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The (Apparent) Power of the Word “Cowardice” (And Why I Write Critically)

Crossposted on ZackFord Blogs

Yesterday, I used the word "cowardice" to describe my interpretation of Equality Pennsylvania's decision to not counterprotest the National Organization for Marriage and to do discourage others from counterprotesting as well.

From my point of view, it was an accurate word to use. The definition is "lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc." Here is an organization committed to being "the preeminent LGBT advocacy organization" in PA and to establishing "a comprehensive network of individuals and organizations united in securing equal rights for the LGBT community." Yet they are backing away from an opportunity to be and do just that in a way which other state organizations have been quite successful with. (Including a picture of One Iowa's rally was quite intentional on my part.) They also went the extra step of discouraging other interested individuals from counterprotesting. These are tactics that I not only disagree with, but which seem counter to the organization's mission statement. Whether it was a concern for PR or otherwise, I see that choice as a lack of courage to stand up for stated goals, and so I used the word "cowardice" to accurately describe my disappointment.

Since that posting, I have been accused by various individuals that it amounted to "name-calling," that it was "petty" and "hateful," that "we shouldn't be eating our own," that I had no "principles," that I am "counter-anything," that I poked people in the eye, and of course, that I was "attacking" EQPA.

These are fair critiques.

But what are they critiquing, exactly? It seems to me that they describe my tact (and my tact alone). They seem to reflect an impression that my tact was perhaps harsh, biting, unfair, out of line, disrespectful, taunting, weak, and/or unnecessary. They reflect a defensive point of view, certainly. What they do not speak to is the accuracy of my statement.

Why would I write challenging things about a local organization? I want what's best for it. I want to hold it to a higher standard. I want it to represent me. I don't want it to get away with speaking on behalf of the community. (I don't want members of the community following its word like blind zombies out of some sense of loyalty or solidarity.) I want it to be accountable. I want it to have to explain itself. I want it to know that not every one of its actions pleases everybody. I want it to be able to take constructive criticism. I want it to be the best organization it can be.

I am not anti-EQPA. Far from it. If I didn't stress it enough in yesterday's post, I think the event they are planning this week is a good event. It's education. It's awareness raising. It's coalition building. It's a great event! I'll be there. I'll probably write about it (probably quite positively). And I will support EQPA in the future.

But while the movie/panel event uses NOM to raise awareness (and lest we forget, money), it does not actually respond to NOM. It does not respond to the message reinforcing discrimination. It does not provide the community with resolution or catharsis. It does not address the real need of members of the community to stand up for themselves and defend our integrity from NOM's smears. And to not only ignore butdiscourage those needs out of concern for PR is, I think, a failing and represents a lack of courage and wherewithal to be the organization EQPA aspires to be in its mission statement. 

But, if there's a problem with my tact, I'm going to take that under serious advisement. I don't want to be known as the schoolyard bully or some raving blogger who has it out for everybody. I want to be respected for my point of view and I want my critiques to be valued. If tact is going to be a measure of my contributions as much as content, then I have to earn that respect; I have to learn and grow to be that kind of blogger and activist.

And so, I apologize for using the word "cowardice" in association with Equality Pennsylvania. While I still contend that it was an accurate word, I did not intend for the hurt that it caused some individuals and do not wish to stand by that hurt. Intention only protects us so far; we are still accountable for perception. I hope that those who had concern about the tact of my piece can forgive me for where my tact was deficient and yet appreciate the concerns that I raise.

My concerns persist, but allow me to try to frame them more positively. EQPA has a new board, a new mission statement, and a new Executive Director, an individual that I proudly call a friend. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new organization. Here are some hopes that I have for it.

I hope that it puts the community first, even if there is the possibility of risk to its self interest. I hope it never discourages individuals from speaking out or engaging in activism. I hope it encourages individuals to get involved with activism not connected to EQPA. I hope that it never promotes its own message in such a way as to exclude other perspectives in the movement. I hope it does not ever try to speak on behalf of the community, and if it achieves the "preeminence" it seeks, I hope it does not ever try to act on behalf of the community. I hope that it supports and partners with other organizations and helps new ones get started. I hope that it maintains transparency and stays attentive to the grassroots instead of imposing top-down leadership. I hope money, lack of money, or opportunities to fundraise never dictate its actions. I hope that it raises great LGBT awareness across the commonwealth, particularly in rural parts of Pennsylvania. I hope it finds its own footing and doesn't rely on other organizations for its outreach. I hope it brings new players to the table and provides extensive opportunities for individuals to get involved across the state. I hope it achieves equality in Pennsylvania and that even then it continues to do good work promoting and defending the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians.

I have high hopes for Equality Pennsylvania. I'm challenging it this week because I have reason to be dismayed, but I challenge because I have hope.

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