Alex Blaze

Debate on National Equality March continues

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 05, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Cleve Jones, criticisms, march, March on Washington, National Equality March, steve ault, Washington, Washington D.C.

I didn't have a chance to link to this column by Steve Ault last week in the Gay City News. He was one of the organizers of two of the successful gay marches on Washington and he had some advice for the organizers of this march (and he comes down against it being a good idea, of course). He explains a little more about how the successful marches were organized:

Briefly, here's how our first three marches were organized and structured. The primary decision-making steering committee, national in scope, was comprised of delegates elected at regional meetings, assuring representation from all parts of the country while also mandating gender parity and inclusion of people of color. National organizations and spokespeople from unrepresented and underrepresented constituencies were added to make sure just about everyone had a seat at the table. The leadership was in turn elected from and by the steering committee. This decision-making process -- admittedly contentious and chaotic at times -- won acceptance as fair and inclusive. The ability to be both heard and represented motivated people from all over the country to commit time, energy, and resources to building these marches -- a factor at the very heart of their success.

In each instance, when the big day finally arrived, we reveled in and were empowered by our accomplishment. The first three marches on Washington strengthened our movement largely because they were democratically-run grassroots efforts on a massive scale. They have thus become milestones in both our developing self-awareness and our history as a politically effective community. They have even served as models for other movements seeking social change. Some traditions are worth fighting for.

Ault goes on to discuss how the March's demand (full equality), isn't really specific enough to have much meaning, and implies (maybe I'm reading a little into this), that the fact that it's not enumerated is because the organizers simply assume that anyone who identifies as L, G, B, T, or Q would simply have to agree with whatever policy proposals they want. In the end, the point of the March seems to be more: "We're disappointed, frustrated, angry, and in some ways resentful, but we don't know how to channel that energy." Definitely justified, but it doesn't make for an effective campaign.

I'm long past predicting how anything's going to turn out when it comes to LGBT activism, but from what I'm hearing there's a stunning lack of excitement about this march from many corners. Part of the problem is the organizers' lack of desire to work with activists who've been around the block, another part is the fact that a few of them don't know how to promote what they're doing and respond to legitimate questions and criticism with insults, and another part is the economy. I hope that it's a success, how ever they're defining that, and I'll be watching coverage from afar when it happens.

Ault's entire column is worth reading, if for nothing other than future reference and how to organize an event local activists can get excited about, and explains part of why orgs are unwilling to get too involved in this action. It'll drain resources and it doesn't look like it'll do much considering Congress won't be in session, plus, considering how Boies and Olson responded to LGBT legal orgs trying to jump in on their lawsuit, I'm guessing the full equality now crowd thinks the best way to help them is to leave them alone.

Although there was a strange article in the Washington Blade recently where Jones said the Task Force and HRC were going to release a statement supporting his action:

Jones said the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force would be among the signers on the statement.

Trevor Thomas, an HRC spokesperson, declined Monday to comment on the matter. Inga Sarda-Sorensen, a Task Force spokesperson, said her organization had no plans to release a joint statement on the march and was unclear as to what Cleve was referring in his interview.

When Jones announced plans for the March on Washington in June, HRC and the Task Force issued statements that didn't outright oppose the idea, but encouraged LGBT Americans to work locally to advance their rights.

Well, that doesn't seem like something that orgs would say if they were actually working on a statement. But there are two more days left in this week, so we'll see.

I'm glad people are thinking out of the box and trying to organize something without the help of the big LGBT orgs, working independently of the nonprofit industry, but we're less than two months out and this idea still seems half-baked.


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Sounds to me like a recipe for disaster. I'm not from Maine, but I'd urge all queers who want to do something that really matters to check the price of a bus ticket to D.C. and send that amount to mainefreedomtomarry.com.

Donna Pandori Donna Pandori | August 6, 2009 9:09 AM

Ditto. Unfortunately, they are h... bent on making the march a go. What an incredible waiste of scarce resources.

Marla Stevens | August 6, 2009 7:33 AM

I would correct one claim of Mr. Ault's -- that only gender parity was required and not racial parity as well. That was true of the first two marches that Mr. Ault had a bigger hand in than the third but the third did require racial parity as well as gender parity and that requirement is still paying off in ways even most well-connected organizers in our movement neither recognize nor acknowledge -- particularly in our relationship with the LCCR and NAACP, the latter of which just recently took another historic step toward recognizing the validity of our struggle as a legitimate heir to its own. Queer movement organizing that does not operate with racial parity is organizing that contains seeds of our longterm failure, in my opinion.

Angela Brightfeather | August 6, 2009 9:24 AM

Steve Ault should remember a few things about these marches that he has left out of his rosy scenario.

In the March of 92, even having Trans people march was a contentious thought. There were no grassroots anything about including Trans people. In fact Transgender did not show up in any flyers or in the title of the march anywhere. So how inclusive of everyone at the grassroots was that?

There was such a furor among Transgender activists, that we met one day before the march to determine if we were going to try and block the march by laying in the road and refusing to budge. We were prepared to go to jail to make our point, that Transgender people should have been included in the planning and in the title of the march.

Before the March actually started, there were some speeches made from a podium off in the distance. (The transgender marching contingent was gathered together at the base of the Washington Monument.) The first time that I heard the word Transgender in connection with the march, it was spoken by Phil Donahue, speaking from that stage, and a big and supportive "hurrah" could be heard from the crowd when he said it. That march was to me at least, the first time that groups like HRC and the march organizers and the GLB community in general, began to undrstand what they did to Trans people in the 70's and 80's and that we were not going to stand for it any longer.

We ended up marching as a group in that parade, led by people like Phyllis Randolph Frye who had brought a banner for us to march behind. We ended up someplace in the middle of the march, but that wasn't the end of it.

At the end of the march, everyone was being directed to the Mall area where there was a mass assembly of people backing up from the march in front of a huge stage. People were already speaking from the stage, so we wanted to hustle up there and grab a seat and listen. At the entrance to the Mall area there were two men who were directing people on where to go. When they saw that we were Transgender, they told us that we should go to the back of the seating area about 1/4 mile from where people were sitting in front of the stage. We literally had to tell them to go F-off and with Phyllis leading, we walked to the front area and sat in the crowd that was gathering in front of the stage.

My point is, don't believe Mr. Ault when he paints such a rosy picture of previous marches, because it wasn't that rosy for Transgender people back then when it came to being included in the GLB movement.

This time it seems to be going about the same. If there is some kind of grassroots work being done about this march, it sure isn't happening in NC or anyplace I have heard about. No Transgender leaders are out there that I have heard about, gathering support for this march or sitting on any planning committees.

With ENDA in the Senate now and a fall vote anticipated, if this march becomes all about SSM, then what does that say about ENDA and Hate Crimes that may literally be up for votes in Congress at that time? It may even deter passage of both and deflect needed work to be done at a critical time, just so people can make their point about SSM, which is probably years away.

The timing is all wrong for this march and if it does occur, it should probably take place in spring of 2010, when many GLBT groups are in DC and plan to be there to do their yearly lobbying and when the Congress is actually in session. If ENDA and Hate Crimes are behind us, the entire GLBT community will be able to concentrate on DADT and the repeal of DOMA at the march. It also would not be a bad idea to kick of the mid-term elections and let people know that we are still a force to be dealt with during the election.

Marla Stevens | August 6, 2009 1:01 PM

Angela, the contention was whether to add the T to the 1993 march name months after the name had been decided, the PR disseminated, logo contests conducted, t-shirts printed, etc. -- not whether the transgendered were welcome to march or whether the rights of the transgendered were to be a part of the march demands or transgendered speakers included in that line-up.

And the decision was a gut-wrenching one for some of us driven by a very hard budget reality -- a decision that fueled a never-again commitment on my part and that of others I know on that march's executive committee -- one I have never failed to keep since then even when to do so came at significant cost.

The truth was bad enough. You don't need to invent further insults that simply were not there.

That said, you are right about there being a me-first gay crowd who espoused that in ways that left me at odds with activists I had shared long hard fights with for sometimes decades before and who I otherwise had great respect -- even love -- for.

This march seems to be making even bigger mistakes in not trusting the process that was such a messy herding of cats and was such a pain in the ass but which gave our movement so much vigor and provided so much foundation for healthy growth. We saw this distrust of the people and the process in HRC's last attempt and saw what crud it fostered -- a non-inclusive ENDA included. It was an arrogance that underlay that one and this one is just deja vu all over again.

Angela Brightfeather | August 7, 2009 11:56 AM

"Angela, the contention was whether to add the T to the 1993 march name months after the name had been decided, the PR disseminated, logo contests conducted, t-shirts printed, etc."

Marla, my bad it was 93, and I should have looked in my tee shirt collection to check that out since I still have a tee from that march.

None the less, the march was planned and months ahead of time, but my criticism of that process still stands. There were plenty of Trans activists and Trans people who could have been involved in the planning of that march, but not one person that I remember was consulted. The only transgender person that had anything official to do with that march, that I remember at least, was Leslie Fienburg, who attended the meeting of activists the day before and told us that s/he was asked to represent the Trans community along with other GLBT leaders at the front of the march. Les may have given a speech at that march also, but s/he was the only Trans person that I remember doing so, and there were no Trans speakers after the march on the big stage and in front of any cameras.

"-- not whether the transgendered were welcome to march or whether the rights of the transgendered were to be a part of the march demands or transgendered speakers included in that line-up."

We marched because we did not want them to continue to ignore the fact that Transgender people are a part of the history of the GLB community that cannot be separated by anyone, without causing irreparable damage to the entire GLBT community. We also marched because we realized that it was a part of our history that should include Transgender people up front and in the title, and it did not. Gender was everyone's issue.

"And the decision was a gut-wrenching one for some of us driven by a very hard budget reality"

Yes, and those people, including yourself, became very aware of the inequity in that decision and "grew up and out" a lot in that process and today are the foundation of a united and equal GLBT community, or at least one that is much more equal than back in '93 as evidenced by things like United ENDA.

But I don't understand how adding Transgender to the title in the first place would have become a budget reality problem or why after realizing this gut wrenching decision had to be made, there were no Transgender speakers on the main stage, or why they tried to shuffle us into the back seating area after the march.

And I am not inventing anything that I did not live first hand along with other activists there.

The march was arrogance personified, insulting, demeaning and at the same time uplifting, inspirational and a meaningful point in the history of the Transgender Community, that inspired some of us to make very sure that we would not be left out again.

That may also answer some questions about why Transgender people were so into an inclusive ENDA when it became the issue de jour back then, and why after being cut out of this last time we felt so remarkably insulted and intolerant of people telling us to once again, go sit in the back.

It's cancelled. Cleve will announce soon.