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Blend Exclusive: LGBT Liaison & WH Deputy Director for the Office of Public Engagement Brian Bond

I had a chance to sit down with Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (aka the LGBT liaison) Brian Bond at the ENC Conference on Saturday, before his keynote address before attendees. In the White House food chain Bond reports to Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor and assistant to the president for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Bond has been in contact with me several times over the last year to set up a meeting, but given my lack of proximity to DC and my schedule, it just hasn’t happened until now.

Brian has been an elusive “get,” by the way, when it comes to LGBT media, but Matt Hill Comer of Q-Notes published a Q&A with Bond (via email) on policy questions you should click over to read. There are some standard talking points there, but here’s a summary of what was covered by Matt…

  • Bond says the administration “will not waiver in their support for equal rights”
  • Asked about a timeline for a DADT repeal, Bond said the policy “will be repealed sooner than people think,” that Obama has already begun to talk to the military and Congress, “but Congress will need to actually repeal it and we are committed to working with both the House and Senate.”
  • On DADT, Bond says he “would hope people will take the president at his word and give him the time to do this right.”
  • Bond said the administration has been working on a host of non-legislative issues, including pro-LGBT changes and initiatives in several agencies and departments.
  • Bond says, “…it took over a decade to get hate crimes done, I don’t think it will take near that long to accomplish the repeal of DADT, and passage of ENDA”

So read the Q-Notes piece, my interview and watch the video of the keynote and assess for yourself if there’s anything to read into his comments.

The Pam’s House Blend interview.

(transcript below the fold.)

With that in mind on Saturday, I decided to take a different tack with Brian Bond. The interview I conducted focused on the strained relationship between new media/bloggers/advocacy journalists (I’m being charitable here), and the total disconnect between the Obama campaign’s new media competence and the Obama White House’s blindness, gaffes and outright unhelpful alliances that have potential to really damage progress for our movement.

What is puzzling is that Brian Bond didn’t think he was going to be asked to go on the record with me, but I wasn’t having that. Since I knew there would be talking point regugitated to obvious question I chose to ask him more philosophical questions about how this White House relates to new media, the lack of trust in engaging a large slice of the online LGBT community) and why more than one-way, highly massaged communication isn’t working, and isn’t believable when compared to this admin’s actions.

During the course of the interview, Bond offered this definition of his role as White House Deputy Director for the Office of Public Engagement/LGBT liaison:

1) To advocate within the building, and 2) Let the people know where the President stands on LGBT issues and the work we are doing for equality under the law.

Well, given #2 is part of his job description, Bond has been invisible and inaccessible prior to now. His demeanor and openness about the schism, suggests the administration is under pressure to address these communication issues/problems of the White House’s own making, but that no one is quite sure how to deal with it, thus this meeting and visibility of Brian Bond.

***

Brian Bond Keynote and Q&A from the 2009 Equality NC Conference

(No transcript yet). The breaking news here is his response to a question about transgender appointments to the admin in the first term. Bond said it will be sooner than you think.” (30:07) There is also a question and challenge (47:50) to the President for accepting the honorary title of Chair of the Boy Scouts, which kicks gays out of its organization .

NOTE: At some point during his Q&A, Bond steps off camera (which was on a tripod unmonitored) to answer questions, so you’ll see only the empty podium; eventually he returns so he can be heard and seen via mic. Apologies.

This was chock full of talking points we’ve heard in the past, he told the attendees at the conference about accomplishments and promises, including:

* Hate Crimes Bill
* Ryan White HIV Funding reauthorization
* A fully-inclusive ENDA
* DADT: it will be repealed (no timeline, of course). Bond said it “cannot be addressed with the stroke of a pen.”
* Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act
* DOMA: Didn’t mentions likelihood of passage other than “It will take a lot to get this done.” Bond said in his opinion that a repeal of DOMA will need to have an inclusive ENDA passed and made into law. That, I also believe, makes strategic sense – but that doesn’t preclude a vote to see where pols stand.
* Health Care Reform. Issue of portability and pre-existing conditions are paramount and it’s clearly relevant to LGBTs

He emphasized the type of leader Barack Obama is — he means what he says and will hold true to his promises. He acknowledges that much needs to be done, but that there needs to be patience because the POTUS has only been in office 10 months.

He urged those in the audience to “push us and work with us.” If change was easy, he said, we wouldn’t need all of the advocacy groups we have — he mentioned the NBJC, Servicemembers United, and several others, but notably, not HRC.  Transcript of the PHB interview with Brian Bond. It was tough sell to get Brian Bond to commit to an on-camera interview right on site, but the powers that be cleared the way and, as I said, I was more interested in how this White House thinks about new media and the Netroots, and how that will affect policy rollout.

So submitted without comment, here’s the transcript:

Brian Bond: Makeup…?

Pam Spaulding: No makeup needed. (Laughs) Introduce yourself.

BB: I’m Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration.

PS: Mr. Bond is here today at the Equality NC conference and PHB readers, I’m sure you have lots of questions…just to let you all know, Matt Comer of Q-Notes has done an interview with Brian that is up at Q-Notes.com.

PS: What do you see is the role of the blogosphere, particularly the LGBT blogosphere in engaging with the White House and either helping to report accurately the goals of the administration versus the spin or the coverage that the MSM provides? how do they fit into that universe?

BB: That’s a good question, Pam. I think it’s still being defined, quite frankly. The LGBT bloggers have an important role to play both in disseminating information that’s going on out there, and also to, quite frankly provide us with information that is going on at the grassroots level. For me, I think there’s also still a case of how we figure out how to work together as best we can to achieve what we all want, which is equality under the law.

PS: In terms of building trust in an environment where you have citizen journalists, advocacy journalists participating, [how do you] make that trust well-placed considering there have been several or numerous incidents where it could be perceived that the Obama administration has either dragged its feet upon acting or appears to be disinterested in equality goals?

BB: This one’s a little frustrating for me…I don’t see this administration, I certainly don’t see my boss, the President of the United States, backtracking on any of his commitments to our community. I think some are issues of timing, clearly when we got in here there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed, including fixing the economy, but that did not mean that LGBT issues went put on the back burner. I think just the recent final passage after over a decade of hate crimes shows that some things don’t move as fast as they should. But we’re getting there. I think a little bit here is going to have to be a leap of faith.

Again, this president has not backtracked on any of his commitments; and at some point the bloggers and the readers there I hope they will trust this president and work with him, work with us to achieve true equality. We’re working on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…we’re working on ENDA; you’re going to see mark up in the House next week on ENDA. These are important pieces of equality legislation for our community. I would go back to hate crimes — it took over a decade to get this done. This is the first gender identity-inclusive [federal] piece of legislation in the country. It makes it a little easier now to get ENDA.

I’m sitting here in NC…I’m from rural Missouri, my goal and part of the reason I work for and value working for this President, is I know where we’re going to end up. Some of this is going to have to be a little bit of a leap of faith. At the same time, I own some of this and maybe I should be doing a better job of communicating some of the issues and how we’re tackling certain issues out there and I will certainly work on that.

PS: Do you have any plans or thoughts about how to bridge that communication gap? Because I think a lot of the blogosphere knows that the administration has good intentions but that there’s a lack of information and certainly counter information [that develops because of the lack of information]…having had this discussion about these things with several people, do you have a sense of what might be a good way to bridge that communication gap?

BB: I think the blogger world is going to have to take little bit of a leap of faith. But I think I need to go back and figure out a plan of how we communicate more strongly, more “out there” if you will, no pun intended, on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, how we expect it to be done. The reality is, in some situations there are going to be times when you’re going to have to trust us because there are some things that you can’t necessarily put the specific timeline out there. Again, this is a president that means what he says and does what he says. So, I think there could be any combinations of discussions, dialogues, conversations [with LGBT media/bloggers] where some of the information would be public and some of it is a plan in procress.  

PS: What is important about speaking here in NC; what made the decision for you to want to participate?

BB: I have two roles as LGBT liaison — 1) To advocate within the building, and the other is, of course, let the people know where the President stands on LGBT issues and the work we are doing for equality under the law. NC reminds me a lot,quite frankly, of my home state of Missouri, and the incredible job that Equality NC is doing at the state level is important. These are the places where if I can help at all I want to be helpful because I value and appreciate the work that what I consider Equality NC to be — which is a partner in our struggle for equality.

PS: Do you think the President truly understands what it’s like for people in the Red states who don’t have advocacy in their state legislatures, and are living under the threat of losing their jobs and losing custody of their children; that it’s a reality for many of us that we can’t all pick up and move to a Blue state?

BB: That’s a really good question…I do. Part of what…there’s a couple of lines in my speech today and I think I can repeat it here pretty easily. I’m an HIV-positive gay guy that grew up rural Missouri who has a partner with a 16-year-old daughter. I’m fortunate that I live in DC right now where clearly it’s not the same as where I grew up.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that this President gets it; I believe from the bottom of my heart that this President will get these issues down, when I mean these issues I mean repealing DADT, passing an inclusive ENDA, we’ve already done hate crimes, Ryan White Reauthorization…but there’s even more to be done.

It’s important to say that I know the President of the United States gets it for a couple of reasons. 1) it’s not just where he stands on the issues, it’s the kind of people he has brought into the administration, both gay and straight. We’re just now really staffed up at the departments and agencies, and the announcements that were just made at HUD on how to deal with housing issues, LGBT inclusion in housing issues; a sweeping survey on discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity in housing — that speaks to the President’s vision and who the President is. And I think you’ll see more flowing from this administration on a constant level, of trying to make life a little bit fairer and a little bit better for people both in the Red states and the Blue states. I firmly believe he gets it.

PS:  Then I would hope that he (the President) plans to give speeches and advocacy for ENDA, or DADT repeal and DOMA before audiences that were not gay. I think that was one of the things that impressed everyone during the campaign, was that he spoke about these issues before groups that  really didn’t want to hear them. I think this is a time where he should try that again, what do you think?

BB: I totally agree with that, and a good example of that — the National Black Justice Coalition has been doing an incredible amount of work with the NAACP and as they were gearing up for their centennial convention in New York this summer. They made a specific ask of us –they asked for the President to talk about LGBT rights. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be at that convention, but I was watching it on TV when the President spoke to a very large audience about the need to embrace and celebrate and look out for the rights for our gay brothers and sisters —  the room erupted [the President’s remarks here]. And it’s not something he had to do, it was something he wanted to do. As you said, it’s something he did during the campaign.

There’s not a meeting that happens in the White House of substance where there is not an LGBT presence; whether it’s something as symbolic as a Father’s Day event where we had gay fathers there speaking to and about their experiences. Whether it’s a business-related activity, economic recovery activity where you have people from the gay Chamber [of Commerce] there speaking and talking to individuals.

Even something as simple as a reception can help shift the paradigm, if you will. We’ve had a couple of receptions where we made sure that people from the LGBT community there, who in their constituencies, from their the straight constituencies, were somewhat ignoring them. But because the President of the United States had invited them to be at theis reception all of a sudden it was like “Wow, oh.” So a dialogue would start.

So I think it’s a very good point, Pam. I think something that is part of the character of this President, I think you’ll see more of it as we gear up for DADT and ENDA. You will definitely see more of it.

What I read into this, looking for an overarching theme, is that the White House knows it’s in the dog house with a segment of the LGBT community — the grassroots — and is seeking ways to bypass the traditional communications structures and directly to us.

The difficulty of achieving this is considerable quite frankly; it means breaking new ground that acknowledges the shift in the delicate balance of the traditional information chain with not just LGBTs, but all constituency groups that have developed a strong online community presence has changed. These political venues are not enveloped and run by traditional advocacy organizations.

I actually feel for all involved in this wave of change because it does upset the apple cart in a way that leaves all parties on unsure footing with one another. But rather than gripe and moan or run to protect “turf,” it’s time to check egos at the door and find a better way to operate that will get legislation passed. And that has to be based on trust, and it’s clear it needs to be rebuilt.

What happens next is your guess.

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Pam Spaulding

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