John Aravosis of Americablog yesterday called out the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP).
As he notes, CAP has been on a rather public campaign to take credit for the entire Don't Ask, Don't Tell compromise that has much of the gay community in an uproar.
That compromise puts the power to nullify DADT into the hands of military leaders and the president six months or a year from now. It appears to be wildly unpopular in the gay community at large.
The Gay City News reported that the compromise had been drafted by CAP and circulated among legislators starting roughly two months ago, quoting Winnie Stachelberg.
Winnie Stachelberg, a former HRC employee and senior official at CAP, was instrumental in the "incrementalist" strategy that left transgender people out of ENDA for years, and stripped them out in 2007 once they managed to get in.
I note that Mr. Aravosis himself was fully in favor of incrementalism when it came to transgender people and ENDA in 2007.
So now we find out that Ms. Stachelberg, the ENDA incrementalist, left HRC, went to CAP, where she promptly applied her incrementalist strategies to DADT repeal.
The incrementalism shoe is on the other foot.
Mr. Aravosis poses this question, which is a good one.
I don't begrudge anyone who wants credit where credit is due. But there are at least two problems with CAP's apparent coup d'etat over the gay movement.
First, who died and made CAP queen?
My answer is that this is emblematic of a certain type of strategy and type of "community" leadership that is secretive, top-down and based on who has the best political connections. It is not based on justice, on right, on good policy or on community-building.
It's our willingness as a community to give money and power to an elite that promises to bring us power based on their expertise and connections. But while elitism has its uses, it tends to freeze out the power of the people. And it often requires giving in on core principles to retain the friendship of the power elite.
Here's what Winnie Stachelberg said in 2007 during the ENDA debacle:
...The House bill is not as inclusive as policies in many major companies and a growing number of states. But history may inform us that while passing legislation that only prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation may not be the perfect strategy, it may hasten, and be a critical predicate for, legislation that protects the entire LGBT community over time.
...And the transgender community isn't the only group that will likely be left out of this narrower version of the legislation, including employees of small businesses, employees of religious institutions, and gay and lesbian individuals in the armed forces. But this bill was built on compromise; it was never intended to be the whole package, and should therefore be seen as a first step.
This kind of discrimination is wrong and has no place in our country. None. And it is wrong to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But right now the votes to pass an inclusive bill are just not there.
...I believe we can and should make progress--one step, and one inch, at a time.
As Ms. Sandeen noted at the time:
Of course, Ms. Stachelberg's statements on educating congresspeople might carry more weight if her own actions in the 1990's weren't 180 degrees out of phase with that "education" position. If it takes education, it should be noted that she, as an HRC lobbyist in the late 1990's, "educated" congresspeople against transgender inclusion in ENDA.
...transgender lobbyists were told by sitting senators, congressmembers and various staffers that HRC Capitol Hill lobbyists Nancy Buermeyer and Winnie Stachelberg showed up on the Hill accompanied by GenderPac's Riki Wilchins before transgender lobby events in 1997, 1998, and 1999. They asked those members and staffers to tell the transpeople coming to Washington that inclusion in ENDA wasn't possible, but hate crimes was. That revelation so enraged the transgender community that a group of activists that included yours truly founded NTAC in 1999.
And now, Winnie Stachelberg has successfully applied her one-inch at a time compromise strategy to DADT repeal. And it's not even clear that you got an inch. You got the right to have the military decide whether to allow gay people to serve openly. Isn't that where we were before DADT?
Yes, I'm hopeful that the new military leaders are more open than the ones in the 1980s and 1990s. But there are an awful lot of familiar-sounding themes here.
I'm not glad about that. I think it is a mistake that will be as haunting a mistake as DADT was, as a compromise measure, in the first place. All these compromise measures are disasters. Look at DOMA - put in place to forestall a constitutional amendment that probably could never have happened given the stringent requirements for such amendments. The idea was that when a friendly administration took over, DOMA would be repealed. Look where that's wound up.
There is a time for compromise, but this isn't it.
The incrementalism chicken has come home to roost.
When will we learn that incrementalism is another word for failure?