I wrote this in response to Adam Bink's guest post "You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?", but realized it was too long for a comment. It also seemed to put a foot into the thread on contributor Diane Silver's post, "'One Fight, Not Fifty' Sets Us Up for Failure." I hope you'll indulge me while I bring both threads into one and start a new discussion.
Let's focus our attention on Adam's question: What happens when an activist/organization leads us down a path that might be detrimental to some in our community - especially if they didn't consult with those who would be affected the most? Should we all jump on board and how does it affect other issues we might be working on and the resources we need to win our goals?
I realize my reasoning on this might be unpopular with the pro-march, anti-march, or Gay Inc. crowds, but here it is...
It's pretty easy for me to flip to the "We've got to make the most of this" mentality. It's not the first time I've been stuck in this position - other events outside of my control have forced me to know that problem all too well.
(No hate - as with the March, what's done is done. We can't hit the undo button so we make the most of it.)
The View From Here
The last positive thing to happen in Indiana was the overturn of the sodomy laws. We have no hate crimes protections or employment, housing, public accommodations, or even hospital visitation rights. Two gay men or women together are often still denied hotel rooms, apartments, or - as in the case in Louisville recently - a McDonald's sandwich. It's a completely different world that several on the coasts just don't get.
Years ago when I was gang raped and went to the police, I was told "Men don't get raped and you're gay so you probably wanted it. You should be glad we don't arrest you for sodomy."
While state law requires police agencies to monitor and report cases that "could be" hate crimes (to see if we need a hate crimes law, of course!), but rarely do. Indianapolis, for example, reported a big fat zero for years until we made a huge stink about it on Bilerico-Indiana and other local blogs.
Employment vs Marriage in the Heartland
Both Jerame and I have lost jobs for being out and active in the community. Yet, while we're pushing strongly for ENDA on Bilerico Project, what big blog from a coastal state is matching us for ENDA coverage? Those states already have those protections and could care less about ENDA mostly. They've got theirs.
We have a large crowd of transgender and middle American readers who do care about protections we don't have. I've begged for other blogs to pick up Jillian Weiss' Daily ENDA updates targeting legislators. No one has. (We have it as a middle column item so you can see the last 7 posts in case you missed one. It's at the top of the main page.)
Only Pam's House Blend - from a southern state even if it is coastal - has stayed on ENDA with anything more than lip service to news tidbits. What has been the big focus instead? Maine. California. Marriage.
What has marriage done for Indiana? Well, it lost us hate crimes protections and employment protections to start with. All of our dollars sent to the state org has been used to fight off an amendment for years now without any progress on basic rights. We've been stuck playing defense instead of offense - spending thousands of dollars and untold man hours - every time another coastal state with protections we don't have takes a step forward for their citizens.
We don't get a say in whether or not it happens. We don't get to play petty "But I didn't ask for it" or "It'll drain resources from us!" or "Look how it will affect us here!" or even "Hey - stop and think about this for a bit, would you?" politics because no one listens or gives a crap. Instead, we get told "It'll lift you up - eventually" or "We'll come back for you - later." No one does.
Some states like California, lack only the name "marriage" to complete the standard laundry list of gay rights legislation: anti-bullying, housing, public accommodations, and employment protections, adoption rights, hate crimes legislation and relationship recognition. Other states are in a worse position than my state - Florida and Arkansas have an adoption ban and thirty-odd states have marriage amendments.
The only route left for states like California and Massachusetts to take is via the federal government - legislatively and in the courts. Or they could come back to help us for a while. All that money spent on marriage in California could have funded a half dozen flyover country state equality orgs for a year or two...
Gay Inc vs Flyover Activists
But at the same time, is it fair for those of us in flyover country to demand that LGBT rights progressive no further for anyone else until we've caught up on our own via our state legislative processes? That could take decades.
National orgs don't have a presence here beyond Lambda Legal's yearly fundraiser that takes thousands of dollars from our community without return. Our state org doesn't even support same-sex marriage - only that we don't need a marriage amendment. If they actively said they supported marriage, we'd get creamed by an instant amendment.
HRC helped with Indy's HRO, but hasn't been seen since Stu Rosenburg helped save Indiana Equality from themselves with the amendment. Other than as a name on some of IE's events and a big booth at Pride every year where they sell t-shirts and sign people up for mailing lists, HRC has been absent lately; they've dropped off the Indiana Equality steering committee. PFLAG, Lambda and HRC are usually the only national group to even have Pride booths here.
HRC doesn't have a local chapter here anymore. Pride At Work's chapter is shut down. Only sparsely funded PFLAG chapters remain of the national presence - nothing stops a parent's love.
There is very little connection between your average Indiana activists and the national organizations. We feel like the unwanted step-children of the LGBT movement. I'm not trying to lay blame for this; I'm just saying what the reality really is.
Do I think that the National Equality March was called for too quickly without enough preparation time? Of course. Extra time to prepare isn't a bad thing if used properly, but it can also suffocate the life out of a project too. Perhaps the grassroots uprising style of management and time frame will serve us well. No one expected Woodstock to linger in the public conscience as long as it has.
I sign onto the idea behind the march - Equality Across America and the need to focus on the federal government for our rights. Marriage won't come to Indiana for decades if left on our own or if we wait for the big orgs to notice us. Neither will hate crimes protections nor employment protections. We have to focus nationally or we'll forever be left crying in the corner and watching our brothers and sisters on the coasts celebrating their victories.
If I can help connect the passionate activists we have in Indiana who feel completely alone and unsupported with thousands of other disenfranchised people from Middle America and the people doing good work at the orgs and the coastal folks who've been through these fights before, that's a net positive for me.
So that's why I'm supporting the march in the end. It's a useful tool to get my state somewhere better. We've already been forced to drop what we're doing and insulate ourselves from negative repercussions without help from those who put us in that position.
To echo Obama, we are the ones we've been waiting for - we've had no help before and none is on the horizon.