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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Veteran activist Marsha Botzer speaks on Obama's Stonewall reception
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Veteran activist Marsha Botzer speaks on Obama's Stonewall reception

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'It's a long way from my '60s organizing to the White House,' veteran activist Marsha Botzer told SGN about attending President Obama's June 29 White House reception honoring the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion.

Botzer, who was a national co-chair of Obama Pride during the presidential campaign, was one of about 300 guests at the reception.

'I'm so pleased this was done,' Botzer said. 'To hear a sitting president speak glowingly of Stonewall - and all our issues - it did my heart a lot of good.'

The reception was controversial, coming at the end of a month of public relations disasters for the Obama administration. The release of a Justice Department brief defending DOMA, and Obama's perceived reluctance to challenge "Don't Ask Don't Tell" led many LGBT activists to boycott a Democratic Party fundraiser held only days before the White House reception.

Veteran activist David Mixner, former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides, millionaire donor Bruce Bastian, Obama Leadership Council co-chair Stampp Corbin, blogger Andy Towle, and the entire board of the Stonewall Democrats were all absent from the party event.

Some activists had also called for a boycott of the Stonewall commemoration. Botzer, however, thought it was important to attend.

"It's still our government," she told SGN. "We have to make it work. To shake hands with [Obama] and talk to him - however briefly - about Trans issues, that is a valuable act, a progressive act."

"We don't go naively into that room," she cautioned. "At some point there must be more action. There has to be pressure to get it done. More time is needed, but we're not going to wait forever!"

As a veteran Transgender activist, a founder of Ingersoll Center, a past national co-chair of NGLTF, a former union shop steward, and someone who worked hard to elect Obama, Botzer is in a unique position to speak on how to move the administration.

"He said we'd be proud of him by the end of his term. This was a public commitment to do what he promised to do," she said. "I still believe he will act on his promises."

Botzer confesses to some impatience, however. "ENDA&." she sighs. "The fact that we're still waiting for basic protections for Trans people - for our whole LGBT community - that's just unacceptable."

For Botzer, there is no substitute for political activism. "Action trumps inaction," she insists. "We have to use every tool we can use. Every single tool!"

"We must engage. Nothing fell out of the sky," she says, recalling 30-some years of struggle for equal rights. "We had to engage, engage, engage."

"We need more marches, more Join The Impact," she continues. "We need a more fluid community across all these nominal divisions."

As for her own role in the movement, Botzer says, "I don't see any reason you can't be in the street one day and in the White House the next. These days I spend more time on boards [of directors], but that's not all that needs to be done."

Botzer believes the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will pass ENDA and repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in short order, and she hopes Obama will use his considerable popularity to pressure the Senate to act as well.

"I hope he twists arms!" she says about Obama. "At one point at the reception, I was standing there and I looked up and realized I was standing under a portrait of LBJ. It was a real flashback for me. I remembered how much I loved him and how much I hated him. I hope [Obama] channels the best part of LBJ or Kennedy. All these men - and they've all been men up to now - they could get things done."

Botzer smiles when she thinks of her early days as a '60s radical. "I began by opposing participation in the military and opposing the institution of marriage," she muses. "Now they're vehicles for liberation. If you can change the military, you can change the culture."

"For the new generation, a real understanding of equality is a natural part of their existence," she says. "The people who are standing in the way of ENDA or repealing 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' - they are the past."

Addressing this new generation of LGBT activists, Botzer says "For me, activism was always a communal act. I was not alone. Now it's your turn. The time to be happy is now."

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