Signorile Takes On ‘Obama As First Gay President’ Meme

GayPresidentNewsweekAuthor and radio host Michelangelo Signorile waded into the debate over whether President Obama's pro-gay marriage politics make him the first gay president, as Andrew Sullivan asserted in Newsweek.

Signorile's blunt response: no. Unlike Bill Clinton, the "first black president" dethroned by an actual black president, President Obama did not grow up "immersed" in the projected culture he allegedly represents.

Here's more from his explanation at The Huffington Post:

…The "first gay president" label just doesn't work, no matter what rhetorical device you employ. And it makes us gays seem silly and starved for validation.

Bill Clinton grew up poor and among the African-American community, including in the churches in which he worshiped.

Barack Obama didn't grow up immersed in gay culture or understanding the gay experience, and he had no such connection to the gay community… For almost four years the president, for political reasons, didn't say he was for marriage equality. Then, after being pressured by gays, and after many in his own administration couldn't hold back their own support for marriage equality, the president announced his support in the midst of an election campaign.

Though Signorile certainly thinks we should tip our hats to the commander-in-chief, and that he deserves "immense credit," the "first gay president" moniker should be reserved for a actual gay person.


  1. says

    I don’t understand why people want to label him as such, or why people tried to label Clinton that. However close Clinton was to black people growing up and however supportive Obama’s become over gay rights issues as President, Clinton isn’t black and Obama isn’t gay.

    These aren’t bad things; it’s just the way they were born.

    Can’t we all just tip our caps at the fact that these two people had and have a great deal of empathy for communities they weren’t born into, and leave it at that? Empathy is probably the most important human trait — and certainly the most important trait a President can have — so let’s just call it what it is and be happy our current President (unlike his opponent) has it.

  2. wtf says

    Buchanan was gay but he wasn’t GAY: he certainly claimed ALL the privileges of being a straight white man of the time and had absolutely no empathy or compassion for those who were discriminated against. In short, he was a bigot.

  3. anon says

    AS is just head-over-heels in love with Obama and wants to gush any chance he gets. The rest is pretty silly and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

  4. says

    Obama has a big ego. He’ll take attention where ever he can get it. But this time he wasn’t thinking about the possible consequences. He’s more concerned about being a symbolic figure.

  5. thunderboltfan says

    I agree with MS. It’s hard to take seriously a former Bush apologist/professional gay conservative/bareback sex hypocrite like Andrew Sullivan.

  6. Pete n SFO says

    I don’t disagree w/ Michael S at all.

    What irks me about the cover, is that many won’t catch the parallel to Clinton. Instead they’ll assume that if you support gay rights, you must be gay.

    The whole thing is juvenile, and as another poster pointed out, it makes gay people looked foolish & starved for validation.

    My core belief in my equality has nothing whatsoever to do with the opinions others may hold of me.

  7. says

    WTF: You’re trying to apply current cultural and political sensibilities 150 years retroactively. You might as well attack Buchanan for not riding on a float in the 1860 DC pride parade. What, there was no 1860 DC pride parade? According to you it’s his fault; he should have organized one (and perhaps built the horse-drawn floats himself).

    James Buchanan lived in the culture and society of his time. It wasn’t his job to fix all the world’s problems (US hegemony didn’t exist until the end of World War II). He was what we now call the Gay. Get over it.

  8. Kelly says

    Seriously. This the most pressing matter in your life? Truly, you’re going to debate who and why a magazine cover exists?

    Ya know, I’m simply done with the lot of the “pundits”, and anyone else that sucks cash by spouting BS about pointless nonsense. Signorile, take note. You’re utterly useless.

    Can we please move on to something that matters?

  9. Kelly says

    And Towleroad, why are you playing this BS? This is meaningless tripe. Why are you deep-diving into the gutter? You’re honestly thinking a Newsweek cover matters to anyone?

    PLEASE, lift your standards. We’re better than you’re providing. Hurry.

  10. Terry says

    I seriously don’t understand why we (gays) or anyone give Andrew Sullivan any attention whatsoever. He just doesn’t make sense to me. The media should call on him when they need a Catholic Gay Man’s opinion on an issues, but when it comes to mainstream gay issues, let’s get smarter and more logical people to comment. Let’s pay attention to the people who form better more coherent opinions. FIRST GAY PRESIDENT? What an poor and misguided idea. Ain’t no gay president! Whatcha talkin’ bout Andrew Sullivan? Go home!

  11. Derrick from Philly says

    “He was what we now call the Gay. Get over it”

    But then, ANASTASIA, what were the homosexual and transgender folk who actually were part of a subculture in 1860 urban centers around this world? A subculture that would be called “Gay” one hundred years later.

    You can use the term “Gay” to apply to any homosexual in history, but did they have something about their lives that made them show an affiliation with those homo and trans people who ACTUALLY were part of a non-conformist sexual/social subculture in urban centers in 1860?

    That’s like saying that J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn were Gay. No, they were closeted homosexuals who hated and persecuted Gays–they were not Gay.

    Unless they come out with evidence that James Buchanan actually acknowledged his same sex attraction and identified with other same-gender-loving people of his time then I wouldn’t call him Gay.

    Is “Gay” just the sexual orientation part?

    I think one of the under reported debates among sexual minorities today is “What is Gay?” That debate happens on this blog at times.

    I believe that if I were alive in 1860– whether I was a slave on a plantation, a slave in a city, or a free Black and I was also effeminate and homosexual–I could have never lived a “normal” life like a “normal” man. I would have been a “sissy” a “fruit” or “Nellie boy” or “a Mary”. I would have associated with, or atleast sought out others like me. I would have been part of what was later to become known as Gay decades later.

  12. says

    alas, newsweek and sullivan and just out to make some bucks and try to grab a few headlines which of course they did. but sulivan’s basic thesis is flawed, as signorile is quite right in pointing out.

    I’ve seen obama’s support as well totally a political decision, I feel that he’s always been personally unconfortable with gay issues but once biden blurted things out that rather forced obama’s hand. and it is an election year and as many have pointed out, like 1 in 6 donors to the demorat party are gay and some of them have mega-bucks and this will definitely bring in some cash.

    obama and axelrod are smart savvy political types so they figured this was a good enough issue to go along with – the tide of history is going that way and their cost/benefit analysis must have shown more pluses than minuses

  13. Murchu says

    I think the Newsweek cover pic is a bit goofy but it definitely served its purpose of drawing a great deal of attention to the magazine. However, the point of Sullivan’s article is that he feels Obama’s life has parallels to the gay experience. He grew up an outsider (black) in his own (white) family and didn’t find his “own” community until he left for college and the workforce. Many gay people grow up the same, loving our families but feeling that they just can’t understand our minority experience, and then finding that shared community once we venture into the “gay world.” Obviously, no one is saying Obama is gay, in the same way that Clinton was not black and could never really know what it feels like to walk down the street as a black man.

  14. says

    @Derrick from Philly: You think gay necessarily means embodying an identifiably aberrant behavior? It can, but it doesn’t have to. (Cue “Rick”)

    To you, gay means “sissy” a “fruit” or “Nellie boy” or “a Mary”. It doesn’t mean that to me, but I don’t disapprove of your definition just like I don’t demand that long-dead James Buchanan foster your (or WTF’s) current politics and mores, which he could not possibly have foreseen. You should only hope history is forgiving, because you have no idea what’s going to be considered important in the 2160’s.

  15. vanndean says

    Human rights ALWAYS matter. The fact that so many people in NC would vote to violate the rights of so many of their fellow citizens should indicate that there is a problem. To have the President step up and proclaim that he supports equality and rights for gay citizens is important. The fact that the President of the United States stepped up and supported the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States is important. The fact that a presidential contender stated that he did not support the rights of gay citizens is important. The fact that a presidential contender stated that he did not support the constitutional principle and promise of equal protection and then to reinforce that non-support by stating that he never would support equality is, I think, extremely important.

  16. Zlick says

    We may be tired of it, but this meme’s barely a week old – and let’s hope that all things surrounding the President’s announced support of equal marriage don’t go off the radar in the typical news cycle of 24 hours.

    That news cycle now includes coverage of the news itself. With a news cycle that short, how could it not? So how this story is reported and reacted to IS part of the story. The New Yorker cover got a bit of coverage. The Newsweek cover obviously a little more, because it’s a little more controversial and puzzling.

    Memories are short in this nation, so not many people – not even among the readership of Newsweek – are going to remember the cover about Clinton being the “First Black President.” Knowledge of that is essential to understanding the Newsweek “First Gay President” cover.

    Regardless, Sullivan makes his case in the article. I think his case is quite a stretch, and it’s perfectly legitimate for others in the “press” to comment positively or negatively on that story and on the cover.

  17. Stefan says

    @Derrick: I didn’t realize a Gay police existed to patrol the limits of what it means to be gay/Gay. The homosexual and transgender folk of the 1860s, whatever their communities looked like, were not more “Gay” than someone who was not part of that subculture. I understand the point you’re trying to convey–that a difference exists between someone who is active in a part of the LGBT community versus someone who is out but not engaged in that culture, and versus someone who is closeted and presents a false front.

    However, the arbitrary line drawing in which you engage smacks of the same kind of discrimination against which we’ve had to struggle for centuries.

    What kind of message does your homosexual/Gay distinction send to youth? That you’re in a homosexual limbo until you become actively part of the LGBT community, and only then are you welcome to call yourself gay? What about those uncomfortable in the LGBT community as it currently exists? Those who might want to live their gay experience differently, who might define Out and Proud their own way? Do we devalue their identity? What about those who come out later in life? What about those who embrace their homosexuality but don’t regard it as their defining identity?

    Being gay is about sexual orientation, pure and simple. It’s about the experience of being the other, and that’s something we all share in common. For some, the reaction to this experience is to work for acceptance into mainstream society. For others, the reaction is to look for acceptance into a subculture. People on both paths have worked to break down walls and gain gay rights, whether through outspoken activism or by changing the hearts and minds of the heterosexual majority. Neither path is wrong, and neither defines someone as unGay.

  18. Stefan says

    And just to comment on the main thread…While I appreciate some of the parallels Sullivan tries to draw, they lose all integrity when one considers that Obama was not consistently pro-gay across the board throughout his career. His actions, indeed, are arguably an exercise in political opportunism. The analogy would be if Clinton had in his administration to deal with anti-miscegenation statutes in a pre-Loving v Virginia era. If Clinton had said for four years he was against interracial marriage but was “evolving” and then finally came around to supporting it, would Toni Morrison have called him the “First Black President”? No. If anything, given Obama’s youth his failure to lead a strong and unyielding support of gays shows that he does not view us as an oppressed minority in the same way that blacks or other minorities are. As such, he is undeserving of the “First Gay President” distinction.





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