste. I enjoyed the overblown stuff. A little over the top glam never hurt anybody. Dunno. I just liked him. He took chances and was interesting to watch each week. He used his voice, at times, like it was a Stratocaster and he was doing Hendrix riffs with it. Other times, he had this guy-linered young Elvis-ish thing going. Maybe it’s just that I got swept up in the middle-of-the-road, populist fever of the show. Can’t say. I may find all of this dreadfully embarrassing in the week or two. But probably not. (I don’t embarrass all that easily.)

  • reg, since you’re cross-posting your hate-filled comments to me here and on Cooper’s site, as you do your cross-dressing, I’ll post my response to you in both places.

    reg, when the best that you have is to associate me with Nazis and the Klan, then you have worse than nothing. It would make more sense for you to be the one to shut-up.

  • Thanks for the response, Celeste. I do think that Lambada — er, Lambert — is destined for little more than the requisite 15 minutes, but then I am somewhat over the hill & admit that perhaps I just don’t get it.

Leave a Comment