Barack Obama | Bullying | Don't Ask, Don't Tell | Military | News

Obama Discusses Bullying, 'DADT', Whether Being Gay is a Choice, at MTV Town Hall


At an MTV Town Hall with young people this afternoon, Obama faced a number of questions on LGBT issues.

One question dealt with online harassment, and bullying (transcript via the White House): 

Q    Hello, my name is Allie Vonparis (ph).  I’m a junior at University of Maryland in College Park and also -- this is more of a personal question -- but I’m also a victim of anonymous, hurtful, degrading harassment over the Internet.  Police and university officials have been unable to help put a stop to it.  My question to you is, what can you do, if anything, to put a stop to these vicious attacks over the Internet while preserving our rights to freedom of speech?  I also ask this in light of the recent -- the tragic deaths recently on the news of young people who are bullied and harassed online.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s a great question.  And obviously our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers, when we read about some of these other young people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of harassment and bullying that just completely gets out of hand. 

 And so we actually, the Department of Education, has initiated a -- we had a summit a couple of weeks ago just to talk about this issue:  How can we help local and state officials set up structures where young people feel safe, where there’s a trigger that goes off when this kind of bullying starts taking place so that immediately school officials can nip it at the bud?  So there are a range of cooperative efforts that we can initiate.

Now, in terms of the Internet, you’re right, it is a challenging thing because the Internet -- part of the power of the Internet is, is that information flows out there and it’s generally not censored and it’s generally not controlled by any single authority.

But at your school, for example, I think there is nothing wrong with instituting policies that say that harassment of any form, whether it comes through the Internet or whether it happens to you face to face, is unacceptable; that we’ve got zero tolerance when it comes to sexual harassment, we have zero tolerance when it comes to harassing people because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their ethnicity.

And I think that making sure that every institution, whether it’s our schools, our government, our places of work, take these issues seriously and know that in some cases there are laws against this kind of harassment and that prosecutions will take place when somebody violates those laws.  Sending that message of seriousness is something that I think we all have to do.

 Now, the last point I would make is that the law is a powerful thing but the law doesn’t always change what’s in people’s hearts.  And so all of us have an obligation to think about how we’re treating other people.  And what we may think is funny or cute may end up being powerfully hurtful.  And I’ve got two daughters, 12 and nine, and Michelle and I spend a lot of time talking to them about putting themselves in other people’s shoes and seeing through other people’s eyes.  And if somebody is different from you, that’s not something you criticize, that’s something that you appreciate.

And so I think there’s also a values component to this that all of us have to be in a serious conversation about.  Because ultimately peer pressure can lead people to bully, but peer pressure can also say bullying is not acceptable.

Another question, via Twitter, asked "Dear President Obama, do you think being gay or trans is a choice?"

Obama answered: 

"I am not obviously -- I don't profess to be an expert. This is a layperson's opinion. But I don't think it's a choice. I think people are born with a certain makeup, and we're all children of God. We don't make determinations about who we love. And that's why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett apologized earlier today for language she used in a Washington Post interview which referred to being gay as a "lifestyle choice".

A third LGBT-related question dealt with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell:"

Q    I voted for you in the last elections based on your alleged commitment to equality for all Americans, gay and straight, and I wanted to know where you stood on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  I know that you’ve mentioned that you want the Senate to repeal it before you do it yourself.  My question is you as the President can sort of have an executive order that ends it once and for all, as Harry -- as Truman did for the integration of the military in ‘48.  So I wonder why don’t you do that if this is a policy that you’re committed to ending.

THE PRESIDENT:  First of all, I haven’t “mentioned” that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t ask” -- I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union address, that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that we’re going to end this policy.  That’s point number one.

Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s was that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally.  So this is not a situation in which with a stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy. 

Now, having said that, what I have been able to do is for the first time get the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, to say he thinks the policy should end.  The Secretary of Defense has said he recognizes that the policy needs to change.  And we, I believe, have enough votes in the Senate to go ahead and remove this constraint on me, as the House has already done, so that I can go ahead and end it.

Now, we recently had a Supreme Court -- a district court case that said, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional.  I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve.  And they shouldn’t have to lie about who they are in order to serve.

And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy.  It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now.  But this is not a question of whether the policy will end.  This policy will end and it will end on my watch.  But I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules.  I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there.  I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.

Video on DADT question, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. Pretty, pretty words as usual. You don't offer words of support on LGBT issues and then work against them. His appealing of the DADT and DOMA cases is tantamount to President Linclon saying he would "work with congress" to abolish slavery, then do nothing to actually abolish it and then buy a slave or two of his own. Obama is a liar and a homophobe. He either thinks DADT and DOMA are discriminatory or he doesn't. His actions speak much, much louder than his words.

    Posted by: Brad | Oct 14, 2010 6:29:47 PM

  2. Notice he does not use the words "gay" or "lesbian" once in his statement. He makes it about "anybody who wants to serve."

    It's about "policies" and "rules." Never mentions actual servicepeople.

    Posted by: Guest | Oct 14, 2010 6:34:29 PM

  3. I'd rather they both just STFU.

    Posted by: Perry | Oct 14, 2010 6:35:48 PM

  4. Blah, blah, blah.

    I want timelines Obama.

    WHEN will DADT be over?

    WHY are you defending DADT (your excuses for defending it are pathetic).

    WHY if you proclaim to support equality, do you still support marriage apartheid for gay people.

    Why has NOTHING been achieved in advancing LGBT rights been achieved in the past 2 years of your presidency?

    I demand action, not words.

    Are you just a slimy opportunist?

    Posted by: SteveC | Oct 14, 2010 6:42:02 PM

  5. Nothing has been achieved yet,

    Do NOT give donations to Obama or the Democrats until concrete action has been taken on DADT, DOMA, ENDA and marriage equality.

    Actions speak louder than empty rhetoric.

    As for Obama's point about us all being 'god's children'? Bullshit. I am my parents' child. I am NOT the child of some evil sky fairy.

    Posted by: SteveC | Oct 14, 2010 6:45:39 PM

  6. Just yesterday, my husband received the "2010 Presidential Survey" from the DNC. In the section about "issues" they listed 14 (e.g., America's Economic Situation; Regulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, Handing over responsibility to the Iraqi people, Dealing with North Korea, etc.). Funny, they didn't mention DADT, DOMA, ENDA, or bullying.

    I called the DNC's Marketing Dept. which puts out the survey. They are personally sympathetic to our causes, but the reality is, THEY HAVEN'T BEEN HEARING COMPLAINTS FROM US.

    Please, please, enough griping on Towleroad (i.e., preaching to the converted); call the DNC tomorrow: 202.863.8000 and ask to speak to the Marketing Dept. Let them know you expect to be at the table and let them know, respectfully, the we won't be taken for granted.

    Call the White House as well: 202.456.1111 or submit a comment online:

    Stop bitching, start calling. We won't get what we don't ask for, again, and again, and again.

    Posted by: David R. | Oct 14, 2010 6:48:49 PM

  7. Too bad no one ever asks Obama the DADT question using the correct terminology. They should ask him "why don't you use your legal authority to suspend DADT by issuing an executive stop loss order?"

    Then he couldn't weasel out with the answer by claiming he can't END THE POLICY with the stroke of a pen, which is true. But, it is also true that he can SUSPEND the policy with the stroke of a pen.

    Posted by: Tim | Oct 14, 2010 6:54:56 PM

  8. oh My ass the DNC hasn't heard from the gays, what a bullshit line.

    IF you get one of their donation envelopes, print off a few of these and send them back:

    Posted by: Gridlock | Oct 14, 2010 6:59:53 PM

  9. Frankly, I'd rather he mention "GOP" than "gay" when he answers DADT-related questions.

    Using both words without hesitation would, of course, be ideal.

    Posted by: BobN | Oct 14, 2010 7:16:09 PM

  10. "...I think people are born with a certain makeup, and we're all children of God. We don't make determinations about who we love. And that's why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong."

    "...except for that whole 'getting married thing' that would treat gay citizens as equals. In that case, I think discrimination is just fine."

    Apparently, God wants some of his children to be discriminated against.

    Posted by: David in Houston | Oct 14, 2010 7:23:22 PM

  11. @ Tim: your point is well-taken; even many professionals in media fail to phrase their questions specifically enough, BUT Anderson Cooper did, broadcast on July 13th of LAST YEAR [video link at bottom].

    "COOPER: One more question, before we go to Africa. Don't ask, don't tell, it requires an act of Congress to overturn it. You have said you want it overturned.

    OBAMA: Yes.

    COOPER: But your critics, and even some of your supporters, say, look, you could stop ENFORCEMENT right now of don't ask, don't tell. You could defer enforcement until you prod Congress to act. Why not? Why not act?

    OBAMA: Look, I have had conversations with Bob Gates, as well as Admiral Mullen, about the fact that I want to see this law changed. I also want to make sure that we are not simply ignoring a congressional law. If Congress passes a law that is constitutionally valid, then it's not appropriate for the executive branch simply to say, we will not enforce a law. It is our duty to enforce laws."

    Unfortunately, Cooper then retreated, and didn't say, "You didn't answer the question!" Or point out these two facts:

    1. It has NEVER been declared "Constitutional" by the Supremes, thus proving that Obama's claims to being a "constitutional scholar" are bogus.

    2. He damn well knew by then that ANOTHER federal law, “10 United States Code § 12305”—“Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Laws Relating to Promotion, Retirement, and Separation”—gives him UNEQUIVOCAL, UNILATERAL power to ignore DADT and suspend any or all gay discharges in the name of national security.

    ACCEPT IT: the man is a fraud wno, for whatever reason, has bowed to the bigots in the Pentagon to either continue discharges or segregate gays in the military in some yet-to-be-announced plan.

    Posted by: Michael @ | Oct 14, 2010 7:35:36 PM

  12. Barack Obama's administration has just requested a stay on the judicial overturn of DADT.

    F*** you Obama.

    You lying, homophobic hypocrite.

    Do NOT donate money to the homophobic Democrat Party.

    I'm voting Green from now on.

    The 'lesser of 2 evils' no longer works for me.

    Posted by: SteveC | Oct 14, 2010 7:40:54 PM

  13. Jeez, some of you make it sound he's the third incarnation of the Bush dynasty. Do you have no idea how politics works, especially when the military is involved and something like half of Congress is made up of straight veterans?

    Am I frustrated with the lack of progress? Yes. But is DADT my top priority for our rights? No way. ENDA would be way easier to achieve, much faster, and benefit far more people. Progress on that front would help pave the way for repealing DOMA and DADT. The GOP can scare a lot more people with "national security" issues than with equal rights for employment or even marriage equality. DADT should not have been the top priority for gay rights. There are horrific stories about the unconscionable discharges, no doubt. But joining the military is a choice. And having a president say the "right words" is a lot more important than having him say the wrong ones. We wouldn't even be having this conversation under a GOP president.

    If he issues a stop-loss order, much of the military would revolt against the commander in chief---hardly something you want during war. Military issues require that certain protocol be followed, no matter how noxious the policy. Do you actually know people in the military? I do---lots.

    So go ahead, pile on and call me a GOP lover or self-loathing bastard or whatever. I'm just being realistic.

    Posted by: Paul R | Oct 14, 2010 7:41:56 PM

  14. @Michael,
    The real problem is that Obama wants DADT repeal to be done the way the military wants it done. They want to slow-walk it. Gates has already said he will need discharges to continue for up to a year after the repeal. Gates wants the december report to "inform" congress because he wants to use the report to justify repeal with continued segregation in the military. Gates continue to talk about changes that will be required to Defense Dept Building which is code for separate barracks. Today they leaked part of the survey results saying that some areas of the military have many concerns over repeal while other areas don't. They will use that to segregate gays into limited job opportunities. Gays will be allowed to work in the areas where they aren't considered to make the straights "nervous" and on and on.....

    Posted by: Tim | Oct 14, 2010 7:48:03 PM

  15. America's first BLACK President defends DISCRIMINATION!

    I will never again give my time, my money$$$ or my VOTE to this LYING POS!

    Posted by: FunMe | Oct 14, 2010 7:55:32 PM

  16. "Jeez, some of you make it sound he's the third incarnation of the Bush dynasty."

    Well he is.

    There has been ZERO advancement on LGBT rights during the almost 2 years of his presidency. Even though they had a majority in both houses.

    That spells FAIL to me.

    Posted by: SteveC | Oct 14, 2010 8:06:13 PM

  17. @Michael,

    I agree with your points that Obama has bowed to Bigots (or must be trying to appease them to get votes) with his inaction.

    But, he did answer AC's question. He basically said that as he interprets the constitution and sees Executive power, that it is not his place to override decisions of congress unilaterally. He is basically espousing a view of the Constitution that rejects the Bush (and really Woo) view of executive power being unlimited.

    Posted by: Joe | Oct 14, 2010 8:16:13 PM

  18. The first slap was with that Bigot Warren at the swearing in, he's gone down hill on gay rights since. He'll have a lot to make up if he wants the gay vote next time around. I will not vote GOP this year, next time I may just vote Green.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Oct 14, 2010 8:22:50 PM

  19. Thank you, Paul R. That makes sense. I wish more of us were politically aware

    Posted by: wondermann | Oct 14, 2010 8:39:10 PM

  20. This is the same Obama who today decided to appeal the judge's ruling against DADT. What a sorry, shallow fraud.

    Posted by: Max | Oct 14, 2010 8:50:06 PM

  21. @Paul R: Thank you for making a comment based in reality.

    @Wondermann: Thank you for ackowledging Paul R's comment.

    People of Towleroad: Making threats against allies is only hurting your cause. Taking action from where you stand will help. Make phone calls, talk to your senators. DO THE WORK! That's what people of color and their allies did not so long ago. And the policies implemented as a result are far more lasting. If we take the time to undo the injustice, and build a strong, sturdy foundation for lgbt rights, it will be far more worthwhile. This is what Obama is trying to communicate: put in the effort and it will pay off. Being brash gets you somewhere temporarily; being bold, patient, driven, and focused towards a goal will bring a lifetime of results. In other words, we want this bullsh*t over for good. Obama recognizes the importance of this. He is our ally not our enemy. Don't be fooled by those who actively attempt to destroy your cause by relabeling your friends (History has proven this as a tactic, a means, to disrupt any minority uprising). As David R suggests, "Stop Griping" and speak your mind to the people that have the power to change the laws i.e. your Senators and congresspeople. I repeat, Don't Be Fooled, Know your Allies and Enemies, Do the Work. Be Responsible for the things you care about!

    Posted by: W | Oct 14, 2010 9:18:13 PM

  22. @SteveC: If you've seen ZERO change in policies and attitudes toward LGBT rights since Obama entered office, then I'm sorry you can't read the news. Yes it's been piecemeal and disappointing, but it sure as hell has been a lot more than we ever got under Shrub.

    It's a fucked up country, with huge pockets of conservatism. Democrats suck at ruling and coherence. The GOP is evil. Obama doesn't want to be the dictator that Cheney carved out for Bush II, nor can he be. Face reality.

    Posted by: Paul R | Oct 14, 2010 9:29:25 PM

  23. To PaulR and other Kool Aid drinkers: If you really believe the jabberwocky the bigot in chief is spinning, if you really think this guy cares about anything other than our votes and money, then you BADLY need a reality check.

    Posted by: justiceontherocks | Oct 14, 2010 9:32:42 PM

  24. @Justice: May I ask you, what have you done to help change the current state of lgbt affairs?

    Posted by: W | Oct 14, 2010 9:38:39 PM

  25. Obama's words are meaningless. He has been saying nice words for years but he is doing nothing to end DADT, DOMA and is doing nothing to enact ENDA. In fact he has been DEFENDING DADT and DOMA in the courts. If he really wants DADT to end, he would have obeyed the court and ordered the military to obey the court and end enforcement if this law. But he is once again supporting the law in courts. Actions speak louder than words, Mister President, and your actions indicate you are an enemy of the GLBT community as much as Pat Robertson and NOM. The only difference is that your words are sweeter. But your actions prove you are a liar and a coward and a bigot. To think the first African American president does not care for justice is a travesty.

    Posted by: John Patrick | Oct 14, 2010 9:45:03 PM

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