Alex Blaze

Who decides LGBT strategy?

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 03, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Courage Campaign, gay marriage, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, marriage equality, money, Prop. 8, queer, same-sex marriage

The fight for 2010 isn't dead yet:

A coalition of Californian gay rights groups have said they are determined to get gay marriage back on the ballot next year.

Jo Hoenninger of Restore Equality 2010, said: "This is a movement for equality. Harvey Milk didn?t wait for research."

This week, the state's largest grassroots gay advocacy group withdrew its support for the 2010 campaign.

Courage Campaign, based in Los Angeles, said it does not believe the movement currently has enough leadership or financial support to be successful in the next 12 months.

The group said campaigners should wait until 2012 instead.

Equality California decided on 2012 a long time ago citing its own internal research that showed that winning was next to impossible in 2010. It takes time to move people on these issues, and there simply isn't enough time to do that in the next eleven months.

That means that the two largest groups working on same-sex marriage are out for this next year. If the coalition that's still working on it can get enough signatures (and signature-gathering costs money and takes volunteers and time), then good luck to them. Everyone out here hopes they win, but there are quite a few people who just don't think they will.

This case provides an interesting study, though, in who controls the LGBT movement. The folks pushing for 2010 tend to be less politically experienced, have less access to donors or political consultants, and are often the people who just realized, in November of 2008, that people are still pretty homophobic, even in the sunny state of California.

They tend to be a bit neurotic, too. Hoenninger, quoted before the jump, quotes Harvey Milk as if he were Jesus. Love Honor Cherish calculated how many queers would die between 2010 and 2012 without having the right to marry. In fact, their entire position is based on trying to make something happen two years earlier when all the evidence available says that there's little chance of that happening. And you don't have to take my word for it:

The proponents of 2010 co-opted the discussion at every turn, using scare-tactics, mis-information, revisionist history and mob rule that would make Karl Rove proud. They purposefully dismissed and denigrated any sort of "so-called" expert, i.e., campaign consultants, if they didn't fall in line and support their position. If the facts were not to their liking, well, then, anecdotal evidence and their "feeling" that we will win should have been evidence enough for the community to put up the resources and gird for battle next year.

The audience reception to the Prepare to Prevail presentation was polite, at best. However, Love Honor Cherish used their time not to present their plan and make the case based on its merits, but rather attack Prepare to Prevail and go into campaign mode and use every emotional appeal to whip the room into a frenzy of "2010! 2010!" I was appalled by the personal attacks spoken from the podium. It was clear they expected everyone to "fall in line" under their leadership. They offered zero empirical evidence that anything they proposed was achievable. I was offended by their accusation that those who had legitimate concerns about proceeding hastily were defeatists.[...]

At one point, while we were debating taking a (non-binding) straw poll at the end of the day, someone commandeered the microphone and basically said, "Our opponents are watching us online laughing. If we don't take a vote now on 2010, they win."

On the 2012 side are people of color, who created the "Prepare to Prevail" coalition to convince other queer Californians that not enough work had been done, and the A-gay donors, who'd have to finance the thing and think that there's a better return for their investment in 2012. The two biggest LGBT orgs in the state went with 2012 as well.

I wrote about how money often determines the outcomes to the strategic and ideological questions in the LGBT community in terms of activism last week. While the 2010 coalition is going to trudge ahead trying to collect signatures on their own, without the benefit of hired hands, the Courage Campaign's Rick Perry mentioned that they're having trouble raising funds to keep on going (they've raised less than $200,000 "by a long shot"). He doesn't directly link it to the decision to go forward in 2012, but since they aren't releasing the research that led to this decision anyway, it's easy to imagine that someone mentioned the fact that they're far behind where they need to be at this point to run a multi-million dollar campaign.

Adam Bink wrote a while ago on Bilerico that he was worried about the moral hazard of letting the pushiest people set the agenda (speaking specifically of the march) because we're worried about them failing. The problems such an organizing model raises are both democratic and strategic: how does everyone get a voice in a process that affects us all? How do we make sure that the best decision gets made?

The democratic discussion would fall, according to the best, although severely flawed, data: the internal polling of Equality California and the Courage Campaign. The majority of both their constituencies wanted them to go for a ballot initiative in 2010. The data is far from a fair vote, though: not everyone is a member of these orgs, and the data is old enough now to pretty much be useless.

As for the most strategic solution, it seems that, while we can't ever really know the answer, the evidence is piling up in favor of 2012. Equality California released a report this past summer showing that they won't be able to change enough people's opinions before next November, and the Courage Campaign seems utterly persuaded by their expensive focus-group data, even if they haven't released it to the rest of us.

But what's interesting about California is how the questions of democracy, money, strategy, and energy have unravelled in front of everyone. And just because a group of people is determined to get on the ballot in 2010 (for all those gays and lesbians who are going to die between Nov. 2010 and Nov. 2012), if they can't convince the political insiders or big donors to back them, they'll have a hard time getting enough signatures. But, if they do get enough, then a ballot initiative on same-sex marriage being on the ballot in 2010 change the environment in which the big orgs make their decisions about how to use their volunteer and staff time.

I'm not counting anyone out, although a win in 2010, or even 2012, seems unlikely to me. But I've already seen what a group of committed queers who can work themselves into a frenzy over simplistic slogans and feel-good rhetoric can do, so I still wouldn't be surprised if the 2010 side pulls something off.


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Resources go to good ideas. The idea needs to convince the money to pay and the rest of us to play. If the idea doesn't have merit - it will not get support.

There are occasional false starts (EqualityAcrossAmerica, JoinTheImpact) but, it doesn't take long to see which ideas are supportable.

This, of course, doesn't help explain HRC. Or GLAAD. Or ...

Well, that was the most interesting take on these things that I've ever read. Well done!

Let me start with full disclosure and disclaimer: I'm the spokesman for Restore Equality 2010, but I am only speaking for myself in this comment. Nothing I say here should be construed as the 2010 folks' collective policy.

The meeting you mention in which there was some fairly "out there" behavior was in San Bernardino earlier this summer, and I was not there. I was watching online, utterly disgusted with both sides and quite worried about the future of LGBT activism in California. The people willing to go forward with 2010 met again in LA, then again in my hometown of San Francisco on August 29. It was that day that I finally gave up all reservations and went to the meeting – my first serious act in LGBT activism since I was in college in the mid-90's. I felt that if my community was in such tragic meltdown, on the internet for all eyes to see, I wanted to make whatever difference I can to assist everyone in being sane, being productive and being respectful.

Alex, where I think you are onto something is that the critical conversation when it comes to our orgs is fundamentally broken. The one thing that has become clear to me is that the structure to have a say in what our orgs do for us is virtually nil – unless you have a large donation in hand. Sadly, the most salient criticism comes on blog posts and comments on the internet: a culture unto itself that is inflammatory and rife with ad hominem attacks, but full of good ideas that are lost in all the nastiness. It is no surprise that the frustration level goes so high in the few opportunities we have to have open public conversations with our organizational leaders that the situation you described happens. This must be fixed in one way or another, or we can expect more of the same.

A vast majority of the people who have volunteered large amounts of time for the 2010 effort were not at this san Bernardino meeting. If I had to give a holistic characterization of these people, they are highly committed individuals who believe that a good campaign started by the grassroots can create unprecedented results. Many of us see the fight against the Briggs Initiative as the model for our success: A campaign started by the grassroots, poo-poo'ed by the "establishment gays", but ended up beating an over 20 point spread to be the ONLY LGBT-related ballot initiative that went in our favor in this state.

In essence, many of us have picked up on exactly what you have picked up on: This is an opportunity to pop the bubble that seems to prevail over our organizational culture and change the way the business of LGBT activism is done (including eliminating practices which make these campaigns unnecessarily expensive). And perhaps this truly grassroots (I use no full-time paid staffers as the benchmark for 'grassroots') route is the only way these changes can happen. We have two large orgs here in California who would be putting their existence at major risk by running another failed campaign, and I have complete and total compassion for that position. However, I think this is a case in which the mission for the LGBT public falls outside of what our orgs can do and what our orgs can risk, and I just can't live with backing down after such a close election and such a momentous reaction to the loss.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that LGBT public who care about these internecine battles is such a small sliver of our total LGBT and straight ally population. If the petition drive is successful – and I am under no illusion that this is not a steep mountain to climb – I am confident the earned media combined with our orgs' promised involvement in the ballot campaign will activate our population like never before. When disucssing Proposition 8's passage, so many times I hear 'I didn't do anything because I thought we would easily win' from my less involved LGBT and straight friends. Those people are ready to act when we give them a chance.

I'll be at the meet-and-greet with Bil in San Francisco tomorrow night if you're in town. If not, you or anyone else are more than welcome to contact me if you have any questions about 2010.

Thanks for giving this issue attention. I get there are many opinions on all sides, and I respect all of them and the people who care enough to have them.

The idea that "people of color" are en masse opposed to a campaign in 2010 is simply untrue. There are many Latinos, African Americans and Asian involved in the 2010 campaign at all levels. At the leadership level that includes myself (Puerto Rican), Jose Medina (Mexican-American), Zakiya Khabir (African-American) and Peter Nguyen, (Vietnamese-American). Three of the proponents of the ballot proposition are Latino, one is an African American straight woman. True, the boards of Honor PAC, API Equality and Jordan Rustin signed on to the Prepare to Prevail letter without consulting their members and, in the case of Honor PAC, in contravention of the stated wishes of the majority of their members. Some of these organizations lost board members as a result. Their decision to stand by and provide cover to EQCA has been rewarded with funding and assistance they never had before. Time will tell if this Faustian bargain will produce the results they hoped for.

I will not dignify the allegations being thrown at us as they are but an effort to distract us from our goal. EQCA has waged an aggressive PR campaign to dissuade the grassroots from fighting for our rights before they say we can. This strategy included carefully timed statements and War Room type politics such as adjusting their language to meet counter-arguments (thus, for instance, "a later time," became 2012). Friendly reporters repeat their words almost verbatim. Makes one wonder: where was this media savvy and strategery in 2008? Most of all they delayed and delayed and vilified anyone who was not willing to do so and barred us from speaking at any event until many of the people who were eager to do the work got discouraged and moved on. We are not giving up the fight because its is the right and moral thing to never stop fighting for equal rights. And we intend to win. But if we don't succeed and there is also no campaign in 2012 (I will put money on the fact that there won't be)we will not need wonder who killed equality. It was the Gays.

Great article Alex.

What scares me with the 2010 crowd, is if, by some chance they succeed in getting the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in 2010- then strategy be damned- we will all be dragged into this fight again- and we will lose. That's the real danger.

I'm glad you hit on in this article- something that has been really driving me bonkers - how folks who had done no political work before 2008, all the sudden, after us losing Prop 8, have become political experts.

Your fury is powerful, but fury without strategy and history is a fool's folly.

Many of the folks pushing this 2010 prop are lawyers. So my analogy is this- I would never in a million years, try and write a legal contract - I don't have the skill, period.

Likewise, it would be nice to see a similar response from these folks that just because you're angry doesn't mean you have any clue how to run an effective political campaign.

I mean its called political "science" for a reason.

Does it mean that the experts are always right- not at all - but education is a powerful tool.

The question of who leads is a good one. One MUST remember this whole marriage fiasco was brought on us by the six couples in Hawaii who filed their lawsuit for a marriage license.

The national organizations were busy moving from state to state filing lawsuits to overturn sodomy laws and the national groups did not join the fracus for about 3 years.

Since that time the marriage issue has taken over the entire movement. It is all anyone talks/thinks about.

In the mean time our community centers are suffering for support. Progams for our youth are neglected and little is done to initiate progams for our growing glbt senior population.

Anyone with any political savvy can see after 31 defeats at the ballot we do not have a winning strategy and until we can come up with one it will take more than enthusiam to win an election.

A LOT of work needs to be done and it can not be done by Novemeber 2010.

There are going to be at least two ballot measures which will bring the RRR out in force on the California November ballot - another shot at the parental permission for high school students to see a doctor (and this just squeeked by last election as support for the current law seems to be falling) and one which will declare an embryo a person from the moment of conception.

I personally think marriage is a failed institution. We need to work on civil unions and see they are recognized in every state and from state to state. I recognize the fact our glbt families need legal protections but that can be provided through civil unions.

Let's get back to reality and work for EVERY glbt person just not those who want to get married.

The problem with your argument Jerry is the claim that:

Let's get back to reality and work for EVERY glbt person just not those who want to get married."

Same sex marriage is about equality and not just for those that want to get married. If people are allowed to get married, so are we.

Perhaps, as you have suggested, the SSM efforts did not have a good strategy (winning strategy) but, it is their responsibility to enroll financial support and participation. There is no evidence that any money has been withheld from "LGBT youth and senior" needs. If there is a funding emergency you are aware of, write about that, instead of blaming equality efforts.

If there is an effort in 2010, I hope you choose to participate. One way or another, we're all headed the same direction - equality.

The people for 2010 want a say in the campaign, not to run it. We are clear that if we collect enough signatures to hit the ballot, the campaign must be turned over to an experienced California-based campaign manager and an Executive Committee of experienced political figures and community activists – including some of the people and organizations currently for 2012. Yes, there are certain things we want to make sure happen, like true engagement in ALL areas and with ALL populations in California, better rapid response, more powerful messaging than No on 8 (and Maine, which was only incrementally better) and the assurance that no volunteer will be turned away or disrespected.

While we believe the status quo in these ballot campaigns is not good enough, by no means would we throw the out the baby with the bathwater and have a bunch of inexperienced volunteers run the entire show. It's somewhat OK for signature-gathering campaign, but most definitely not OK for the ballot campaign.

I want to address all this talk of 'moral hazard'. In my personal opinion, it is quite paternalistic indeed when the larger LGBT orgs hurl insults, bad press and nihilism at constituencies who organize for initiatives that they care about but the orgs don't. The most sinister part of this, I believe, is when LGBT leaders tell their community that they shouldn't or can't do something – very much like the homophobes who say we shouldn't or can't do something. I am in the 2010 camp not just for equality, but to perpetuate the message that LGBT people are not small people. We can do it all if we really, really want to do it.

This is the third time this special sort of parternalism has happened: First, the Boies-Olson lawsuit, Perry vs. Schwarznegger, was trashed by all the gay orgs who feared a bad outcome would set us back for years. Now, they want in on the effort. Second, they decried the National Equality March as a waste of time, but in the end joined an effort that inspired our youth, will bring forth our future leadership and engaged many who would have not been engaged without the event. And now, we have California in 2010.

For our orgs and our leadership to claim omniscience and desire complete command-and-control in all things strategy is a most disturbing form of arrogance, especially when we have failed in 31 ballot initiatives in which many of these same leaders were involved, and I have never heard of anyone involved in any of these failures being fired or admonished in any way. Perhaps leadership could look at these successful efforts mounted without their help as an indicator of areas in which the LGBT public thinks they are failing, instead of hurling insults as these initiatives are planned and claiming to have "saved' them afterwards.

My free consulting for the orgs and our leadership is instead of taking actions and using words which serve your egos and reconfirm your place in LGBT organizational culture, perhaps it would be more powerful to look at yourselves and how you fail to convince your community that your strategy is the best strategy.


Most of the commentary on the 2010 movement fails to appreciate its fundamental differences to the default mode of operating. The two major groups in CA, EQCA and Courage Campaign, operate as traditional top-heavy corporations. This failed standard has somehow been ingrained into our beings, as it seems criticism of the 2010 movement is often rooted in how it "stacks up" to this corporate model (as demonstrated by glowing corporate head #2 last week).
As a point of clarity, the Restore 2010 organizational structure includes an element that was, and continues to be, denied by the corp. model: regional representation. The state has been divided into 10 regions, and representatives from these regions are tasked to execute the local grassroots leadership portion of the plan. This statewide regional body is very strong and completely genuine.
Which brings me to my disclosure...I am a regional rep on the statewide panel for the Restore Equality 2010 campaign. I do not live in S.F. or L.A. or even San Diego. I live in the Inland Empire, a large area with a population of roughly 4 million. During the previous LGBT rights 'administrations' my area had been either ignored or maligned. The empowerment of the movement organizers and leaders, who live outside of the cities, is the brilliance of this campaign structure.
To further address a common misinformed analysis, as addressed in part by Capitalistpiggy: to suggest that regional/local organizers are ill equipped to contribute to a statewide campaign is to betray the nature of what this movement must become – and what every rights movement in history has demonstrated to be truth.