[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.