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Citizen Lobbyist: My Conversation With Louie Gohmert

When I hear LGBT leaders like Barney Frank talk about the importance of personally lobbying members of congress, I am filled with despair at the thought of trying to get my Congressman to vote for my rights. This past Monday, however, I renewed my commitment to my democratic obligations, and I began to answer the call of Barney Frank and others to be an active citizen lobbyist for equality.

I've always sort of envied those of you who live in Democratic or swing Congressional Districts. You have the luxury of having your views represented, or at least heard, by your representative in Congress. As I have have previously written, I have the misfortune of being "represented" in Congress by Louie Gohmert, a man who proudly places himself in the same ideological category as Steve King and Michelle Bachmann.

I live with the sad reality that I will likely never convince Gohmert to vote for my interests on any given issue, nor will I likely have the opportunity to help elect a Congressman with a more moderate approach to the issues.

Notwithstanding these political realities, I do have the desire to become more engaged with my congressman. Although it has not been clear to me what form my involvement should take, I have decided that, whether it be through letters, phone calls, petitions, letters to the editor, or other direct forms of action, I need to make sure that Congressman Gohmert knows of my disapproval every single time he casts a vote or makes a speech that denigrates me as a gay person or the greater LGBT community.

It was late last Sunday morning when I learned Congressman Louie Gohmert would be making an appearance at a town-hall-style meeting at a church near where I live. As soon as I learned about this appearance, I knew exactly what I needed to do. The opportunity to directly confront my Congressman with more than just a strongly worded letter was far too good an opportunity for me to pass up.

I spent the rest of my Sunday assembling my talking points, and focusing on the issue on which I would confront Congressman Gohmert. I chose to engage him in a conversation about the repeal of the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which allows the military to end the careers of brave service members who choose not to lie about and hide from their true identity as lesbian and gay people. Gohmert has recently made comments on the floor of the House in opposition to repealing DADT. Given Gohmert's previous comments, and given the fact that the bill to repeal this policy will likely be the next major piece of LGBT rights legislation to come for a vote, this topic seemed to be an obvious starting point.

As the time of the meeting approached, the determination I initially had about confronting Gohmert dissolved into nervousness. I had a strong desire to back out. I was, after all, missing Rachel Maddow to go to this meeting. Still, I put the doubts out of my mind and pressed forward with my plan.

I drove alone to the church where the meeting was held. The short notice did not allow me enough time to find others willing to accompany me. I entered the church timidly, and found a room full of about 100 people. The crowd was entirely white, almost entirely over 50, and I would guess mostly over 60. The gray haired grannies smiled at me, their husbands nodded their heads but did not speak. I quickly found my seat. I chose a chair close to the front so that I could be seen when the question and answer period began, but also close to the door so that I could quickly escape should the crowd become hostile. As the meeting got underway with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the pounding in my chest subsided.

Gohmert ultimately showed up 15 minutes late, and made his 45 minute presentation. His speech focused entirely on health care and economic issues, with not a single mention of social hot buttons like gay marriage and abortion. As soon as he offered to take questions, my hand went into the air. But I was not called on to ask the first question, nor the second nor the third. Finally, on the fourth question, Congressman Gohmert acknowledged me and allowed me to stand and ask the question I had rehearsed.

"Congressman Gohmert," I spoke as calmly as I could, trying not to betray my nervousness. "I want to thank you for being here in Longview tonight, and I want to, with great respect, challenge you on a position you have held on an issue of deep importance to me."

He smiled, nodded, and gestured for me to continue. I took a deep breath, and began: "Congressman, last month Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen testified at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the time to repeal the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy has arrived. General Petraeus and General Odierno have expressed their support for the repeal process, as has Vice President Cheney. Will you step forward today and endorse the process of repeal that has been initiated by the Pentagon?"

His answer was a quick "no." His explanation was something about foxholes and how distracting it would be for service members to have to worry about being the object of sexual desire while in combat. The roaring applause of the crowd in response to his talking point was a bit off-putting to me, but strangely, it only encouraged me to press on with my question.

"But, Congressman," I challenged, "they are already there. According to the Palm Center, 66,000 gay and lesbian volunteers are serving in the military today."

"But they're closeted." He retorted, which I guess means that straight service members can't me made uncomfortable by the gays as long as they remain secret gays.

"So they can fight and die for the country they love, but they can't be honest about the person they love?" I asked.

In that moment, I am telling you, Louie Gohmert was speechless. He just looked at me. For the tiniest split second, I think I may have made him think.

Feeling on a role, I continued. "Congressman, my question for you is this: there is a review under way at the Pentagon. If the uniformed and civilian leadership of the military come to you with a recommendation that it is in the best interests of the US military to repeal DADT, will you honor their recommendation, or will you cling to your preconceived ideas contrary to what the experts tell you?"

Again, Congressman Gohmert paused, this time for a couple of seconds. It would have been easy for him to dismiss my question out of hand. It would have been perfectly acceptable in that room with that crowd for him to say that he planned to honor the wishes of his constituents. This would have generated lots of applause and he could have quickly changed the subject.

Instead, he replied, "I'd have to read the plan they gave me, but I would want to do what I believe was the best thing for the military." Congressman Gohmert then thanked me for coming, acknowledged that I had entered a less-than-hospitable environment in which to ask my question, and moved on to the next questioner.

Now, of course, I know that, in the end, Louie Gohmert is not going to vote for a repeal of DADT. Not in a million years. But, I choose to believe that the exchange he had with me helped him, for the briefest of moments, to think about the subject in a way that he probably isn't inclined to think about it. I hope that there were other people in the audience who might also have been moved to think differently about the issue of DADT.

But, while my engagement with my Congressman did not move the needle on the national debate over DADT specifically or LGBT issues more broadly, it achieved one thing that a phone call or an email would not necessarily have achieved: Louie Gohmert can never claim that he doesn't have any constituents who care about LGBT equality. That is an accomplishment, however small, of which I am proud.

Oh, and this won't be the last time Louie Gohmert hears from me. My career as a citizen lobbyist has only just begun.


Topher said…
Excellent work! Though it would be awesome if he had then and there changed his mind, it sounds like you actually got through to him and made him think.
therealpatrick said…
You are right that it would have been great to have changed his mind. I don't hold out any hope of that ever happening.

Still, if I can confront my radical conservative congressman on issues of equality, then every LGBT person and every straight ally can do the same. Enough encounters like tis all over the country, and we might actually get somewhere.
Ameriqueer said…
I still think you should post this over at Bilerico. This is powerful. You could reframe it as an "Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree" deal--challenge every LGBT person to go challenge their lawmakers in person.
therealpatrick said…
I think we are on the same wave length.

I do want to find ways to encourage all LGBTs and straight allies to confront their member of congress face-to-face in support of equality.

We need to make noise, and lots of it. I just need to find a creative way of encouraging others to take action.

I have some ideas, but they are still somewhat preliminary.

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