Guest Blogger

Fight the right: not each other

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 13, 2007 12:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: election 2008, HRC, Logo, Mike Gravel, presidential debate

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following is a guest post by Michael Crawford. Michael is an African-American LGBT activist and blogger based in D.C. He has worked to advance LGBT civil rights at the national and state levels as a former staff member of the Human Rights Campaign and an organizer of the Millennium March on Washington. He blogs at bloggernista.com.

Even now as the Senate is set to debate the federal hate crimes bill, much of the energy among progressive LGBT activists is focused on attacking the Human Rights Campaign for a political forum featuring presidential candidates. Far less attention has been given to urging LGBT people and our allies to inundate their senators with phone calls and emails about the hate crimes bill, than is being given to whether or not Mike Gravel, who has no chance in hell of being elected, is included in the forum that HRC is co-sponsoring with the LGBT cable network Logo.

This just goes to show that we are not nearly as politically sophisticated as we would like to believe ourselves to be and that our activism is steeped in personal self-expression rather than a focus on political effectiveness. We have the best chance ever of getting a major piece of LGBT legislation through both chambers of Congress and instead of fighting tooth and nail to make it, some of are engaged in another round on intramural bloodletting under the guise of holding organizations "accountable."

HRC and Logo did make mistakes in both in how they have organized this presidential forum and how the announced it. Some bloggers and activists have made strong points about how HRC and Logo could have done things differently such as Pam Spaulding's comments about the lack of journalists on the panel and questions that have been raised about the format. HRC staff should have recognized that eternally bitter homocons like Andrew Sullivan and Chris Crain would piss all over their efforts no matter what and that some progressive gays would use this as another opportunity to bash HRC rather than bash the religious extremists who are bashing us politically, mentally and physically. HRC should have included Mike Gravel in the forum which would not have cost them much and would not have given HRC critics an easy opportunity to claim that the group is out of touch.

This forum is a sign of our growing political strength and, yes, some credit should go to HRC for the work that it has done over the years in a hostile political environment to build that political strength. Rather than simply attacking our national organizations, we should be focused on how we can help to make them better, faster, stronger and more effective. The homo-haters at Focus on the Family alone have a budget that is larger than HRC, NGLTF, SLDN, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, National Black Justice Coalition and GLSEN combined. And that's just one of the organizations that the religious right has built over the years to obliterate us.

Larry Kramer includes this quote from Lewis Powell who helped to mastermind the long-term political strategy that the right has been employing for the last 30 years in Kramer's book, The Tragedy of Today's Gays:

Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing only available through joint effort and in the political power only available through joint action.

The plan that they developed was then and is still now funded by some of the richest families in America. They are engaged in the kind of serious action that has helped them to build the political power needed to pass anti-marriage amendments in dozens of states, that gave us Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that has prevented us from passing the Employment Non-Discrimination, that has stopped truly effective HIV prevention programs from being federally funded and more.

We should really be talking about how we can best take advantage of this opportunity to encourage the presidential candidates to take bolder action to make LGBT equality a reality. Even more importantly, we should be focusing on how we build, fund and execute a long-range plan to win our civil rights.

The candidates will be holding campaign events, rallies, town hall meetings etc in the various states that we live in. What is stopping any of us from gathering our friends and families and attending these events and raising the questions that we think are important? Want to know exactly why Clinton does not support marriage for same-sex couples? Show up at an event and ask her the question. Want to know what is Obama's plan to repeal DADT? Show up and ask him. Want to know what is Richardson's plan to improve the lives of LGBT youth? Ask him.

There is far too much at stake here to expect one organization to do all of the heavy lifting. We all have a role to play and frankly a moral duty to do everything we can to move towards LGBT equality. Don't wait for HRC to raise the questions that you want answered. Raise the questions yourselves.


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Denise Travers | July 13, 2007 1:07 PM

Stunningly well written. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My best wishes in D.C. today. Thank you for all you do!

One thing I'm curious about...

While I see HRC and Logo's names splashed all over this event, what about some of the other groups? Were they invited to be co-sponsor participants and declined? Or were they just not consulted?

I'd be much more interested in knowing the answer to that question. You'd think Stonewall Democrats, NGLTF, etc would be interested in questioning the candidates as well - and could help with promotion and planning...

The plan that they developed was then and is still now funded by some of the richest families in America.

Oops, thought you were talking about the HRC there.

Not to disparage them, it's great that the set up something like this. I am functionally illiterate, so it'll be nice to have the candidates read their HRC surveys to me. And I would hate to see any of the top-tier candidates challenged by anyone because that might embarrass them, and I would really, really hate to see Hillary/Obama/Edwards actually address any issues directly. It's great that they put together this forum for free political advertising for the top-tier candidates because I think that they don't have enough money to actually just buy an ad on Logo and present their opinions on this topic.

Moreover, I really like being described as a whiney progressive who'll just bash on the HRC for no reason. You made it clear to me that any criticism of the HRC isn't valid because it's not "politically sophisticated". I forgot that I was supposed to shut up and let them do whatever they want under the mantle of fighting for my rights, participate in any action alert that they release, and never, ever question their judgment, no matter how much they waste the limited resources we have compared to the Religious Right. Money defines everything in politics, and people without the money to participate should just go out and get a real job, hear hear!

I'll keep my "personal self-expression" to a minimum in the future because it's in no way related to our larger goal, and I'll never question the exclusion that the HRC practices in my name because there is no relation between the battle for queer rights and the battle against the exclusion of people who are too poor to participate in politics.

Thanks, Michael!

I for one am a multi-tasker. Quite capable of initiating criticisms of any and all organizations I find questionable while simultaneously initiating political action with elected representatives. Perhaps the cold reallity of our communities legislative failures is not so much our self-absorbed tangents as it is the fact that the majority of Americans, thus their representatives, don't care about gay rights or gay anything. Whether we like to admit it or not the majority of Americans, religious or not, think being gay and lesbian is a choice, much like drinking regular soda vs. diet. As soon as the think tank super academics of our community figure out the answer to this please drop me a line and I'll see if I can tear myself away from my personal peeves to act.

I have responded to Bloggernista's thrice-posted attack on me on my blog here.

I would hope in the interest of equal time that Bilerico will cross-post my reply as well.
Chris Crain

Alex,

I think you are missing my point. I did not say not to question or criticize HRC. I do it in my post when I point out that they could have done a better job organizing and announcing the forum.

We need you and others to speak up loudly and clearly about the work that our national organizations are doing both good and bad.

My concern here is that we are getting sidetracked on the issue of Gravel not being invited to participate in the forum even as we face a really tough battle in the Senate over the hate crimes bill.

Our political opponents have been deluging congressional offices with phone calls, letters and lobby visits. And quite frankly, they are kicking our butts in that regard. HRC, ACLU, NGLTF and others are fighting to get the bill through. How much better of a chance of getting the bill past would we have if the energy focused on criticizing the way HRC organized this forum were spent on getting our friends, families and co-workers to contact their senators in support of the bill?

Criticize HRC all you want, but we need to make sure that we are contacting our members of Congress as well.

“Rather than simply attacking our national organizations, we should be focused on how we can help to make them better, faster, stronger and more effective.”

Attack is an interesting choice of words. It’s important that we recognize who is really being violent here. Your piece engages in the same tactic that the mainstream media has used to paint the 7 women from Newark NJ as violent for actively defending themselves against a male's sexual and physical assault. Like the male assaulter in this case, it is HRC who is acting out and reinforcing systematic violence. Radical and marginalized queers are merely responding to this attack.

Tony,

I agree that most Americans are not really concern with LGBT civil rights and that we must figure better ways of getting them engaged.

Its good that you are a multi-tasker, but how many other people have the time, energy and commitment to do that?

I have no problem with folks holding our organizations to high standards, but we should also acknowledge when they do something good and not let our criticisms get in the way of pressuring our elected officials to pass pro-LGBT legislation.

Well you now say that criticism of the HRC is ok, but you did say:

progressive gays would use this as another opportunity to bash HRC

I can't really read that to mean anything other than dismissing legit criticism as whining. I don't need your permission to criticize the HRC when they need it (and when they do something good I'm there ready to point it out), it'd just be nice that this discussion start from a point of including lots of different viewpoints instead of it being the constant HRC meme of representing a small segment of the queer population, often at the expense of everyone else, and then wondering why every other queer doesn't have their back and dismissing them as mindless bashers of the HRC. This forum will do nothing to help us out, there won't be another org that'll be able to put together another LGBTQueer debate because the candidates will have already done their "one gay debate", and they're blowing the opportunity and using it to advance their all too common "You don't matter unless you have enough money" message that ultimately will hurt us more than any right-winger saying they hate the gays.

I'm just saying that if you're worried about the queers in-fighting instead of picking a more obvious target, then perhaps you should call out the HRC for constantly dividing the community against itself instead of those of us telling it to stop.

Unless they want to stop calling themselves an "LGBT advocacy group" and start just calling themselves an "advocacy group". Then I'd be fine with them doing whatever they want. I just don't like this top-down identity politics that they push at every corner.

Chris,

I'll say up front that I'm not going to run it as a guest post. But let me tell you why...

#1 - We've already had 2 guest posts today and I like to try and keep guest posts on separate days anyhow. I'm already over my rule; I'm just not willing to go for a threepeat.

#2 - You make some interesting points, but I think it would be better served by leaving them in the comments. Michael's post is getting quite a bit of face time, so if you want to make your points, the comments section is the spot to be at. Not only does that help with the dialogue that needs to happen, but it also ensures that we don't get folks who find your post first, get lost, think the site is just a flame war and leave - never to come back.

#3 - As for the "equal time" section, Michael's post is already an "equal time" post for those who posted yesterday taking HRC to task. That's the issue here - HRC - not you, me, Michael or Melissa Etheridge.

I'd encourage you to use the comments section to leave your post. It's pertinent to the discussion and is a better spot for it. I hope you understand.

Hey all, check the frontpage if you're still on here - Gravel's in.

The HRC and everyone related to any flame war related to this incident is 100% vindicated now.

Alex,

My saying that "progressive gays would use this as another opportunity to bash HRC" was meant to say that HRC should have been more thoughtful in how the organized and presented this forum. Re-read my post and you will see that I made criticisms of HRC.

HRC is the largest gay group in the country, so I don't think its accurate to say that they represent a small segment of the queer population. Besides, no one organization can represent a community of people as diverse as the LGBT community.

You may feel that HRC is "blowing this opportunity," I don't any other gay group could have pulled this off. Its incredibly difficult to do and when some people, not you, say that well the NAACP, or AFLCIO or CNN did x,y and z, they forget that those organizations did not have the power that they have now even a few years ago. It is a clear sign of our growing political strength that six of the Democratic candidates will appear. Its also a sign of how far we have to go.


Alex and Nick, what brilliant critiques of assimilation -- my mind was spinnning so early in the day, but now I can go outside and get some sun...

A. J. Lopp | July 14, 2007 12:52 AM

Alex has expressed some of my concerns about the HRC more articulately than I probably could. Yes, Michael, the Matthew Shepard Act calls for our top-priority attention, but I do not see advocating for the Matthew Shepard Act and monitoring the egos at HRC to be mutually exclusive goals.

Alex touched on my biggest concern about HRC and this forum: To what extent is it about interrogating the candidates about LGBT issues and educating the LGBT populace on the candidates' positions --- and to what extent is this about HRC publicizing itself? If I know HRC, then they will do nothing better in this whole project than to promote themselves and self-perpetuate themselves.

By the way, while we are bashing "eternally bitter homocons like Andrew Sullivan and Chris Crain" I'd also like to ask whether HRC has breathed a word about arranging a similar forum for the Republican candidates? Or will that thankless, bothersome, and highly ignore-able effort be left to the Log Cabin guys?

Allen, From what I understand none of the Republicans accepted the invitation. They all declined.

Michael,

My life experience teaches me that people have the time, energy and commitment for whatever they feel is important.
I get the feeling that the gist here is that you feel people have criticized the HRC and that criticism is all that is to be found. The age old parenting technique of following a criticism with a positive affirmation is still in play I assure you. Where cookies and milk are warranted they will be offered just as bed without supper is also offered when necessary.
Perhaps some of us have lived long enough and endured enough to understand the difference between passionate activism and putrid political assimilation.
I respect your position and the points that you have made and I agree that we must support and encourage our allies. The point of this controversy is about the simple notion of fairness. In no other group of people is this notion more dear than in the gay and lesbian family. Make no mistake, we may quarrel about what issue needs priority at the beginning of the day but at the end of that day we are united in the cause of equality under the law.