Chris Douglas

The Chess Board

Filed By Chris Douglas | September 23, 2006 1:09 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: gay rights, Indiana Equality

The GLBT Community and its observers in my opinion sometimes sense more internal stresses than truly exist, confusing a variety of organizations pursuing separate missions as overlapping, in conflict with each other, or in duplication of effort. The picture I think is actually much better than that, and represents considerable progress. The Chess Board and classical chess strategy has been my model of the gay glbt community since 2000, my personal way of making sense of our landscape and what we must do.

CHESS STRATEGY

In classical Chess strategy (I don't play much chess, mind you), a piece on the board is moved forward only so far as it retains the cover of the other pieces. That piece in place, another piece can be moved to complement the first and establish new coverage, providing safe ground for a third, all mutually reinforcing each other. Slowy and surely, a good player captures the center of the board, building up a strong, perhaps unassailable base, from which progress across the board can be made. Every piece, no matter how minor, contributes, so long as it is coordinated. (It is the amateur player that sends a knight, a rook, or a queen immediately across the board, unsupported and unprotected, for this move, far from representing progress, can spell the end of the game unbeknownst to the untrained!)

THE CHESS BOARD IN INDIANA

Here in Indiana on the topic of basic civil rights for glbt citizens, we are upon the Chess board. The pieces that we must help move forward are the legislators and office holders, upon whose leadership, collective legislative vote, and approval the protection of our basic civil rights depends. But those pieces cannot move forward without other pieces offering support and coverage from attack. As each of those pieces establish position and move, they should not be understood as in conflict with each other, but as in mutual support and necessary to each other's own progress. And each must understand what coverage the other has provided through their own steps forward, so that their next step can be planned and then taken.

In order for our many friends and allies, current and potential, to move forward politically, they must be able to look to their flanks and spot and cite the support that exists for them, understanding whether they are to be encouraged to move forward, or attacked because they did. The legislator, candidate, or office holder must on his or her flank see editorial boards that will increasingly support progress, and balance against attack. He or she contemplating conservative church attack, must discover and be able to cite the considerable religious support that exists for progress. He or she hearing (inaccurately) of business opposition, must discover and be able to cite the considerable business support for progress. He or she contemplating partisan political opposition attack and intransigence must be able to discover and cite opposing partisan political support and advance. He or she facing mobilized popular opposition must find and be to able to cite mobilized popular support.

And that is just the politician. The fact is that similar needs exist for the corporate leader, the religious leader, the editorial board, and every public citizen, including our neighbors. As each becomes increasingly disposed to recognize our fundamental decency, their courage to speak up is enhanced by an understanding of the support they will find from others.

For all these needs, there are important chess pieces in place, some developed specifically for their missions, and some springing spontaneously to fill a need. The list below is not comprehensive.

THE CHESS PIECES

In 1996, the GLBT community in Indianapolis had just two organizations in existence (to my knowledge) dedicated to civil rights progress. Justice, Inc., founded by Kathy Sarris and presided over by Wally Paynter, and LGBT Fairness, an organization of Marla (and Phyllis) Stevens. There were also organizations with community missions in other Indiana cities, though I could not today list them fairly or accurately. By all accounts, we didn't have critical pieces in place.

The Political: The first pieces to move into place, in 1996, were glbt organizations with partisan, but not conflicting, missions: The Indiana Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall (previously Rainbow) Democrats . Both of these organizations evolved over the years, but constituted the centers for political engagement with their parties.

The Religious: From the work led by Jesus MCC organizing prayer gatherings at the statehouse, and then producing legislative pressure in 2000 and later, came the Interfaith Coalition of Nondiscrimination (ICON), which now boasts supporting congregations numbered in the hundreds from across Indiana.

The Business: In 2001, the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce was introduced, around which businesses could form and signal support, and which could provide the glbt community a formal presence in business-oriented venues.

The Media: There has been no specific organization, however from many years before there has been activist understanding that the editorial boards of Indiana's newspapers, both liberal and conservative, were increasingly supportive of the rights glbt citizens, however that support was not being vocalized. Keeping editorial boards informed of progress in other realms, and encouraging progress in the editorial realm, has been an important function. Many organizations have contributed to that work. Now, in addition to print media, there exists independent online media (Advance Indiana, Bilerico, and others) that provide glbt perspective not only to the street, but to media organizations gauging glbt sentiment.

Grassroots Political: These organizations (GIFA , for example, in Indianapolis) were formed independently to mobilize community members no matter their political persuasion and enlist them in political activity.

Protest/Action: Indiana Action Network (IAN) has served at times as centers for important activity the confrontational nature of which would be inappropriate for any other organization.

Regional Organizations: I can't name them all... but networked organizations with various missions exist in Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Lafayette, South Bend, Seymour, and Evansville.

Others: There are lots of others doing essential work, whether that work is central or peripheral to their mission. For instance, Lambda Legal, while raising money for courtroom battle, has provided a remarkable venue to demonstrate the strength of the GLBT community in a way that is eye-opening for political and corporate allies. P-FLAG, Indy Pride and Indy Black Pride have provided important pieces in the civil rights front, whether peripheral or central to their missions INTRAA has consistently been a key player advocating not only for the Transgendered, but for the GLBT community has a whole. (I think I missed it in the original post because it has been more central in the civil rights fight than many others, but doesn't fall easily in any of the specific categories I mentioned above. A class by itself, and indispensible.).

THE ROLE OF THE COALITION OF INDIANA EQUALITY

The avenue through which most (though not all) of these organizations dedicated to civil rights coordinate is Indiana Equality, formed expressly for the purpose of this coordination.

At times, I think the community at large has been necessarily unaware of the mutually reinforcing coordination acheived through Indiana Equality. To cite one example, enough time has passed, and advances have been sufficiently and irreversibly established, that it does no damage to say shuttle diplomacy ensured that the Editorial Board of the Star, select politicians, and select corporate leadership were apprised of each others privately held positions, and somewhat surprised to learn of agreement. Advance notices appropriately shared, it should not be considered complete coincidence that the day that the coalition announced itself with press conferences in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Fort Wayne, and elsewhere, was the also the day chosen by one of Indiana's leading corporations, seeking as little controversy as possible, to introduce domestic partnership for its employees. (It was known in advance that the media was going to be looking another direction that day.)

It is through Indiana Equality that organizations agree upon strategy, prioritize tactics, coordinate actions, share confidential intelligence, and determine their own resource allocations in the battle for our rights. I know of no other effective way. (It was principally through Indiana Equality's Region 8 that organizations coordinated support of the second and successful effort to pass the HRO.)

To return to the Chess strategy theme, it can be destructive to pursue a mission for which adequate support is not yet in place, using strategy that is not coordinated extensively, with consensus and buy in from lateral organizations.

Though people and groups can choose otherwise, I emphasize the importance of coordination through Indiana Equality because at times, the lack of coordination has proven disastrous and, in my opinion, produced significant setbacks for the glbt community. The biggest example was the pursuit of Marriage, for which little support yet exists, before securing the principle of nondiscrimination, for which a great deal of support exists.

SUMMARY

Effective strategy, tactics, and intelligence cannot be shared publicly without informing the opposition, but their understanding and coordination is essential to our progress in Indiana. Therefore, the primary means (in my opinion) for a member of the community to support progress is to join an organization that is either a member of or is working in association with the coalition of organizations that form Indiana Equality and its regions.

Whether or not you choose to join a member or partner organization of Indiana Equality, understand that while the glbt community has its occasional tensions, we are not fractured. The number of organizations that exist pursuing seemingly different missions is a sign not of division but, as long as we coordinate in mutual support, of our strength and our promise.


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I cannot agree with Chris more strongly. As President and now Political Action Chair of Citizens for Civil Rights (celebrating TEN YEARS of civil equality in Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County), I saw early on that we needed such a coordinated effort across the state to make this happen.

I have sat in on meetings from nearly the beginning as a Rep for CCR and now for Region 4 -- the 9 county area around Lafayette. I have watched careful -- sometimes heated discussions-- work toward a common goal. I have learned to trust leaders from across the state --not an easy task when we all have competing local/ parochial interests. I have learned the political process in Indiana from the masters --Mark St John and John Joanette.

If you think we are having no influence, take the following into account. I went to a Sheila Klinker fundraiser last weekend -- she's my state Rep and one of the biggest supporters we have in the House. I spoke with former (soon to be) Speaker of the House Pat Bauer. When I introduced myself and my local group, he smiled. When I said we were affiliated with Indiana Equality -- he stopped me and said.. "Ah, Mark St John." THAT is inside power-- and the legislators KNOW who has been out there doing the work to support them across the state.

Now that was one party -- the other party has also had supporters for us.. albeit, they often seem silent. But I know for a fact that one local state senator worked diligently with former President Pro Tem Bob Garton to kill a bill designed to wipe out domestic partnership rights in state universities, gay adoption and many other items. THIS kind of behind the scenes effort---- that Chris references -- is unseen and underappreciated by most of us, as we only know what we see. But having worked through the local process, I know that MOST work gets done over a drink or dinner.. and in committee. It never sees the light of day.. and someone else gets the credit.. but in the end it's the hard work.

By the way, I know the years of effort that Chris put into just this sort of careful strategic planning and support-- watching him develop the IRCC and work through back channels with the Republican Party. It's not easy work.. and I appreciate it, Chris!

I totally agree with the premise of your argument here. It's just too bad that's not really how things work.

On a different note, I do take exception with one part of your premise. The idea that the only way to progress is through the coalition is a specious argument. I think there are plenty of activities that LGBT organizations can and are doing outside of the IE coalition that are moving us forward as a whole.

Supporting good candidates through fundraisers and volunteer efforts, education of the general public, etc. do not necessarily require deep and complicated coordination. In fact, to my mind, it is good to have organizations that are not under the IE umbrella doing these things.

Operating as one monolithic unit allows our detractors to view us as such. "The gays" if you will...I think that anything we can do to break down those walls and get folks to see us as individuals, the better off we all are. In a community as diverse as ours, it makes sense to display that diversity with pride.

Nonetheless, a strong and vibrant statewide LGBT advocacy organization is essential to our success. I do not believe it is the only way to success, but it is indeed an essential piece of the puzzle.

The key, as with any social movement, is to GET INVOLVED. Whether it is through IE, an IE member organization, or some other way...Just get involved.

Well said, Chris. I think that the chess metaphor, valid as it is in depicting the virtue of mutual reinforcement of all the TBLG groups, gives a false impression of one master mind manipulating blocks of wood. Simultaneously and for the same reason, it imagines a struggle with one well-defined goal; in such a struggle, a centralized organization may be the best course. While our movement has well-defined intermediate goals (e.g. putting Democrats in charge of the house because we know that Brian Bosma will do his best to ram the Marriage Discrimination Amendment through holus bolus without time for meaningful discussion, if he returns as speaker of the house) the overall goal, while simple (equality) is not as simple to define as checkmate.

Equality will arrive when the discourse in Indiana assumes that all citizens deserve equal rights and equal protection under the law. "Discrimination" means to make differences, and we do that all the time; in politics and social policy, "discrimination" is shorthand for unjustified and unjustifiable discrimination; that we deprecate. We need to educate the population that sexual and gender differences matter only in dating and marriage, not in employment, housing, parenting, nor most of the various ways we interact with each other everyday. Then every decision about laws, ordinances, rules and policies, as well as human interaction will be informed by a will to equality and some understanding of what equality entails. Discourses are changed by talking. The more we drown out the bigotry with common sense and respect for each other, the more we win the political battle. Anybody who talks about equality is doing the movement's work. Far from it being a problem that some of them disagree strenuously about other issues, that is the strength of the movement. If we were to discount all who do not agree with us on every issue, we would have a poor movement indeed. We would fail and we would deserve to fail. To achieve coordination of widely separate conversations, to encourage them in the most unlikely places, we need to keep our various disagreements on other issues polite, so that we may encourage and support each other in the great task of breathing life into the words of our two great constitutions. To that end, we do not need a mastermind, but a clearing house and meeting place. That was the role that Region 8 adopted under Bil Browning's leadership in winning the battle for the HRO. The is the model and the work that we need to do, not matter the season, no matter the particular skirmish that is underway.

Your metaphor illustrates, excellently, one great truth: if the pawn that supports the bishop in its attack were to be invisible, most if not all of its value would be lost. Similarly the more people who stand up, in large and small ways, at work, in church, at home, on the golf course, in print and on TV, the more people who stand up in public and say: "I believe in equality for everyone." the more people will find the courage to follow suit and the more people will be led to reconsider their ignorant prejudices or thoughtless bigotry.

Chris, I would bring to the attention of the readers here the noticeable absence of anyone affiliated with IE at the constitution cafe on GLBT rights last night as part of My Daily Constitution this week. Our friends at Out Word Bound bookstore, Mary and Tamara, made their business available for this great event at which nearly 3 dozen people showed up to participate. Since you and Mr. St. John were on the organization committee, I know you were aware of it. Indianapolis is the first city at which a GLBT-specific event was held. It must have been too far of walk for Ms. Sarris to come next door for this event from her business. My point in all of this is that it is a two-way street. If the leadership of IE wants to continue pissing on everybody else's efforts in the GLBT community, then they should expect nothing in return.

In the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point out that Kathy Sarris is currently on vacation in Africa. It would have been a really long walk for her to attend. :)

Chris Douglas | September 24, 2006 11:24 AM

To clarify, I view Indiana Equality as a coalition of member organizations, a clearinghouse of strategy, tactics, and intelligence. I am not myself on the steering committee of Indiana Equality, nor am I part of Indiana Equality leadership.

Regarding attendance at the Constitution Cafe, Gary, I hope that went well, and certainly appreciate your efforts. (The following is not directed at you, but at those who might misinterpret your comment.)

We all are fighting different fronts in the same war. If confident something is being done adequately or well for our needs, it enables one to step back and engage one's energies elsewhere.

I'm highly forgiving of everyone in the community, because balancing work, community service, and family life is a tough, particularly when only the first one pays. Most of us don't know exactly the pressures and commitments others face. I'll share a week of mine, not because it is unusual, but on the contrary because I suspect it represents what many are going through.

For example, monday morning, Jon Keep and I representing the Rainbow Chamber attended an event at Dow Agro Sciences on corporate diversity, organized by HRC and their employees for HR departments of other corporations. Wednesday evening from 6:15 until 8 was occupied with a Rainbow Chamber board meeting. Thursday noon I took time out of the office to meet with a Republican of significant influence who had been unaware of the wording of the marriage amendment, and who is now a firm and important ally. Thursday evening we (as did many) spent considerable money supporting Lambda, an event which, as every year, has not been one for relaxation, but instead involved doing the community's business in all sorts of side conversations with other activists, candidates, and office holders present.

Saturday, I developed this Chess Board posting, which needs to be posted, absorbed, and understood before news emerges in the next few days. Today, I'm finishing up coordination on a project related to those news.

This all is in addition to managing investment portfolios, which is how I actually make a living. My existing portfolios are doing very well, thank you, but the amount of time I spend doing the community's business, whether in the daytime the evening, has a direct and inverse impact on the time I can spend developing new clients and therefore my income. (Seriously.)

And none of the above relates to enjoying life with Tom and our families, (which is what we did Friday night!)

So all that said, I am enormously forgiving of people of the community who are highly stretched in their commitments. I can point at virtually every individual I know who has been involved in the community, and whether I agree or disagree, observe that they have been working hard.

That's why, for the most part, I have stick to the issues, and avoid attacks on other activists. It isn't those who are active who must change their ways; it is those who are not.


I was kinda sad that INTRAA didn't make the list of organizations talked about in the original post. Acknowledging the dramatic increase in acceptance of the T in LGBT in Indiana, I am still fascinated that the "gay" center holds so firmly. INTRAA was one of the original groups at the IE table and through a few very dedicated members were instrumental in the coalition developing and staying together.

Chris,
There is a republican of significant influence who was not aware of the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment? That alarms me to say the least. Is this person a member of the general assembly? If so, that is unacceptable.

This was one of the most talked about pieces of legsilation all session. For someone to vote on amending our constitution without even understanding the wording is an outrage.

Chris Douglas | September 24, 2006 9:07 PM

Quite right. INTRAA should have been on the list. My apologies. I'm sure I missed others as well. Indeed, I will edit it.

Chris Douglas | September 25, 2006 6:50 AM

Kevin, nope, not a member of the General Assembly.

I've got news for you: The overwhelming majority of the population has no idea what the impact is of the second portion of the Marriage Amendment. (The Press to my knowledge didn't seriously cover its impact at all.)

The more we can educate people about that second part, the more allies we will have in preventing this amendment from passing.

Chris, I second Kevin's comment. How the wording has affected domestic unmarried couples in Ohio has been in major news sources all over the country (Indy Star as well). Why would anyone vote in favor to amend the constitution without actually reading about the states that are already battling these knee-jerk amendments?

Chris, that makes me feel a little better knowing that this person isn't a part of the General Assembly. I'm still surprised that he/she didn't have more knowledge of the issue, if he/she has significant influence.

I absolutely agree with you about the general public having no knowledge of the second portion of the marriage amendment. That doesn't come as news at all. The education has to be a continuous process. I'm glad you were a able to change a mind.