Guest Blogger

Where Did Everybody Go?

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 02, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: Garden State Equality, gay marriage, Jack Denelsbeck, LGBT activism, marriage equality, New Jersey, Prop 8, same-sex marriage, Stonewall 2.0

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jack Denelsbeck is the NY State Technical Assistance Manager for ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America), where he coordinates and facilitates HIV and HCV health literacy workshops both statewide and nationally. An LGBT activist for 15 years, he currently volunteers with Garden State Equality.

Jack-1[1].jpgNow that we've had a few months to not only celebrate the outcome of November's national election results, but also to heal from the wounds inflicted on that historic day, why is it still so difficult to recruit LGBT volunteers? I was under the impression that the post-Prop 8 outrage would translate into a groundswell in recruitment for local movements and we would see a hardy growth in grassroots efforts throughout the country.

Instead, when reading progressive message boards or blogs, one can find plenty of examples of people hooked on l'atrocité du jour (The Administration meets with FOF; Obama said what on Leno?...). There's plenty of finger pointing and blame for a whole host of things that gets typed into keyboards, yet barely any hands being lifted to help out local organizations. It's as if there are more people that enjoy spending their time acting like some sort of Internet shame patrol or net nannies, than actually doing something to influence a positive change in policy, regardless of the issue.

As we continue to build support for a Marriage Equality win in 2009 here in New Jersey, a field worker I currently work with recently shared something she experienced during the No on 8 campaign in California.

In the build-up to the 2008 election and vote on Proposition 8, while she was recruiting volunteers in a San Francisco park on a weekend afternoon she met a lesbian couple playing with their kids and thought they would be interested in spending some time to help make sure Prop 8 wouldn't pass. After giving all the push-backs to try and get them to sign-up, she couldn't secure their commitment to put aside a few hours a week to either phone bank, canvass, or even just help out around the office.

Guess when she saw them next?

The weekend after the election, as they marched in a protest against the passage of Proposition 8.

As she told this story, the quiver in her voice turned into a flood of tears. Her frustration level was palpable and even within my two months volunteering to help the Marriage Equality campaign in NJ, I'm already there. I thought we were seeing the dawn of Stonewall 2.0. Or so we were told...

As a community, or even as a civil rights movement, why is the turnout for a rally after an injustice has been levied upon us easier to recruit for, than motivating people to get involved beforehand to help stop bigoted legislation from getting passed in the first place?

Garden State Equality has held three Action Fairs over the past six weeks. The turnout for all of them was respectable and reminded me just how many non-gay supporters we have on our side. With at least 50 participants at the second gathering this early in the game, I considered it a "success". Yet after receiving updates on Maggie Gallagher's efforts from the National Organization for Marriage headquartered in Princeton, it appears that the opposition, once again, is more organized and has recently motivated their supporters to call their legislators every day.

The word that gets tossed around most, a term which even I'm getting tired of using or hearing, is "complacency". Yet it just seems the most appropriate way to define the atmosphere.

So anyone got any suggestions on how to motivate our community to get involved?


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Heh...well, Jack speaking as a longtime Jersey resident, I can tell you what the problem is: Unfortunately, we really don't have much of a middle-class LGBT community here. The bars are far and few between, the Pride Centers don't have much, our Pride celebrations are small and sad, and if you're looking for a decent Queer night out you have to go to NYC or Philly. That, in a nutshell, is the problem.

My suggestion is to improve what we already have and try to draw people that way, maybe set up some online social networking and better Pride Center programs. I know GSE does its best, but in order to draw people out here you need to make it worthwhile (i.e. more fun staying in Jersey than going to the city). Good luck with that.

Hi, Rebecca, and thank you for being my 'first' here at Bilerico!

You make some great points, and since GSE is quite young, hopefully we can tap into the energy coming from Vermont and Iowa.

Here in Los Angeles I've met all sorts of new energized folk joining us old-timers at the barricades. It's taking some time for them to gear up, but it's happening.

I have also heard some unhappiness about the lack of activity, but who is doing the complaining? It could be that people are simply directing their energies to the newer, more responsive organizations that have sprung up rather than the organizations that proved to be ineffective before the Prop 8 vote and impervious to critique afterwards.

Can you FedEx some of that energy across the country? We could use it over here. I'll pay for shipping.

We have a unique opportunity right now in NJ and I don't want that to pass us by. It's already April and NOM is placing more calls than we are. I guess I thought more people would sense the immediacy, after what happened in California.

It's a lot sexier to boycott and march in the streets with clever signs than to phone bank or canvass for votes.

Anthony in Nashville | April 3, 2009 10:17 AM

I think the LGBT struggle, more than other social movements, has to contend with apathy and complacency.

People have gotten upset with me in the past for saying this, but I think the main problems are our ability to pass and diversity. From what I see, most people are comfortable with their own situations; they may be quasi-closeted but as long as they have their social/sexual needs fulfilled they don't see a reason to change.

My point about diversity is not to say LGBT politics have gotten too PC. But because there are so many sects of the "community," it's very difficult to find common areas we can build around.

Sometimes I think the LGBT world could use a movement of real "pride" similiar to black culture from the late 60s through the mid 70s. I think nowadays gay pride is equated with partying and shopping as opposed to anything really meaningful like history, culture, and asking ourselves what is the purpose of LGBT people.

As long as people want to indulge the "we're just like straight people" mentality I do not see things changing.

As for the apathy of the lesbian couple who did not join in the No on 8 campaign, has anyone considered that maybe they didn't trust the organization running the show? I had volunteered to work for the campaign, but when I saw that they couldn't even bear to say the word GAY or even bother showing GAY PEOPLE in their ads, I knew that they were a hopeless and hapless group of individuals so I called everyone I knew and wrote letters to editors and did the work on my own without the organizations negative influence on the issue.

Maybe those lesbians did as well. We keep being told that the more people who actually KNOW a gay or lesbian person might be more supportive of our rights because they know us, so I made sure everyone I knew, or came in contact with was exposed to the fact that I was GAY and that I was also married. I did persuade some people to support our cause. Maybe that's what others are doing.

If the lead actors in this farce had actually talked about GAY people, maybe just maybe more GAY people would want to be involved, but I do not wish to be involved in any organization that can't even mention that they are a GAY RIGHTS group. I do not support the closeted idiots that ran the show. I am not ashamed of being GAY, but they seemed ashamed to say the word GAY. Now, why would any self respecting GAY person want to be involved with that?