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Socarides, Eleveld join new media 'rapid response' initiative EqualityMatters.org

In news that will no doubt stir a lot of conversations inside the professional LGBT movement and inside the Beltway, watchdog group Media Matters founder David Brock and Richard Socarides, former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, have formed what the NYT calls a communications “War Room For Gay Equality” — EqualityMatters.org —  and have landed Kerry Eleveld, The Advocate’s ace Washington correspondent, to serve as its web site’s editorial director.

While a range of groups are working to advance gay rights, the movement has lacked a national rapid-response war room of the sort that can push back against homophobic messages in the media and the political arena and keep the pressure on elected officials, said David Mixner, a gay author and activist.

“I think the lesson we have learned over the last two years is that you’ve got to be tough,” Mr. Mixner said, “and you’ve got to keep people’s feet to the fire.”

The organizers of Equality Matters say that is their intent. Mr. Socarides and the founder of Media Matters, David Brock, said they began planning Equality Matters several months ago. They quickly persuaded Ms. Eleveld, who covered the Obama campaign and has covered Washington for the last two years, to join them.

“I’ve spent the past two years with a front-row seat to history, and the longer I sat there the more I felt drawn to participating,” Ms. Eleveld said in an interview.

With the disappointment of the congressional logjam dealt to ENDA, DOMA, and other pro-equality legislation, we all know things are only going to worsen for the community on the Hill under GOP rule in the House. Equality Matters intends to build upon the momentum that marriage equality has gained at the state level and in the courts. Richard Socarides touched upon this in his essay on the Equality Matters site, “Why Equality Matters” —

While some policymakers still exist in both parties who think that support for marriage equality is too much to ask, positions on this issue are changing rapidly as the culture of the country progresses.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olsen, former party chair Ken Mehlman, and Cindy and Meghan McCain all form the core of Republican supporters of marriage equality.

With New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo pushing for marriage equality legislation in the state early this spring and the federal court about to confer it (again) in California, it may not be long before it is the norm for many citizens across the country because of momentum created outside Washington, including in Iowa and the Northeastern states. In fact, in addition to New York, pro-marriage governors were also elected this year in California, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Another important factor in the evolution of where we are today is the democratizing impact that “new media” and the Internet have had on the equality movement. Bloggers like John Aravosis, David Mixner, Pam Spaulding, Joe Sudbay and Andy Towle have been an invaluable resource, providing up-to-date, provocative information to the gay political community that it could not get elsewhere.

Partially as an outgrowth of all this information, new gay rights groups like Get Equal and Fight Back New York, formed just this year, were able to demonstrate that you could get results by being tough on friend and foe alike (a fact almost no one in Washington seems to get).

OK, since I was mentioned in the above paragraph, I must also give full disclosure — I’ve been asked to serve on the advisory board of Equality Matters and I’ve accepted because of the outstanding work Media Matters does as a watchdog – it’s a welcome extension of its successful model and it goes without saying that friends of the Blend Richard Socarides and Kerry Eleveld are stellar voices backing this initiative up under the MM umbrella.

IMHO (and I’m just speaking for myself here, not for Equality Matters), the LGBT movement has lacked an effective, professional media war room for some time now. The closest model for the current need has been the unorganized-but-influential work to date of the blogs. And as we’ve seen, that has had distinct limitations, most notably the lack of clarity of what bloggers are individually or collectively to the movement or the media.

Equality Matters is the next phase of development and won’t have that issue. With an established communications presence editorially headed up by a respected Beltway journalist (who has represented the community as part of the WH press corps), there is gravitas out of the gate. However, it will be interesting to see how this effort takes on issues as we move into a more politically defensive position with the changeover on the Hill.

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Pam Spaulding

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