Guest Blogger

Let's Stop Talking About Failure and Go Win

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 17, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Kip Williams, LGBT rights, National Equality March, Robin McGehee, stop talking about failure, Toni Broaddus

Editors' Note: Guest bloggers Kip Williams and Robin McGehee are the Co-Directors of the National Equality March.

raysLOGO-02.jpgAs Co-Directors of the National Equality March scheduled for October 10-11 of this year, we were moved yesterday by Toni Broaddus's post reminding us of the hard work and victories for equality at the state and local level over the past three decades. And as Southerners, born and raised in Mississippi and Tennessee, we are children of inequality states. We know the pain and demoralization of hard work at the local level in the conservative South.

We have deep respect and admiration for all those who have done that hard work. Their struggle has given us a handful of rights in some states. But we are still not equals.

Toni is right. The state strategy is not a failed strategy. The piecemeal strategy is the failure.

LGBT people are equals in every way, and like everyone else, we are guaranteed equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. But over those past three decades, the fight for equality has been fractured. We have poured resources into certain battleground states, but we have ignored and under-resourced many of the states that most need help - states like Mississippi and Tennessee, who will not see real equality in the next three decades at this rate. Even the few important victories at the state level are imperfect and impermanent, as we saw in California last November when voters passed Proposition 8 and stripped our rights away at the ballot.

Meanwhile, equality at the federal level has been subdivided into a laundry list of confusing and incomplete legislation. We have prioritized some rights over others. We have bargained and compromised, but we still have not passed one piece of legislation at the federal level.

No more compromises, and no more fractions of equality. We are equals.

As a free and equal people, we should respectfully look back to 1963 for our strategy. That's when the movement for African American civil rights turned its focus to our nation's capital. In under six weeks, Bayard Rustin and others organized a march on Washington to demand civil rights. That march - and that demand - was by all accounts a turning point.

We're at a turning point now, too. We are building critical mass in the culture of this country. We have a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. More importantly, we have a President who acknowledges and respects our community. He has committed to be a fierce advocate for equality. But for him to succeed, we have to start acting like equals.

Free and equal people do not bargain or compromise. We have one demand, promised to us by the 14th Amendment: Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now.

Join us on October 10-11 for the National Equality March in Washington, DC. Get involved with the Equality Across America network now by finding a local Congressional District Action Team on the map on our website. If there's not a team in your area, we can help you start one.

We will return home to our Congressional District Action Teams to do the hard work at the local level. People in every Congressional District across the country must come out, stand up, and take our place in the rank and file.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.


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Boilerplate aside, I kinda wanted to see you all expand on this:

Toni is right. The state strategy is not a failed strategy. The piecemeal strategy is the failure.[...]

Meanwhile, equality at the federal level has been subdivided into a laundry list of confusing and incomplete legislation. We have prioritized some rights over others. We have bargained and compromised, but we still have not passed one piece of legislation at the federal level.

How have those compromises and bargains hurt the fight for those laws? Which compromises and bargains are we talking about? Would these bills have passed otherwise, if there were no compromises and bargains?

Without a few more specifics, I think it's fair for people who've been involved in work for LGBT rights before Nov. 2008 (like Toni) to wonder if you're talking about them.

Alex, do you think this post is an attempt by the writers to attack people that have been involved in LGBT rights prior to Nov 2008?

I don't read it that way. I'm not looking to find someone to blame for what hasn't happened in the past 30 or 40 years - and I don't think either of these people are. There is no simple answer that will resolve the question of why there has been no indelible moment of victory.

I also don't read that there haven't been ANY victories to report either. There have been successes....some of them have even endured...and some of them haven't.

Why does a call for renewed, energized, current events focused activism have be turned into a personal attack? People that have been involved in LGBT rights for 30 + years ought to have enough experience by now to realize that more has to be done and different tactics should be tried and WE are not to blame for our own marginalization.

Please don't add fuel to the bonfire of bickering that is way too prevalent already.

I'm just wondering why they would feel the need to respond to her post in the first place. It was an open letter to Cleve Jones, not the co-directors of the Equality March.

It's great that they're acknowledging that some states are way under-resourced. But they don't do anything to address how this march is going to fix this. And then they make this weird rhetorical move of creating this category of "inequality states". Wha? It's like instead of actually addressing the issue of unequal allocation of resources, they're just acting as if the fact they lived in those states gives them some kind of strategic and moral authority.

Then within the span of about 4 sentences we go from "But we are still not equals" to "LGBT people are equals in every way." Well, which is it?

And then, I'm a bit creeped out by the mantra-like repetition of "we are equals", which we all know is objectively false comparing LGBT folks to straights in terms of rights, power, access, and privilege, and objectively false internally within the LGBT community given the inequality across racial, gender, class, age, ability, and gender identity lines within our community. It's almost as if they believe saying it over and over again makes it true, like they've been reading THE SECRET or something.

Comparisons to the 1963 march demonstrates the organizers' apparent ignorance about that march. The 1963 march WAS partially targeting specific legislation (Kennedy's civil rights bill), and WAS about compromise. In supporting the bill and yet criticizing it for not going far enough, it acknowledged the problems with compromise and also the political necessity of compromise. Compromise is how legislation gets passed and pragmatic political change happens. The no-compromise no-bargaining folks in 1963 were the ones that thought the march was silly.

And of course there's a lack of acknowledgment of the myriad ways that things that activism and protest have changed since 1963. Iconic moments like the 1963 march can't just be manufactured. Showing up on the mall doesn't make anyone more likely to take you seriously in 2009. 30,000 racist nutjobs just marched in washington, making uncompromising demands--guess what: we're going to pass national health care reform anyway.

You can't just say "we're being like Bayard Rustin" and act as if this replaces the hard work of thoughtful pragmatic strategy on legislative and judicial fronts.

One telling moment is that they describe legislation as "subdivided" and "confusing". Confusing? To whom? Is the issue that too few LGBT folks understand the way change happens in government? (That would explain some of the hostility directed at Obama by those who've made no effort to put extra pressure on legislators). Do we need to dust off our schoolhouse rock videotapes and relearn how a bill becomes a law? I'll give them "subdivided"--the only way to legislate expanded rights in a way that's not "subdivided" would be some kind of queer ERA. Good luck getting that ratified.

I appreciate that many people are supporting this march because now that it's happening whether we like it or not, we don't want to see it fail in a way that would be embarassing and set us back. But when the chief organizers are only capable of empty rhetoric like this, it definitely undermines my confidence.

1. I support the march because of the broad coalition behind it in the same way I supported Obama because of the coalition behind him. I have/had reservations and deep concerns about both!

2. Local action should NEVER be under-valued. Local action - talking to our friends and neighbors, joining community councils and boards, is what will make our communities safer for our families and youth.

3. Concerns about the march should not be dismissed and shut down by the organizers in the tone they have been on conference calls and across the blogosphere. I have seen insinuations that those who do not support the march are "part of the establishment" or "not doing the work" or "sitting on the sidelines." That train of thought is offensive to those of us who are radical queers working on the ground to address the deep budget cuts and literal closures of the services that help the most oppressed in our community.

4. The white leaders of the march should be careful about comparing and appropriating the language and strategies of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. I have heard from many people of color that it is offensive to them when gay (especially gay white) leaders do this.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 18, 2009 8:46 AM

Your point four is ridiculous.

Ours is a civil rights movement no less than theirs is/has been a civil rights movement. If we begin to think of it as such and demonstrate the manner in which our civil rights are violated we can have success.

Otherwise what are we marching for if not civil rights?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 7:22 AM

I should add that ML King appropriated the language of Ghandi.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 7:31 AM

There is still this little thing that could benefit all LGBT persons called health care. Presidents (only Democratic ones) since Truman have tried and it is a lot of work to accomplish past all the entrenched interests. I wish the president luck with that.

Lonnie, switch to decaffe. Bill, you have found a new friend.

Neither of you say that you will actually be there and since I am exactly on the opposite side of the world I know I won't.

I don't know why anybody bothers to do anything for the LGBT community.

Patrick, I don’t think there’s any reason to look at these discussions in anything but a very good light. Despite all the efforts to sabotage it the march is on and it’ll be a success.

Opposition to the MoW is primarily an expression of the fears of Democrats and movement hustlers (the two are interchangeable) that things will get out of hand. They're accustomed to using the movement to advance their careers, collect outrageous salaries and elect Democrats.

The movement is in flux and few of them can acclimate to the new political realities. So they’re pissing in the wind. The thing is to stay upwind and not let it bother you.

The piecemeal strategy is the failure.

Even while the carping goes on the real debate is taking shape. It’s between a piecemeal, reformist, accommodationist strategy and a mass action strategy. The former strategy is the favorite of self appointed leaders and features high salaries (for them) and an endless series of martini lunches with smirking House members at Citronelle and intimate dinners with senators and WH staffers at the Caucus Room.

Groups like HRC have been at it for decades and their efforts have produced - zero. To be sure they did use the movement to help elect anti-LBGT bigots like Clinton of DADT and DOMA fame and Obama, Rich Warren’s not so unlikely bedpartner. Lobbying, cuddling with political hustlers are, on the national level, a total failure.

The second strategy, mass action, has a different dynamic, creates new layers of activists and leaders, requires democracy in the movement and promotes militancy instead of accommodation to bigotry.

In tandem with society as a whole the various GLBT movements and communities are undergoing a deep radicalization created by insoluble issues like wars of aggression, economic collapse and unremitting attacks by the right on same sex marriage.

Because of the failures of the Old Guard and the arrogance of the christers, mass action is on the agenda again. For the left there is nothing to fear in this process, including carping from the Old Guard. We’re going to hear a lot more of it.

Obviously, we are all aware that we are not equals in the eyes of the law or there really wouldn't be much work to do at the state or federal levels. The point is that as Americans, as humans, we all deserve to be equal and settling for partial equality...well that doesn't even make sense linguistically, much less is it acceptable. No one is saying that compromise doesn't have to be made in order for progress to occur at times, but why would anyone stop there? I can't think of a single person who would say "Well they gave me more of a right today than I had yesterday, so I'll quit now". Quite the contrary, we must (and will) continue the good fight locally and federally until we have FULL rights in all matters governed by civil law. And, please don't for a minute think that the people organizing this march aren't fully aware of the importance of doing the work locally. Not only are they people who have done and will continue to do work on the issues in their own communities; they are energizing people across the Nation to become MORE involved at a local level. And, I don't know what phone calls "Queer Today" has been on, but the ones I am a part of have taken into account all of the hard-working activists that won't be attending the march. There are solidarity marches springing up all over the country to help energize our local communities so after the march we can all come back together ready to move forward.

The March is badly timed to say the least. It comes just days before the critical referendums in Maine and Washington state and important electoral races in various states and communities, and it is sucking up attention and resources that should be going to those efforts. Any benefit that could conceivably come from even a huge attendance in D.C. will be outweighed a hundred times by the defeat of our causes and candidates in places like Washington state, Maine, Kalamazoo, Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere.

Tristram,

You used to say that you opposed the March because of Maine. Now your reasons have turned into a laundry list - Washington, Kalamazoo, Virginia, New Jersey, and more all make it above the March now.

Yet, if we could get ENDA passed federally, Kalamazoo's ballot initiative would fade into nothing since the federal law would trump it. And it would bring it to places like Indiana too - without having to get everyone to vote on whether or not we can be judged by the quality of our work.

But the March which could help spur the passage of ENDA isn't as important as supporting a local ordinance.

Is this the logic? What am I missing?

What is it with these march people and labeling every list a "laundry list". It's just a list!

What's with all these whiners labeling everyone that disagrees with obsessive hand wringing and list making as "march people"?

Your list making is a convenient way to make sure nothing ever really happens...but lots of lists get made...and many people learn what YOU think is more important...and everyone gets to feel resentful and left out and marginalized within the margins.

Lists = hierarchy = more oppression disguised as practicality wrapped in arrogance

I appreciate that there is an inherent problem in the process of setting legislative priorities that not everyone is going to be happy with the priorities that get set up. And it's definitely true that the priorities that get chosen haven't reflected the most urgent interests of the LGBT population, or the diversity of the LGBT population. However, just ducking the question isn't a solution. Better, more participatory leadership models is the solution. You can't get around the necessary task of setting legislative priorities by just avoiding speaking with any specificity about what equality means--because then the ones interpreting what "equality" means are going to be politicians, and you know they're not going to have our best interests at heart.

You can prove me wrong though, if you show me any successful movement to expand rights that hasn't been based on a bunch of bullet points--on specific policy proposals.

The only movement I can think of that can come close to this is the ERA which was one unified statement about equality. And that failed, despite women being more than half the population!

No more waiting for crumbs

Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation [1], makes the case for demonstrating in Washington at the National Equality March on October 11. Sherry is currently on a speaking tour of the East Coast [2].

September 18, 2009

THE NEWS this week that New York Rep. Jerry Nadler has proposed legislation to repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would have been sufficient to quell the demands of LGBT activists one year ago.

Today, Nadler's bill is a welcome step. But the fact that it comes seven months into the presidency of a man who promised to repeal DOMA--and amid comments from Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that getting rid of the federal anti-marriage equality law isn't a "priority"--highlights the molasses pace of LGBT rights legislation and the bankruptcy of the incrementalist strategy that has guided the LGBT movement for decades.

Like the moribund Equal Rights Amendment campaign for women's constitutional equality--initiated in 1923, reintroduced in 1972 and never passed by the required 38 states--LGBT gradualists have argued for a state-by-state legislative approach to winning change.

Enough begging for crumbs. If we want equal rights for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states, we have to demand it from the federal government--and that means getting out and marching on October 11 in Washington, D.C.

That's what Generation Twitter and thousands of others--via Facebook, street heat and word of mouth--have been expressing in protests across the country since the passage last November of California's anti-equal marriage referendum Proposition 8.

President Barack Obama's own equivocation these last months shows the limitations of an electoral strategy--and the importance of struggle.

He is the first president to publicly utter the word transgender and to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots last June. Yet his Justice Department first insultingly upheld and then opposed DOMA. And Obama continues to drag his feet on repealing "don't ask, don't tell"--a policy that its own author, Gen. Colin Powell, calls for ending.

The relationship between LGBT activists and the Democratic Party has been a dysfunctional one. The Democrats court LGBT votes and money, but offer few gains and a fair share of abuse in exchange.

Notably, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank has refused to sign on to Nadler's DOMA repeal bill, saying, "It's not anything that's achievable in the near term." Frank, quite busy these days shoveling bailout money to the Wall Street bankers, was also instrumental in tossing transgender people out of proposed employment non-discrimination legislation in 2007.

For LGBT activists wooed by the Democrats, ditching the more militant strategy that won a hearing in the first place for a "don't rock the boat" approach is the price to play.

Thirty-five years have passed since gay civil rights legislation was first proposed in Congress, yet LGBT people remain an unprotected class of citizens. Whereas the denial of the rights of gays to work for the federal government, for example, was enacted with the stroke of a president's pen in Executive Order 10450 in 1953, no such swift action has been taken to overturn decades of institutional discrimination.

When Bill Clinton was in the White House, it wasn't until nearly six years into his presidency that he Executive Order 11478, providing partial relief for lesbian and gay federal employees--not including 3 million military personnel.

But the fact that his action left intact sodomy laws (finally overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003), anti-same-sex marriage legislation (which he signed), the military's unequal status for LGBT people (which he introduced!), and never mentions the rights of those who are transgender, exposes the failure of the electoral route for winning civil rights for sexual minorities.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WE'VE GOT to strike while the iron's hot. Today, political tectonic plates are shifting rapidly, and groups and individuals need to get on board or step aside to let a new generation push ahead for full equality.

When Harvey Milk's protégé Cleve Jones put out the call for the National Equality March on Washington in October, almost every major LGBT group balked, arguing that there wasn't enough time, and a march wasn't the right strategy.

But the force of events and popular sentiment compelled organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to endorse this march. It's a positive sign that HRC feels the pressure to endorse--while grassroots activists shaping the march haven't watered down its demand for full equality now.

Unlike marches of the recent past, this one will not be brought to you by Miller Beer, Citibank or any other corporate entity. Its bare-bones budget is posted on its Web site [3], and celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga are volunteering their services and paying their own way. It's grassroots all the way.

New activists are showing the way forward. When Black lesbians Aiyi'nah Ford and Torian Brown were kicked out of a Silver Springs, Md., diner for embracing, they called a protest in late August--and then got involved in building the march on Washington. A police raid on the Rainbow Lounge bar in Forth Worth, Texas--carried out on the night of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion--sent patron Chad Gibson to the emergency room. Outraged LGBT folks called a protest--and now they're also building for the October 11 march. So are the local LGBT people in Atlanta, who responded with protests after an early September raid at the Eagle bar.

All of these actions have made international news and are forcing authorities to apologize and change policies.

Many transgender people, accustomed to being pushed into the shadows, have thrown themselves into building this march--from veteran Florida activist Donna Lee, who serves on the steering committee, to newer radicals like Dove Paige Anthony in Chicago's Join the Impact. Trans voices will be heard from the stage as well.

Whether the National Equality March draws tens of thousands or many more is hard to tell since so many established media outlets are ignoring it--though CNN, MSNBC and the LGBT cable network LOGO have agreed to give it exposure.

No matter how many turn out to march on October 11--or attend the vast array of workshops the day before--it will help punctuate a turning point for LGBT civil rights.

And a new network of activist groups will emerge from this march: Equality Across America. As Massachusetts activist Gary Lapon puts it, "We are not simply organizing to protest, but protesting to organize."

The new mood for LGBT equality is a reflection of a generation that grew up with unprecedented cultural exposure to sexual and gender variance, yet lives with draconian laws and organizational strategies that asphyxiate dynamism and shut down debate. No more crafting our demands to suit the tepid conservatism of a bygone era. We want it all!

President Obama, this is our Rosa Parks moment. When will you allow LGBT people sit at the front of the bus?

I'm glad to hear that the ISO and other socialist groups are on board with the MoW.

They'll be part of a growing left response to the backstabbing and sell outs of Democrats trying to use our movement for their own narrow partisan gain.

There is no way that the MoW will not be a rally against Obama and the Democrats no matter who the speakers are. Obama and the Democrats have guaranteed that.

The only failed strategy will be one that embraces a single agenda, rather than a multi-pronged approach. Folks who criticize the lobbying/political efforts are belittling the victories won in many states--albeit imperfect victories. Meanwhile, a total reliance on playing nice in politics creates stagnation. The state-by-state strategy is NOT a failure. It isn't the end-all-be-all either. A Federal strategy has not garnered us any major wins (other than Ryan White AIDS Care Act) that does not mean that it won't in the future.

I believe we are smart enough and creative enough to manage a fight on MANY fronts.

A passage of the omnibus LGBT rights bill would be a dream come true, but its going to be a lot of tears and outrage to get us to that point. I don't see a problem with simultaenously pushing ENDA in Tennessee, Nondiscrimination in Mobile, Marriage in Minnesota, piece-by-piece Federal legislation AS WELL as the omnibus LGBT rights bill.

How is this even a problem.