CommunityPam's House Blend

Wrap up on the 'State of the Movement' panel

[UPDATE: Metro Weekly’s coverage is here.]

I was in DC last night for a panel discussion on the State of the Movement, moderated by Sean Bugg of Metro Weekly. It was held in the Human Rights Campaign community room; according to Sean about 100 folks came to the gathering.

On the panel: Chris Barron of the Log Cabin Republicans; Herndon Davis of the National Black Justice Coalition; Matt Foreman, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Mara Keisling of National Center for Transgender Equality; John Marble, of National Stonewall Democrats;  C. Dixon Osburn, from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network; Joe Solmonese, HRC; and yours truly.

The overall impressions I came away with are after the flip…* The mainstream advocacy organizations haven’t figured out blogs, and by and large are threatened by them. It’s because 1) the “message” from the community cannot be controlled; 2) they are perceived by mainstream organization as “a distraction” from doing business as usual. Sorry, Joe, we’re not going away, so you’re going to have to try a different way to approach voices out there that are commisserating and engaging in activism in cyberspace as well as the non-virtual grassroots — you know, actual LGBT folks living in the real world out there, which brings me to…

* There’s still a clear disconnect between mainstream LGBT organizations (and metro gay folks). They are located in urban islands of almost-equality, and the rest of us are living in the Red State war zones of amendments, anti-gay legislation and incessant efforts by the religious fringe to take away rights already won (see Michigan). Folks at the ground level deserve and need our help because both political parties have been allowed to endorse the position that the civil rights of a minority of citizens should put to a vote at the ballot box.

I mentioned the urban/non-urban divide during the panel, and Chris Barron concurred that we can’t hang our brothers and sisters in the hinterlands out to dry. He hails from tiny Goldsboro, NC, so knew exactly what I was talking about. [BTW, Chris also good-naturedly ribbed me after the panel for my well-known general criticism of the LCRs, but just wanted me to know as long as I run a flattering pic of him, he’s ok with that. ]

* I didn’t come away with any idea of how our advocacy organizations plan to hold any of the top-tier 2008  candidates accountable for articulating clear public positions on specific equality issues (adoption, immigration rights, foster parenting, discrimination in housing, etc.), particularly civil unions. That goes for Dems and Republicans. No advocacy organization worth a dime should let “I support civil unions” to be a complete answer to the question of what civil rights gays and lesbians are entitled to. Because of inattention and tacit consent to put rights on the ballot, we’ve got a country with a confusing patchwork of negative laws in place that will take year to undol. A 2007 candidate must be on the record regarding their support, or lack thereof, for a repeal or amendment of DOMA, since it has direct impact on the portability of rights conveyed with CUs.

* There’s not a clear agreement on how to marshal support for the agenda in terms of LGBT-related legislation before this Congress. There was plenty of discussion of the potential for passage of fed hate crimes legislation and ENDA, and to a lesser extent, DADT. I personally think that the repeal of DADT is possible, certainly more likely when you have the military under such stress to retain and recruit. I am concerned about ENDA — will the movement toss the “T”s under the bus to get it passed, or stand firm for protections for our transgender brothers and sisters? I didn’t come away with a satisfactory answer.

The right wing is going to drag out all sorts of stupidity about separate bathrooms and other BS. What are the advocacy organizations planning to do to counter this aside from saying the corporate world has handled LGBT anti-discrimination protections without missing a beat (or a hit to the bottom line)?  We all know that true, and we’ll hear from them when/if there are hearings, but we need well-developed talking points for each and every unhinged e-blast attack that we know is coming. the religious right knows how to use the Internet to smear and spread fear and using the Internet is essential for a counterattack.

Fighting the well-organized, well-funded hate machine in 2007 is more than bringing sympathetic corporate voices to a hearing, or issuing a carefully vetted press release hours after the horse is out of the barn on a hot issue or attack. For instance, take this latest email blast from the American Family Association on the hate crimes bill (HR254).

Here is a partial list of what homosexual activists are trying to force on every American. While HR 254 will not, in and of itself, accomplish these goals, it will open the door to such regulations. Once the elephant gets its trunk under the tent, the way is open for the elephant to move inside and do whatever he wants.

– Preaching that homosexuality is a sin from the pulpit will result in the preacher being charged with “hate speech.”
– Churches will have their tax-exempt status revoked if they oppose homosexuality.
– Homosexual marriage will be legalized and recognized in all states.
– Polygamy will be legalized.
– Landlords will be forced to rent to homosexuals.
– Scouts, and all non-profit organizations, will be required to hire homosexuals as leaders.
– Biblical language used to define homosexuality will be considered “hate speech.” City officials have already had a billboard removed in Long Island, NY, because it was classified as “hate speech.” The billboard read: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13)
– Employees will not be allowed to say anything negative about homosexuality in their workplaces.
– Classes promoting the homosexual lifestyle will be included in school curricula beginning with the lower grades.
– Employers will be forced to hire homosexuals.
– Adoption by homosexuals will be legalized in every state.

This drivel goes on and on, and doesn’t get challenged quickly and directly. It may be taking the high road for our advocacy organizations to ignore the Wildmon gang, but their minions know how to flood Congressional offices with faxes and emails like it’s a science. This isn’t child’s play. We need to take these organizations out by destroying their ability to frame an issue up front. Our large advocacy organizations are always seemingly in reactive mode even though the professional “Christian” victim lobby uses the same playbook every time. It’s getting less effective, but it’s due mostly to their own hypocrisy and unhinged rhetoric derailing them, rather than our organizations making the case that these extremists are attacking our  fundamental freedoms, and they aren’t stopping with the queer folks. 

* Mara Keisling of National Center for Transgender Equality noted the issues that are common to the lesbian and gay struggle for equality and those that are parallel but T specific, such as adoption and parental rights. As we know, in Utah a recent court ruling denies visitation rights to a non-biolological parent. In this country a transgender biological parent can lose custody of their biological child when a relationship goes sour. We’ve got a long way to go.

It looks like some other bloggers who attended have weighed in on the panel, so I’ll share a little link love and offer snippets:

Jimbo:

There was a remarkable amount of time spent discussing blogs and other new media forms and how they can benefit organizations, and their efficacy outside of organizations.

– Herndon Davis from the National Black Justice Coalition seemed to have the best strategies offered for their constituent community both through smart use of new media and for reaching to the community through churches.

– Several speakers from the audience felt that the legal strategies of the major organizations were 10 years ahead of the movement’s progress. Again, let me say that the major organizations are institutionalized beyond their ability to make effective change, and changes in how people think, the awareness of what our problems are, and knowing why we are asking for these rights are not well-enough known by the general public and those who would align with the KKKrazy Konservative Kristians. Once they know enough, fairness will prevail in their minds, but until then they just don’t understand what we’re bitching about.

The Scientist’s View had quite a bit to say (and multiple posts):

Dear Joe Solmonese deigned to sit on the panel tonight. And he was pedantic. His whole spiel could be embodied in this summation:
“You just don’t understand how things work.”

Now having been in academics for ages, I have run across this sort a number of times. The professor, giving you some weary look as you describe your idea, shoots it down passively. They don’t explain their disagreement with your idea because “it is just wrong”. No further explanation given nor needed. The professor doesn’t have time to go into explaining the basics of the err of your ways. Or, what is generally more accurate, they won’t lower themselves to argue with an inferior. And why should they? You, the little peon, just don’t understand but Joe does.

Joe is a political animal. As the head of HRC, he doesn’t have time to explain why grass-roots approaches are so slow, sloppy and ineffective. He can just tell you that it is, he’ll then do a stage voice sigh, and pick at some imaginary lint on his Gucci sleeve. Condescension dripped from his every pronouncement.

To Joe, low level politics are passe. Blogs are distracting (quote). Local efforts are notable, not as a means but soley as a humble example, but ultimately, small potatoes. The only thing that matters is the House and the Senate. 535 people are his audience. The rest of us, the unwashed gay masses, are just sheep and we ought to just write our checks and shut the fuck up. He will decide what we need and our job is to genuflect towards the onerous burden that he has in spending our contributions.

Yipes. OK. That was harsh. Was the criticism, at its core, unfair? Hmmmm…I’ll have to think on that one…well…no. I’d probably spin it a little differently, though. I think that HRC and organizations of that size and scope (gay or not), are not useful if we are looking for them to be activists, on the front line, aggressively pushing for reframing of our issues, or fighting the right wing head-on. I think that they have mainstreamed themselves into a corner — HRC exists to have access to power, it sees that (I think wrongly), by cleaving to the Democratic Party, disregarding that a “D” next to your name doesn’t mean pro-equality — they simply want a Dem majority to stop the bleeding of years of GOP rule.

They have chosen to turn a blind eye to the fact that a whole lot of bible belt Dems who were elected in this cycle are social conservatives — and aren’t going to be a friend of the LGBT community. The bottom line example of what doesn’t work for me — endorsing Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamont in the CT primary. Lamont was clearly the more pro-gay candidate, but HRC went with the power of incumbency over principle — that was the signal that the advocacy shark had been jumped.

Is this OK? Perhaps from some vantage points (if you’re talking about dealing with Capitol Hill), it makes sense to mainstream your organization, but when you have an abandonment of core priniciples of advocacy, an organization’s mission has changed. We simply need to know what the movement’s hierarchy and mission is, and act/react accordingly.  That may mean continuing to give to national organizations, or choosing to withhold support and give to local equality organizations where the boots are on the ground.

Back to The Scientist’s View, with following up on the observation about gay urbanites and advocacy organizations being out of touch with life as it exists for LGBT folks in the hinterlands.

Let’s go to Pam’s pad with Joe, drive 30 miles to the north and east along I-85 to Henderson, NC. Its a unremarkable town near Kerr Lake and deep in the red zone. Let’s have Joe walk with us to a local event and he can start with his “You just don’t get it” routine. Experiment will end with a lot of hard stares and mummering – no success there. Joe might as well be a creature from another planet. Middle America can’t even wrap their heads around gay marriage -its way ahead of our (read: gay) political and legal strategies and it is light-years ahead of what “fairness” means to Middle America.

Hint: Not terribly effective. That is why the homos got their asses kicked. Hard. And several panelists talked of the past 10-15 years as wandering in the gay desert. Our dear leaders clearly thought that, in these past 10-15 years, they could get the Senate and the House to legislate fairness and tolerance. WAKE UP.

***

I’m sure that I’m missing something critical, but  here are some of the folks in the audience for the panel: Columnist Deb Price, blogger Mike Rogers, Lane Hudson and quite a few DC activists. I had the pleasure of meeting transgender activist Midge Potts, Missouri’s first openly transgender political candidate, who ran for Congress to unseat Roy Blunt (to represent the state’s 7th District). Midge, a veteran of Operation Desert Shield, traveled through large towns and small, and said that meeting one-on-one with individual people during the campaign made fears and misconceptions about TGs melt away. The lesson is that personal interaction and coming out, in the end, is what most affects change.

All in all, I was glad to be there, and many thanks to Sean Bugg and Metro Weekly for making it possible for me to participate. As the only blogger (and only person outside of the “gay advocacy industrial complex” on the panel, it was certainly an eye-opening experience regarding how things work in DC, and it gave me insight and confirmation that we need to mix it up a little to achieve better results on the ground.

The state of the movement would be a bit better off if we actually had a real Homosexual Agenda to pass out to you other than the ones folks here make up or the ones the right wing hacks create and distribute from their hate spin machines.

Whew. I know I’m probably forgetting something, or some idea rattling up in the noggin, but I’m quite tired and off to bed.

***

I’ll just end on a traveling celebrity sighting note. I was standing in the security line at Reagan National Airport, and a few rows away from hero for equality for all, Julian Bond!

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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