The Hecklers’ Veto

Tonight, people associated with GetEqual directly heckled the sitting President, who is generally supportive of LGBT equality but is not being clear enough about the timeline — in this case, the timeline for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — for many activists.

I’m honestly not sure what I think about tonight, but I do think this is different from last month’s actions.

I actually think it might have been smarter, politically, for the group than the previous GetEqual-related actions. Although disrespectful to President Obama, it was certainly not of the “arrest risk” level of the other actions. That’s a big difference from the first day of actions. This was a brief, targeted action that, in the larger scheme of things, was minimally disruptive.

Also, and more importantly, this was a presidential event with many people in attendance, so there is mainstream press being forced to write about this. The pool report, circulating at this time, talks about the disruption in pain-staking (for the White House) detail.

The downside of this action is that Sen. Boxer had her event, I think unfairly, targeted and tarnished. I’m not quite sure of the advantage gained by putting a damper on a potentially vulnerable, pro-LGBT elected official’s fundraising event.

Also, this was directly aimed at Obama, as opposed to more generally at the White House or Congress. While that could — and likely is — seen as a positive for GetEqual’s supporters, I’m not sure Obama wants DADT repeal any more after tonight. Maybe he will do more, and maybe that’s enough to call this a success, but I can’t imagine that it made him more eager personally to support LGBT equality. I’m not sure about that, but I still think that’s the downside in taking on the President in this way.

Another potential downside is that this wasn’t an LGBT event. This is the first test of how GetEqual’s message translates outside of the LGBT community — both in the progressive community generally and across the nation. So, while watching LGBT coverage of this event will be important, I’m going to pay close attention to non-LGBT media’s coverage of tonight’s action.

Finally, there is the downside that comes along with the hecklers’ veto. Tonight’s hecklers chose — with no consultation and with no accountability — to take action of their own behalf that will, in many forms, be reflected on many folks seeking an end to DADT and advancement of other LGBT equality legislation. That is not their fault, and it is not something for which they should be blamed. But, it will happen, and others who are ambivalent about, supportive of or oppose their actions will be explaining this action to others.

Maybe that’s fine. Maybe the answer is simply, “It wasn’t me.” Perhaps the response is, “Do you disagree that LGBT people deserve full equality now?”

These are difficult issues in a righteous struggle. Tonight, I think, was a slightly different animal than last month’s actions and worthy of examination on its own merits.

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.