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AN AMERICAN STORY Writer/consultant Kerry Eleveld on new book, LGBT issues
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

This article shared 8009 times since Wed Dec 2, 2015
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In Kerry Eleveld's new book, Don't Tell Me To Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama's Presidency, she examines the ways in which grassroots LGBT activists, mainstream LGBT organizations, President Obama and his administration and Capitol Hill lawmakers advanced LGBT equality since Obama took office in 2009.

Eleveld ( author, Daily Kos columnist and former Washington D.C. correspondent and White House reporter for The Advocate ) has been covering LGBT issues since 2006, first in New York and then in Washington D.C. for The Advocate. She was present at numerous White House press briefings during President Obama's first term and interviewed Obama three times throughout the course of his campaign and presidency.

She noted that her book is an American story, not just an LGBT story. Eleveld said the book is very important because LGBT people/events have been left out of the history books.

"The book isn't about me," said Eleveld. "It's about the process of getting LGBT stuff done during Obama's presidency."

Eleveld explained that she looks at her book as the first draft of what will become one of Obama's greatest legacies.

"I was convinced after the first handful of years covering the Obama administration that I'd witnessed something extraordinary and in my eyes we'd reached a political tipping point on LGBT issues," said Eleveld. "When Obama came into office, LGBT issues were still considered toxic and while Democrats usually said nice things in Washington D.C. there really hadn't been any action on LGBT issues except for negative stuff like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [DADT] and the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]."

By the time Eleveld left Washington, D.C., in 2013, the climate had changed dramatically with the passage of the Hate Crimes bill, the repeal of DADT and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that section three of DOMA was unconstitutional.

The demand for LGBT equality reached a tipping point during the Obama administration, Eleveld explained, because grassroots LGBT activists "were fed up and they weren't going to wait any longer, which is why the book is called 'Don't Tell Me to Wait.' It was also something that Obama told me in one of our interviews. He actually used the words don't tell me to wait in an answer to a question I asked him where he referenced Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Dr. King was saying in the letter to white clergy, 'Don't tell me to wait for my freedom and equality,' so the book title is a play on that quote."

"I want readers to walk away with the notion that if they're passionate enough about an issue, they can get involved and make a difference because grassroots activism matters," said Eleveld. "I also wanted mainstream America to get a gripping, digestible and accessible glimpse of some of the history around LGBT issues. This book takes place more or less over a handful of years but it was really important to me wherever possible to go back in time and give people a glimpse of major LGBT heroes like Frank Kameny and Harvey Milk among others."

The book begins on election night in 2008, when Obama was elected while at the same time the Prop 8 ballot measure in California was passed overturning that state's high court marriage equality ruling, and ends with the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.

Eleveld also examines the push back that Obama got from LGBT activists when the campaign invited anti-LGBT minister and singer Donnie McClurkin to perform as a part of their gospel tour in South Carolina as well as the Obama inaugural committee's invitation to anti-LGBT Pastor Rick Warren, a staunch Prop 8 supporter, to do the invocation during the 2009 inauguration.

She also delves into Windy City Times' ( when it was known as Outlines ) questionnaire to then-Illinois state Senate candidate Obama in 1996, when he stated his support for marriage equality. There's also Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim's interview with Obama in 2004, when he was running for the U.S. Senate; he asked Baim to turn off the recorder so they could speak about the difference between civil unions and marriage equality.

"That [questionnaire] was problematic for him and continues to be problematic for him to this day," said Eleveld. "The questionnaire didn't become public until after the 2008 election, so that wasn't an issue the campaign had to deal with when he was saying during the campaign he was for civil unions. He seemed to be pretty versed on LGBT issues in 1996 due to the way that the statements were written that he signed off on."

Eleveld explained that what's amazing is, unlike Obama's first presidential campaign where he would only state his support for civil unions, it became clear to the administration that it would be beneficial for the president to officially come out in favor of marriage equality ahead of the 2012 election.

What struck Eleveld during her interviews with Obama was how careful and thoughtful he was and also how calculated he is regarding every issue that he has to consider. She said that he always manages to get in the last word during interviews.

"After covering him I came to believe that one of his greatest weaknesses was the ability to accept criticism on things for which he felt like he had moral conviction and authority," said Eleveld. "Something like the Rick Warren situation where he felt like he was a fierce advocate for LGBT issues."

Eleveld noted that the most surprising thing she found out while writing the book was that average people can make a difference and get the attention of the Executive Branch if they raise their voices and demand that things get done.

As for the future of LGBT activism, Eleveld said the LGBT movement is in trouble compared to what other progressive movements are doing in pushing their agendas to the various Democratic presidential candidates.

"There's no time for the LGBT community to rest on their laurels," said Eleveld. "They have to move on issues such as the Equality Act or things won't get done"

Don't Tell Me To Wait is available now wherever books are sold. Eleveld can also be found on twitter ( ) and Facebook ( ).

This article shared 8009 times since Wed Dec 2, 2015
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