This post is all after the jump since I'm really just responding to a few of the mini-debates from these past couple weeks (concerning certain LGBT orgs). I quote the dictionary so don't click to read the full post and then call this boring.
Confusion: How the LGBT movement still refuses to have a real ideological debateFollow @freedom2marry
Ideology, tone, and tactics
I'm not jumping in this debate since all of Gay, Inc., looks the same to me (the burden of proof is on the people saying they're changing politics, and three months isn't enough time to judge, just to provide constructive criticism), but if you're going to discuss, consider specifying whether you or someone else is criticizing:
Ideology refers to a belief system about the way the world works and a vision for how it should work. Tone refers to the emotional side of politics, how hot or cold one is, how patient or impatient one is, as well as how committed one is to working to change the status quo. Tactics refers to concrete actions taken, as well as the effectiveness of the same.
These are three independent concepts, and they're worth discussing separately. A person can be criticized for the efficacy of their actions while both she and the critic agree on a vision. Or sometimes there's a disagreement on ideology but an agreement on action (I saw quite a few different kinds of people go to the NEM, for example). Or maybe there's a difference in tone and that's it (common in my home away from home, the blogosphere).
Radical vs. Reformist: It's about what you believe
The term "radical" is specifically about ideology. I hate to go to the dictionary, but from some of the commentary I've seen both here and elsewhere, well.... Here's the relevant definition of "radical":
c : of, relating to, or constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change
And here's "reform":
2 : a removal or correction of an abuse, a wrong, or errors
Notice the difference? Radicalism wants to fundamentally change society, the way it thinks, talks, understands reality, and acts. Reformism wants to correct specific wrongs while keeping basic structures in place. Neither term gives any specific prescriptions, but they both refer to different classes of ideologies.
For example, for the problem of employment discrimination against LGBT people, a reformist response is ENDA, as well as more-comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. A radical response would include anti-discrimination legislation and also call for an end to at-will employment, increased organizing to shift power away from employers to workers, and a larger safety net so that LGBT people who lose their jobs can still live a half-way decent life.
If two groups of people have the same ideology, then they are both radical or they are both reformist (or conservative, etc.). A group of people with a reformist ideology can't be "radical" based on their tone or actions; the word just doesn't work that way.
Little space to discuss ideology
The reason I post this is because ideology generally gets ignored in discussions of the LGBT movement. We all agree (or so it seems) on the same vague idea of equality, which will happen roughly when a certain list of legislation is passed, and the debate is on how to get that legislation passed. Not only is that mentality a major turn-off for people who would otherwise want to be involved in the movement, it's also keeping us from advocating these positions effectively or really even understanding why they're important (and they may just not be all that important).
We've instead conflated identity with ideology, saying that if you're LGBT in some way you have to believe X, Y, and Z are good ideas. In its more annoying form, this sort of identity politics causes people to call anyone who disagrees a "homobigot" or "self-hating" (both useful terms in the appropriate context). In its more common form, this is the main reason we don't even feel a need to ask what sort of legislation will help us, whether the changes needed will all come from legislation or litigation, etc. It short-circuits that debate and offers up a complete package that you either have to take or leave.
Part of what we do here at TBP is to provide space for ideological debate. A movement cannot subsist on accusing people of being "pro-gay" or "anti-gay" alone; eventually it has to understand the hows and the whys of these issues beyond the talking points.
And that's part of what bugs me about this recent discussion of GetEqual, with them positioning themselves as ideologically opposed to HRC: they're pretending like they're filling a niche in the movement that they're not. Actual radical queers that I know aren't signing up for GetEqual actions, and there are reasons for that that are worth debating.
Here's a quote from Robin McGehee that makes it clear that their differences with HRC aren't ideological:
Your thoughts and visions of MAJOR collaboration [between LGBT orgs like HRC and GetEqual] are EXACTLY what I hope we all will begin to build and see out of our movement as we move step by step towards equality.
Here's Heather Cronk:
The onslaught of an unpredictable LGBT direct action outfit is the best blessing that the movement could ask for -- while HRC is in White House meetings, GetEQUAL hands them a "radical, unpredictable left" that can take the blame for crazy shenanigans while the moderate and reasonable orgs sit nicely at the table and negotiate.
They see their work as supplementing the work done by HRC. Someone with a different ideology, a different vision for a queer-accepting world than HRC's, would not want their work to advance an agenda they don't agree with. While their tone and actions are different and worth endless debate (even better, if you're defending their actions, why don't you participate in some of them? The GetEqual folks are friendly and the goal of their organization is to help others become activists), their ideology is fundamentally the same.
That is, if a radical group of activists who managed to put together some effective demos found out that HRC was telling Obama and Congressional Democrats that all they needed to do was pass ENDA or something to get the radicals to stop, these radicals would accuse HRC of co-opting their actions. They wouldn't see it as part of some big movement towards "equality" (equality itself being an inherently reformist goal).
This is nothing new in American liberal politics. Just look at our last Democratic presidential primary, which was sustained on the differences in tone and identity and personal history of two candidates with identical ideologies. There was plenty of heated debate during that primary season, just none of it on anything of importance. And look how that turned out - some people were actually surprised that Obama wasn't a leftist like them.
These sorts of debates are important to get people committed to a cause, and both the LGBT movement and the larger left-ish movement is avoiding them when really neither should. It's counterproductive - the left is historically sustained by a deep and complicated, yet clear, ideological understanding of the world in the face of a rightwing that tries to confuse and lie and throw crumbs at people so that they can advance their very simple goal: get money and power to the already rich and powerful.