Phil Reese

On agendas, loyalties, cult of personality and an end of the old dichotomy in the LGBT community

Filed By Phil Reese | June 09, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: binaries, boxes, cult of personality, direct action group, GetEqual, HRC, infighting, influence, leaders, loyalties, organizational structure, organizations

In the LGBT community we have an addiction. An addiction to boxes.

Who am I? I'm a spiritual progressive HIV- white middle-class educated bisexual non-poly cis-gender queer male blogger and LGBT rights organizer & activist. What does that mean? That means you have some ideas about what I'm like before you even meet me.

And I have a few ideas about you before I even meet you.

large_box.jpgIf you are radical, you'd think we won't have much in common. Same with either the fiscally or socially conservative. However, folks who put themselves into the same political box that I am in also may think I likely agree (or at least ought to agree) with them on almost everything.

If you fervently belong or had belonged to any particular Christian denomination, you have some ideas about me when you find out I was raised Catholic. You may also think you have some insight on me when you find out I no longer am Catholic. But if you didn't know any of that, your ideas about who I am would be entirely different if all you saw were my tattoos in Hebrew.

If you didn't know I was bisexual before, now you might be shocked. Now that you know, you might have some vision of who you think I am. Whether you're polyamorous or not, the fact that I describe myself as non-poly may make you think you know something about my beliefs. Finding out that I've been in an open relationship might give you another idea entirely.

You have some beliefs about me knowing I'm a blogger. You have some beliefs about me reading now that I'm an organizer. You also have some opinions about how I used the word activist.

Or maybe you don't. Maybe I'm putting you in a box. However, there is something in that list that likely brought you to a reaction of some sort.

For five years I sat on a volunteer Human Rights Campaign steering committee. Some of you may now think you know some of my opinions about what activism should look like. Others may have a different view about me knowing I endorsed and tried to help promote and publicize the National Equality March and the work of GetEQUAL, Join The Impact and EAA. Then come to find out I went and lobbied with HRC three weeks ago for a bill relating to military service. Now some of you may think you know some of my views on the military and government.

Either way, though, many of you probably think you know now where my loyalties lie and what my agenda is.

To say there's nothing wrong with putting people into boxes would be lying. Prejudging people based on arbitrary and incomplete sets of data is an awful habit. However, we must acknowledge this is a very typical. Whether this taxonomy is learned or instinct, and what degree it is pieces of either can be hashed out in other posts (and no doubt the comments section), but I want to move past both of these to get to the core of my message: we need to break our addiction to boxes.

The queer blogosphere is constantly on fire with binaries positive and negative all of the time. "The Human Rights Campaign is great, ACT-UP is backward!" "GetEQUAL is perfect, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is evil!" Even the binaries I used betray my own narrow view. It's impossible to escape these dichotomies.

Our blogs sometimes seem to look at everything as an either/or, and generally with a falsely inflated sense of urgency and a dangerous simplicity.

Some real headlines include:

  • "What Did Richard Socarides' 'Secret' Gay Activist Meeting in Knoxville Accomplish?"
  • "HRC: Obama gets until 2017 to keep his promises, and don't criticize him until then"
  • "HRC's Joe Solmonese praises Sec. Gates for saying no to DADT repeal this year"
  • "Cleve Jones + Bruce Cohen Make it Clear: Perry Is All About 'Snatching' Marriage Fight From Gay Inc"
  • "Was That Peter LaBarbera Or Ronald Gold Posting That Antitrans Sentiment On Bilerico?"
  • "10 reasons why a march on Washington is a bad idea"
  • "Did the Latest Protest of Doug Manchester's Hyatt Hotel Accomplish Anything?"

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that one must oversimplify in the headline to get attention, here are a sample of some of mine:

  • "Don't let the wing-nut bigots win--vote for Jon & Greg"
  • "Take Action: Illinois rightwingers want to gut LGBT protections"
  • "Pressure HRC: Demand leadership from Obama"
  • "Stay closeted to win Idol for yourself, lose equality for all"
  • "Scott Lively doesn't want you to think he hates you"

Those headlines aren't exactly sensitive to the nuances of each of theses stories. Oversimplifying for a headline is one thing, but if that becomes your message, you've lost your touch.

Shifting paradigms, same old story

We are seeing, in our movement today, a resurgence of energy and involvement that has not happened during my time in the movement. Those who have been around longer have told me they liken it to the late 80's and early 90's when the clear goal of the movement was to eradicate prejudice and barriers in the government that had been made obvious in the wake of the AIDS/HIV crisis. At that time too there was a fighting spirit and a feeling of "can do," which was missing throughout the early 2000's when I became active.

Yet despite the potential for success, there are elements throughout our movement that are clinging desperately to their old ways. I'm not just talking about the Human Rights Campaign, I'm also talking about their long-time critics, and all of those who spend more time criticizing than doing, who--rather than get on board with the spirit of today--insist that now is the time to try to start wars within the community. These wars are very personal grudges that these otherwise noble activists want to drag everyone they know into.

43550864.gifPersonal vendettas are shitty motivation for anything, but especially for movement infighting. No, I'm not saying we shouldn't criticize, but the arguments have become repetitive and tiresome over the past decade, and I have seen a lot of time and energy wasted on good-intentioned LGBT activists attacking other good-intentioned LGBT activists. I've been a critic, and been on the business end of that criticism, believe me.

The criticism is often accurate, but also often regurgitated to a nauseating degree. Do I agree HRC can be too conservative for my liking? Absolutely. Do I think we need to spend 75% of our day complaining about it? Absolutely not. What is the goal here? To tear down an organization that gets our community into the offices of the leaders of the government? Really?

What HRC needs is reform, not demolition, but that's a whole 'nother post. I simply think that the constant assault--however accurate the complaints--on HRC, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, Stonewall Democrats, Log Cabin Republicans, Victory Fund, the Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the National Center for Transgender Equality expends precious time and energy we could be using to attack our real enemies and to pressure our allies to be better allies.

HRC and GetEQUAL: The carrot and the stick

I admire the hell out of Robin McGehee. Robin is, in my opinion, probably one of the hardest working activists in this movement. I have no idea how she finds time to have a personal life and to raise her kids. And she's a good mother too--those kids are awesome, and so is she. Backstage at the rally after the National Equality March, I got to meet Robin for the first time. She was running around in a frenzy making sure everything went off without a hitch. It was a very busy moment for her, but amid the shuffle, Bil Browning found a moment to introduce us. I told her it was an honor and that she really ought to be so proud.

Without ever having met me before, Robin McGehee gave me a massive, sincere hug. Along with her co-chair and her team of dedicated volunteers, this wonderful woman had done something for the LGBT community that--while controversial and often criticized--few others would have given their time to do.

However, Robin isn't perfect. I'm proud of her work with GetEQUAL, and I do believe that direct action is needed and welcome in this movement. But when given the chance to break the cliche of knock the establishment and set herself apart from other young activists who have come and gone, Robin instead choose to ask Joe Solmonese to step down as President of HRC.

GetEQUAL has an opportunity to be better than all other similar groups that have come and gone. Rather than get involved in the nit-picking infighting and personality clashes of the movement, GetEQUAL needs to rise over and stay above the fray, focusing on putting pressure on those outside of the community, rather than attack other activists. That position has been filled. There are thousands of bloggers, writers, columnists, activists, podcasters, personalities and Larry Kramer whose daily mission is to blast the establishment.

GetEQUAL and HRC can work in symbiosis. HRC has never truly had a foil to their schmoozy, non-threatening, suit and tie work on the Hill. Well, other than Matt Foreman's tenure at the Task Force, but--again--Foreman often got caught up in the personal vendettas and catty infighting that ought to remain the domain of bug-eyed bloggers.

It's been all carrot and no stick since the mid-90s.

Sure you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but that doesn't mean you throw the vinegar out. What happens when you don't want the flies you get?

GetEQUAL and HRC don't have to get along, but they need to work together. The fact that they disagree with one another's methods is a good thing, not bad. We're so obsessed with binaries, we don't even realize when we're getting stuck in a binary rut. It's not an either/or proposition. Direct action and gentle lobbying are both needed to change the laws.

HRC works politely with the political movable middle, GetEQUAL puts pressure on our all-talk, no-action allies. I see overlap here, and I think its an opportunity. We need to empower GetEQUAL to stay out of the LGBT infighting and get to work on more actions, demonstrations, sit-ins, walk-outs, kiss-ins, hunger strikes, boycotts and picketing.

In addition--while GetEQUAL puts pressure on our so-called-allies to prove their support through progress--Victory Fund, Stonewall Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans need to begin simply replacing our enemies with more allies and more elected officials from within the community.

A new agenda

Let's create a revolving door of activism: HRC shakes your hand and asks you to make a law happen. When you waffle, GetEQUAL and other local and national direct action groups interrupt everything you try to do from the time you get out of bed until you go to sleep. If you still waffle or come out against us, Stonewall or Log Cabin and Victory fund see that your bags are packed and you go back where you came from, replaced by someone who will work hard for us.

All of it backed-up by work to move public opinion by the Task Force, GLAAD and PFLAG, as well as progress through litigation with the help of NCLR, NCTE, GLAD and Lambda Legal. In addition targeted collaboration is promoted by teaming up with organizations like SLDN, GLSEN, Immigration Equality, ACLU, PFAW, Matthew Shepard Foundation, and supplemental local support from EAA, Equality Federation and local LGBT organizations and Centers.

revolvingdoor.jpgEasier said than done, I know, but do we really help it go from dream to reality by setting up emotional roadblocks every time we feel slighted by someone in one of these organizations? A revolving door doesn't have poles. It is not binary. It doesn't swing, it turns. A swinging door reaches a point where it can move no longer. Not so, with a revolving door. It continues to make progress as long as you push it, never reaching a barrier.

A revolving door is a great model for a revolution.

A lot of these oft-criticized organizations also serve another, understated but crucial role in our community: entry points to activism. Guess how I came into the movement? First through local, grassroots organizing, then through HRC. HRC, GLSEN and PFLAG are most often the first toe in the pool for young activists, especially in the most conservative areas of the country. Its easy to find alternatives in an east coast or west coast metropolis, but try growing up in Central Missouri.

These organizations aren't just non-threatening to the more conservative straight community, they're non-threatening to folks still struggling with coming out, who just aren't ready to jump from altar boy to ACT-UP.

Its not about the organization, its about the end goal: EQUALITY

People ask me if i support HRC. Yeah, I do! I also support GetEQUAL, The Task Force, EAA, GLAAD, GLSEN, Equality Federation, The ACLU, People for the American Way, Lambda Legal, Victory Fund, Rainbow World Fund, NYAC, The Trevor Project, PFLAG, ACTUP, Empowering Spirits, SoulForce, Pride@Work, TurnOUT, SLDN, Freedom to Marry, Servicemembers United, Colage, GMHC, NCLR, JTI, Centerlink, Henrick Martin Institute, the Palm Center, Stonewall Democrats, Lavender Greens, NBJC, NCTE, NLGJA, Family Equality Council, Immigration Equality... there have even been times I've supported specific actions of the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud.

Though I pay dues to many of these organizations I have loyalties to none.

may_day.jpgMy loyalty is to the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community. My agenda is ourvictory. If a thousand silly organizations have to rise and fall for us to get there, so be it, and if I have to be cut down and attacked for being on the wrong side of this or that, then whatever. My ego is not the issue here. Yes, it's bruised when I'm criticized, but it should be no concern of yours if someone doesn't like me, even if you are a fan. None of us in this movement is more important than any one other individual.

Sure, there are people that I admire in this community. I admire Robin McGehee's personal touch, her passion, and her humility. Kate Kendall's warmth. I admire Autumn Sandeen's resolve and Adam Bink's or Zack Ford's competitive, fighting spirit. I admire Dan Choi and Chely Wright's eloquence. I admire Rex Wockner's or Joe Jervis' diligence and candor. I admire John Aravosis' fire and Pam Spaulding's wisdom. I admire Rea Carey's or Joe Solmonese's savvy and thoughtfulness. I admire Michael Crawford's, Michael Roger's and Bil Brownings' guidance and loyalty, I admire Kate Clinton's or Andrew Sullivan's wit and foresight, I admire Queerty's intuitiveness and irreverence and Barney Frank's... frankness. Talk about putting people into boxes!

I also think each of these people (anonymous or real) is flawed and imperfect, and I would not hold any up to be any more important than the others. I have personal relationships with some, and downright rivalries with others. This would be the difference. But I see none of these people as the great hope of our community.

On the contrary, I would hate to see us rally around one person whom we place all of our trust and hope with in the belief that this person will finally be the one to figure out how to once and for all make change real.

Rather, I look to these folks for inspiration, just as I do people outside our community, or people who have gone before us like Harvey Milk, Harry Hay, Betty Berzon, etc... Though they inspire me, I don't believe any one person is the savior of the movement. We need to refocus and remember that the goal is not glory but equality. Any time we start giving one person or organization too much credit, we risk losing sight of that goal. It becomes about defending and promoting that personality, rather than keeping our eyes on the prize.

Having great leaders is good, but don't forget we all have the potential for great leadership. Even people I don't particularly get along with or agree with do impressive amazing things every day, and though we have different ideas about how to move this movement along, I don't doubt their dedication. Ace Lundon, my co-host over at Lundon Calling, always says:

"There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, it's hard to know which part of us should reform the other."


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Chitown Kev | June 9, 2010 5:26 PM

Well stated, Phil and I agree.

Sorry, this has nothing to do with the content of your post, but the animated picture is really annoying and kept drawing my eyes away from the text.

I've heard bits and pieces of this stated over various 'Lundon Calling' episodes from you, and it's great to see it all combined in to one solid thought. I couldn't agree more whole-heartedly. Everyone in the world wants their little slice of fame and wants to feel like their organization is doing THE MOST good, when really we should be focused on an overall scope of the progress done.

Sadly we often apply our "business" sensibilities about competition to an area that shouldn't need it. Just because I don't choose to watch Fox News doesn't mean I need to be actively working against them. Let them have their slice of the pie and go on their merry way.

As is also stated on the 'Lundon Calling' show: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." You don't have to accept what HRC or GetEQUAL are doing, but you can use what they're doing as a starting point for doing something great of your own.

It's not about "acceptance" it is about accountability. Some organizations may be risking decades of contribution. We owe it to each other and to all those that came before us to honestly and objectively determine what tactics, methods and strategies are helpful or effective. That lack of accountability is probably why we haven't figured out how to actually win.

"Try everything" without regard to effectiveness or consequences and the uninspiring goal of "one of these days" is no longer enough. We have to take every element of our dysfunctional movement serious and complete a comprehensive and effective strategy. We don't need lazy cheerleading, we need sincere efforts to understand exactly what will lead to our full equality.

The HRC values access more than success. It has a history, especially lately, of patently lying to its contributers.

Access is useless if it is abused as political cover.

"They have a plan." Solomonese said of the Obama administration's DADT efforts, or lack thereof.

There are 2 possibilities in this scenario, neither of them good:

Either Solomonese lied...

.. or Solomonese was played like a fiddle by the Obama administration.

One represents knowing collusion, political cover at the expense of stated goals.. the other incompetence to such a degree that an organization stupid enough to fall for it should fold immediately out of sheer reality bending embarrassment.

Frankly, dinosaur organizations like HRC that exist only to perpetuate their own existence, who lie to their members and contributors and who sacrifice their supposed beliefs for *access* (otherwise known as hobnobbing, rubbing elbows, whatever) deserve to be cut off, drowned and relegated to the dustbin of history.

There has been FAR too much carrot and almost no stick up till this point, and that carrot has been fetid and moldy for a decade. That carrot has also gotten us, after 550 million dollars, absolutely nothing but lies and access without success.

The time of the carrot has passed. The carrot didn't work. We've become far too codependent for our own good, and have taken to lapping up crumbs from the dog dish on the floor instead of sitting at the big boy table like adults as some sign of progress.

That, my friend, is pathetic.

I completely agree with you that HRC has failed. That doesn't make GetEQUAL a "stick" any more than the new awareness that HRC never was a "carrot".

The LGBT Community needs to understand we don't have either. That's why we can't get anywhere with a "carrot and stick" strategy.

Dan Massey | June 9, 2010 6:50 PM

Very well put, Phil, and close to my own feelings. There is one thing lacking, imho, from this smorgabord of organizations and purposes:

Nowhere is there an organized religion or even a publicly visible spiritual movement that recognizes the universality of the lbgt inclination and its desirability as the one true path to genuine salvation.

I might add that nowhere is there an organized political party of lgbt dedicated to seriously aggressive political change at the national level through grassroots work. On the other hand, the sense of your article suggests you think one could be put together, mostly from orgs lying around today. It would certainly be nice.

On the other hand, I think the spiritual / religious is where the big gap really is. This is where true social power comes from and the existing conservative religions have done everything in their power to cut believers and non-believers off from it. The "churches" fail their own communicants by being sham theatrical productions that fail the test of true spirituality. They harm everyone else by making a total mockery of the religious impulse, driving almost all sane and intelligent people into rejection, and falsely claiming to have a spiritual message they alone are competent to deliver. And no religion has any business issuing moral commands to anyone--that is not a proper domain of spiritual practice.

How about a universal lgbt communion, hmm?

Personally, I'm quite glad that no religious organizations are a significant part of our movement and I hope it stays that way.

People who claim to speak the word of God have done quite enough damage to our movement already, don't you think?

The separation of church and state is a good thing and should be strengthened, not weakened. I say let's keep the churches as far away from our government and our movement as possible. It's the only way to get beyond the overt hatespeech and bigotry hiding behind feigned spirituality and toward a better life for everyone.

Religion should have that conversation, not us. When they formally renounce their teachings and beliefs about us (and that have branded us) perhaps they can join us. Not the 1% of American churches that are "gay friendly and accepting," but something meaningful - like most of them.

Bring on the "new" Christians, but make it worthwhile.

I think its an interesting conversation to have, one that I am definitely not suited for, in my ignorance!

It's clear you put a lot of work into this Phil, but you didn't provide the rationale for GetEQUAL's self-described "crazy shenanigans." Simply contrasting them with HRC's "polite" lobbying doesn't hold GetEQUAL's actions accountable. Many of us find their childish stunts both offensive and counterproductive. That is based on GetEQUAL's stunts-to-date and not a comparison with any other effort.

You also stated: "We are seeing, in our movement today, a resurgence of energy and involvement that has not happened during my time in the movement." That's not true. This can only be based on participation not attention seeking bomb-throwers. Westboro Baptist gets a lot of attention, but that doesn't suggest any resurgence of energy or involvement, either.

As best we can tell GetEQUAL is a half dozen paid activists and maybe another dozen "followers." Many of us are asking questions and they are refusing to answer them and now they're off on a "Summer Retreat." Your suggestion that they stay out of the fray is a weak attempt at providing cover for not answering very simple questions and providing the logic of their efforts.

So far, all we have confirmed, is that Kip Williams and Robin McGehee were hired by Jonathan Lewis and Paul Yandura to "embarrass Democrats."

If you want to defend them, make some sense of it. How is embarrassing our only political friends (even if they are not the most genuine or reliable friends) helpful to the Movement? What is accomplished with these typically childish stunts. Robin brought Chairman Miller "some markers because he couldn't afford them." Then, with 3-4 others started chanting. After that they insulted Jared Polis and demonstrated how little they even knew about the political process. It was juvenile. Kip Williams heckled the President and then the President very adeptly made Kip the "laughing stock" of the LGBT Community. How do these stunts help us?

I know you are very sincere and you want to win. In order to do that we need people to join us and take a stand for our full equality. We need to become stronger and more influential - numbers do that, not stunts.

Please explain "how" you think we gain support or even sympathy with any of GetEQUAL's publicity stunts. That's ALL I have seen being questioned and/or criticized and many of those questions have been posted on many Blogs. The answers never have. That should bother you, too. In order to succeed, we need to determine what is effective and what isn't. We need to contribute our time, money and energy to tactics, strategies, methods and organizations that are effective.

We owe it to each other, and to all those that have contributed before us, to expect full accountability and transparency. Answering simple questions would be a good start.

Andrew, thank you for your response.

I don't think GetEQUAL's role necessarily NEEDS to be to get sympathy. I described them as the stick. When I was a boy, my dad--an architect and carpenter--crafted a very elaborate and actually quite aesthetic paddle for my bum, in the center of which he drilled the letters, "T-H-I-N-K." It was actually quite humorous in a way, while he was making it, he sung Aretha Franklin loudly in the basement.

He never hit me too hard with it, but I certainly didn't like having that aerodynamic slab of lumber whacked across my ass. One thing he would always say when he used it was, "This is going to hurt me more than its going to hurt you."

Like hell!

The stick isn't supposed to "get sympathy," but cause embarassment, and shine a big light on a problem, and that is the inaction in DC.

Think about it. In 29 years of HRC's existence, working every day--and I do believe putting a sincere effort in--on the hill to pass Hate Crimes, all of the sudden it passes when we have a big bru-ha-ha on the hill?

After 17 years of fighting tooth and nail on DADT, people start chaining themselves to the White House fence and suddenly its outta there (well, almost)? Correlation isn't causation, true, but this is also not just a coincidence.

Those lawmakers were silently putting hexes on the current gay leadership under their breath as they cast their votes, because they are not excited to have to answer questions about gays in November, but they cast those votes nonetheless because they don't want to have anyone chain themselves to the furniture of their office so close to November.

That's the stick.

Now, GetEQUAL isn't to thank for these victories, but this has to be considered as a factor. Not to mention the Presidential memos on benefits, the lifting of the HIV travel ban, the Hospital visitation order--I'm not saying they couldn't have happened without GetEQUAL, nor that the current political situation wasn't a bigger factor, but I'm saying GetEQUAL provided a great service these few months, reminding our allies not to forget us, as they have so many times in the past.

Even our friends on Capitol Hill are going to go kicking and screaming to any vote that has to do with the queers. I'm a teacher, and I know full well that when a child is throwing such a tantrum, you don't offer them pie to stop, you pick them up, lift them over your shoulder, set them down in the corner and tell them they're on time-out, and you'll be calling mom and dad if this continues. Its not the most fun way to have to go about it, but it certainly stops the swinging and screaming.

Then you give them pie.

"GetEQUAL isn't to thank for these victories, but this has to be considered as a factor."

Even the suggestion of "victories" is very premature. We are considering them as a factor. It is the beginning of accountability.

Not even GetEQUAL has tied to provide some rationale for their stunts, but I'm glad you have - you're the first.

The paddle your Father made wasn't to embarrass you but rather to remind of the threat that it might be used. We don't have a threat. We are not going to go from embarrassing Democrats to paddling them, unless it's an actual paddling publicity stunt. (I have not seen GetEQUAL's internal list of tactics - it could be on there).

The "carrot and stick" idea requires a real stick, not the illusion of a stick (or paddle). This is the main problem with the strategy of "demanding," it is futile and then foolish if you have no threat. Street Theater may have it's place (awareness) but high-profile demanding, while believing it works, is actually delusional.

We all had a renewed hope in 2008 (very similar to 1994) with a newly elected Democratic President and a Democratic majority in the Congress. We were part of a coalition of interests and issues, but not the determining factor. Young people probably were. The reality is ALL we got from that election is "political promises," perhaps the weakest kind of promise and we have no recourse. We've already done this with Bill Clinton. It wasn't until 7 years after he left office that he finally changed his mind about "us." During his term the LGBT Community grew more and more angry and eventually began making demands. They were ignored for the same reason as today - we don't have a "threat."

I know people want to believe that we can influence politicians by either embarrassing them or threatening them, but there is no evidence of that ever happening for a group without

The other idea that "GetEQUAL is great because HRC sucks" doesn't fly either. HRC sucks. After 30 years and $550 million with NO results, we don't need to argue that point. i am only surprised they continue to exist. But, their failure does not assign any value to GetEQUAL. HRC failed because they employ one tactic - lobbying. it doesn't work for LGBT issues. It never has. That is finally becoming clear and they are losing support.

So, the "tactic" employed by HRC is their primary problem. I think Solmonese is a capable guy (maybe not $300,000 worth of "capable") but he leads an organization that has a losing tactic and no strategy. HRC cannot provide a single instance of a Member of Congress changing their position on an LGBT issue because of their lobbying during the last 30 years. Not a single one. GetEQUAL doesn't get 30 years. I'm surprised they've gotten more than 30 minutes.

Your other analogy to supply some rationale for GetEQUAL's tactic was quite appropriately "children throwing tantrum." In that instance you, as the teacher, are able to put them in 'time-out" and i think that's where GetEQUAL is now. The LGBT Community has put them there. We don't want endorsements or diversions, we want some answers.

We owe each other and every one that has come before us our sincere, honest and objective analysis of any tactic or strategy or organization. I think we made a huge mistake allowing HRC to waste 30 years worth of contributions. That's too much to pay for false hope, and similar to our current political situation, we have no recourse. Pretending we do only defers our opportunity to figure this out.

I understand your passion and your commitment to the LGBT Movement. I think that is best served by welcoming accountability. The inquiries about GetEQUAL are not about "competition," but a very real desire to understand if their actions are jeopardizing our progress to date. That concern has been echoed throughout the entire LGBT Community. It should be respected, not deflected.

We're all looking for answers. We all want to figure out how to actually win. Every organization claiming to represent us needs to be held accountable. With questions, we get those answers.

Please ask Robin and Kip to answer the numerous questions about their tactics and their effectiveness. Second try, bring the paddle. Okay, you make that call.

Thanks again for the effort you've put into this conversation - it is refreshing and very, very welcome.


The paddle your Father made wasn't to embarrass you but rather to remind of the threat that it might be used. We don't have a threat. We are not going to go from embarrassing Democrats to paddling them, unless it's an actual paddling publicity stunt. (I have not seen GetEQUAL's internal list of tactics - it could be on there).

Andrew, have you considered that the public attention on the issue is embarrassing enough to lawmakers to push them to into the action we've seen? It's not that we must be able to instantly call on an army of people but that legislators want to avoid a situation where public action grows into something unmanageable in the foreseeable future.

It's not so much that we must have our nuclear weapon of backlash already built, but instead that we can threaten to build one.

In contrast to your rhetorical nonsense in the last few days, Phil is right, the situation is not binary. It's not that GetEqual "is the reason for success" or that "everyone else is the reason" as you have been trying to force me to say. Instead, it's that everyone else got us to this point, but GetEqual was the party that helped the legislators envision an unmanageable situation if the DADT repeal wasn't carried over the finish line by putting it into the Defense Appropriations bill. Just a thought.

"Have you considered that the public attention on the issue is embarrassing enough to lawmakers to push them to into the action we've seen?"

If there was a significant amount of favorable attention it could be helpful to a cause especially if people weren't aware of it. People are very aware of DADT. I can't imagine that Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Hamilton, Senator Durbin or the President being embarrassed-into-action by these stunts.

In 2006 more than 4 million people marched in 160 cities across the US. They sought to embarrass politicians into action on the lack of an "immigration policy." Nothing happened.

The message of GetEQUAL regarding DADT was "no Study, no waiting until after mid-terms and an Executive Order to stop dismissals immediately." None of those things happened.

Many would like to believe that this non-compromise, non-repeal Repeal was a victory or even progress - it isn't. It is simply intended to make us believe that they are "giving it their best shot" and that donations, actions, phone calls, emails and lobbying are all effective. It's a charade.

GetEQUAL was against this "compromise" leading to Dan Choi's Hunger Strike which included "no compromise" as one of his demands.

There were several GetEQUAL stunts regarding ENDA and that issue has disappeared.

I know people would like to believe that we have some influence over politicians past their election, but the evidence simply isn't there. If we had a threat, perhaps that would make sense. I haven't seen any instance of a politician being embarrassed-into-action. Remembering that these stunts have been directed at our (arguably) "political friends" they do carry the risk that they may do the opposite of their intent - embarrass us and alienate our friends.

If there was a significant amount of favorable attention it could be helpful to a cause especially if people weren't aware of it. People are very aware of DADT.

This is where you're wrong. The point is not to attract favorable attention -- in fact, the very point is to attract unfavorable attention. It's not about "winning them over" now. The legislators know the issue. They know the public opinion (80%+ in favor of DADT repeal). LGBT people are not trying to convince them the rightness of why DADT should be repealed, because they already understand that.

This is where you consistently miss the mark on Civil Disobedience, among other things. Your only belief is that we have one weapon in our arsenal, and that weapon is "asking" and "convincing" and "winning a vote" of a politician. But the whole point of Civil Disobedience is to create in lawmakers a fear that what they're seeing is a precursor to a larger protest. It is to instill in a lawmaker the idea that if action is not taken NOW, this small taste of "shenanigans," as you like to call them, are going to become a full scale media disaster.

Lawmakers don't WANT front-page news, unless it's how they've succeeded. They don't WANT to clean up a problem. They want to plea-bargain a problem and do the absolute minimum required to make the problem go away, before they get into the spotlight for not fixing it.

90% of the population has no idea where the DADT repeal is right now. But 80% of them know that there's no reason we should be kicking people out of the military if they can do their job. So that says, to a politician: "if there are crazy people out there doing things that can inspire other people to start asking questions, we should clean this up now before we have a bigger mess on our hands in a year." THAT'S how GetEqual works. They're a threat, and the politicians just have to decide if LGBT people are bluffing or not about the consequences.

Heather C | June 9, 2010 8:24 PM

*So* well said, Phil. Thank you for cutting through the noise and sketching out one of the more sophisticated portraits of what the LGBT landscape could/should look like.

The church dynamic is very intriguing. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of the cloth and was invited to help in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, and other places where people who were oppressed reached out. Who do you think or how do you think thousands got the word and flocked in cars and buses to march with him except through the network of churches? Ralph Abernathy was his constant companion and also a minister. Many of the speeches Dr. King gave that rallied supporters were given in local churches throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. He didn't give speeches about equality but rather about mankind from the perspective of Jesus and the church.

Now after the 1964 civil rights act was passed another movement was taking hold in this country. Vietnam had escalated from thousands of advisers under Kennedy to hundreds of thousands of combatants under Johnson. Civil war reared its head as students and anti war activists marched in the streets of major cities. Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States' role in the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967 appearance at the New York City Riverside Church King delivered a speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". He was assassinated exactly one year later and died in the hands of his close friend Ralph Abernathy. Just a few days earlier President Johnson had shocked the nation by withdrawing from the 1968 election. Most people never connected the dots. Think about what Johnson might have known that made it no longer tolerable for him to serve with a clear conscious. Edgar J. Hoover still ran the F.B.I. with an iron fist at that time.

Now why raise all this history? The eighties came along and there was still a strong lingering sense of "we the people can change things". Kramer and others pivoted off that spirit to force or at least facilitate change focused on the H.I.V. plague. But it wasn't quite the same magnitude. Churches for the most part stayed on the side lines. Some even openly opposed the efforts citing what they saw as "God's wrath on gays". The nineties and first decade of this century brought apathy and a "things are going ok" attitude as the underlying majority politics. But now things have changed and a wave is building. We see it in things like the tea party movements. Those who want to seize the moment would be well advised to look deep into the heart of the spirituality of America for that is where the dynamics can be found. You want marches and pressure on Congress then search out the churches that do recognize the injustice of our society as it stands today. That is where you will discover the charismatic leader and the network to rally mainstream America. Oh, and of course Andrew will be scoffing all the way to the steps of the White House.

Phil - I remember that day and moment we met - and, your smile. Thank you for your very kind comments regarding my efforts and recognizing the joy I get from being SebJac's mom.

In regards to your post - you are absolutely correct, I AM NOT PERFECT and will never profess to be. I DO NOT have all of the answers and I will make many missteps. I will always be as honest as I am capable of being in the moment and although it will hurt personally when others are being honest with THEIR TRUTH regarding me, I will thoughtfully take in the points that are being made and work to correct where I believe there is needed adjustment. Off based criticism and unfound assumptions, along with personal attacks that are not fair, I will work in my own way to let go, cautiously aware of agendas that exist.

Your thoughts and visions of MAJOR collaboration 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. But, sadly, not all people work in our movement with the same honest approach you so clearly navigate with on your journey. We ALL have agendas - some more self-serving, some more altruistic and some that fall some where in between. There is SO much I'd like to explain about WHERE that question came from for me, regarding Joe's resignation (if you ever want to know, feel free to ask and I'll explain). There is SO much I'd like to explain about WHY I operate in the way that is TRUE for me and may not be right for others (especially, you, Mr. AndrewW ;), both in the actions that GetEQUAL has taken and my personal decision to speak out about things I find problematic, beautiful and personally inspiring while working within this movement.

Taking time to understand the actions, contents or workings of another person takes time, energy and TRUE empathic interpretation, if you want to honestly be able to give an assessment of that moment in that person's journey. Sadly, because of life's to-do list, most of us want to be able to quickly put someone in a box, without really trying to understand WHY they are packaged that way in the first place. But, as you so eloquently stated above, what I do today (and, the contents of today's box) will look very different tomorrow and even more different the day after that, I just have to do what feels right for me and if others resonate with the contents of my box - maybe, they'll join with the organizing. If not, maybe they'll find another box to move with :)

The bottom line, hopefully, what ever it is we are doing in our efforts to get equal (no pun intended) is happening because we are ALL doing what we can to make a difference, in the way that feels right to us. And, as long as the box is being filled, utilized and continuously examined - I have much hope for our steps towards getting equal.

So much more I'd like to say, but this is your blog post and not mine :) - thank you for your voice and your heart in our movement. And, Mr. AndrewW - THANK YOU, TOO, for expressing what feels right for you, as well - I've read you since the March and will continue to put in the box, thoughts from you that feel right for me.

It's NOT about YOU Robin or your "Journey," unless you continue to refuse to answer simple questions. We're not risking 40 years of progress and our political friendships so that you can have your "journey."

"The bottom line, hopefully, what ever it is we are doing in our efforts to get equal (no pun intended) is happening because we are ALL doing what we can to make a difference, in the way that feels right to us. "

"Feels right?" That's it? That's the standard for GetEQUAL?

We CAN be honest and objective Robin. We CAN make a real effort to determine if tactics, methods and strategies are effectiveand further the goals of our Movement. We owe it to each other, and to the millions that have come before us, to give thoughtful consideration to our actions and to protect the progress that has been made to date.

You have once again made GetEQUAL about YOU, Robin. The suggestion that we're "not all going to agree" or we all have different perspectives isn't accountability - answering questions is.

The Top Ten Unanswered Questions for GetEQUAL:

1. Who started GetEQUAL? When?

2. Who decided how much to pay everyone? And, why?

3. With only two major funding sources, who sets GetEqual's goals and priorities?

4. Who's accountable for GetEqual's actions? Who is in charge?

5. Will the GetEQUAL soon-to-be-formed Board represent the LGBT Community? What is the criteria for selection?

6. What is GetEQUAL's strategy and what are the results you must achieve to be successful?

7. How do the "crazy shenanigans" (Cronk's words) benefit the LGBT Community?

8. How do efforts to embarrass our political friends (Democrats) help the LGBT Community?

9. How does "demanding" lead to changed minds or additional support for the LGBT Community? What threat is attached to these so-called "demands?"

10. When will GetEQUAL organize formally and comply with legal and disclosure requirements for Non-profit organizations?

Chitown Kev | June 10, 2010 9:35 AM

"8. How do efforts to embarrass our political friends (Democrats) help the LGBT Community?"

Thank you for revealing your agenda, Andrew.

By the way, if the Democrats are really our "political friends" (and at many municipal and state levels one could argue that that's the case); if the Democrats take GLBT money and GLBT votes, then they are also responsible for the necessary education efforts in their own political coalitions.


You're better than that Kevin. My only "agenda" is an effective and successful Movement that leads to full equality for all LGBT persons.

Here's the problem with "embarrassing our friends," and I have already acknowledged the use of the word "friends" is generous. If we take all of the people that define themselves as Democrats and/or as "supporters of Obama" the majority of these people actually support our full equality. That is a fact.

When activists are hired to "embarrass Democrats" their isn't any consensus within this group that "embarrassing creates results." In fact, it appears that 10-20% of this group (mostly progressives) probably support the behavior (or at least the intent) of GetEQUAL's stunts. That much is clear. But, what about the 80% that does not support these childish publicity stunts? What effect do they have on these people?

I'm not as worried about the crowd that is frustrated enough to complain loudly as much as I am concerned about the much larger part of the group remaining supportive of our equality.

Let me make an uncomfortable analogy. The Westboro Baptist protesters represent a very small percentage of the group known as Christians. This group engages in shocktivism and seeks to "embarrass" non-believers. THEY are marginalizing themselves and most Christians distance themselves from their whacky "cause." They have actually alienated the majority of their "group." We have the same risk with GetEQUAL. Like it or not we are part of the Democrat's political effort to either pass equal rights laws or reverse anti-LGBT laws. Whether or not that political effort can or will be successful is debatable, but that's not the primary concern. Whether or not we alienate or jeopardize those efforts by embarrassing the "leaders" is worthy of concern and thoughtful consideration.

I happen to believe their is no "political solution" to our equality, but I also recognize the significant investment that has been made in that "hope." In that context we have created political relationships and we are in many ways standing together with a sizable group - Democrats. I can't understand why anyone would conclude slapping or trying to publicly humiliate their leaders helps us in the immediate future or long term. We need people to join us, stand with us and support us. Slapping or "embarrassing" doesn't accomplish that.

This is one of the issues that is central to the questions provided to GetEQUAL. We don't do things simply because they feel good or fit our personal "journey," we do them because they are effective. GetEQUAL has not established, even in the simplest of terms, how these publicity stunts are helpful. They have that responsibility.

This another reason I am so proud to have you as a Co-Host on Lundon Calling, Phil. You have done a very nice job of stating what really has needed to be said ... and, you have done it in such a manner that should inspire all of us to definitely get off our fat butts and get working ... there are plenty of Orgs. and avenues for our lives to count!

Rick Sours | June 10, 2010 8:45 AM

One can be a spiritual person and treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of whether one is a member of an organized religion/faith or not. There is no boundary to being a good descent person.

"There is no boundary to being a good descent person."

I would suggest that certain religious "beliefs" create some very real "boundaries." The question is when will Christians (and other religions) abandon those beliefs and stop teaching them?

I simply think that the constant assault--however accurate the complaints--on HRC, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, Stonewall Democrats, Log Cabin Republicans, Victory Fund, the Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the National Center for Transgender Equality expends precious time and energy we could be using to attack our real enemies and to pressure our allies to be better allies.

This is where we disagree fundamentally, Phil. When we stop questioning our leaders and demanding accountability - especially if the complaints are valid - we get what we settle for.

That's the same thinking that gave us George W. Bush's "Your either for us or you're against us" mantra. No, sometimes a thorough and thoughtful analysis of where we are, how we got here, and what we plan to do in the future is needed.

If these groups are going to represent me to the United States at large, than answering some basic questions and providing some transparency is the least they can do. And if I have valid complaints, they should take those into consideration - as should all of us - and adjust their strategies appropriately.

Continuing on in blind allegiance is not only simplistic, it can do lasting damage to the community.

Read carefully, Bil, I never advocate we stop questioning our leadership, I'm complaining about the sheer volume of the complaining. Our blogs are constantly home to org-bashing, and some blogs spend more time org-bashing, than bashing the right wing, or more important, our lazy apathetic "allies." I appreciate our political allies, but it infuriates me when we have to wait so long between simple, tiny, rudimentary moves on rights that should have been equal to all 20 years ago or more. Hell should have been given to all on July 4 1776, let alone 2010!!

We should question our leadership, but if that's all we do, we're not giving to the movement, we're only taking from.

I'm with Phil. What I'd much rather see than this constant, never-ending "GetEqual Sucks! HRC Sucks! Everyone Sucks!" thing is if there was a lot more talk of strategy and movement building. Couldn't we be using less time "asking questions" and "demanding accountability" and instead build a rising voice demanding that our organizations unite, create a coherent strategy, and begin both inreach and outreach for an ultimate solution in the next five years?

We basically have until 2015 to get something "big" on the table, Civil Rights Act modification or whatnot, before the window shuts. The Democrats aren't going to do ANYTHING in the last two years of Obama's term -- for fear of not being able to elect another Democrat to president -- unless there are absolute, full-scale riots on the streets demanding it. And since that's pretty f'ing unlikely, our best bet is to get all this in progress and sprinting to the finish line before that date.

So, while I appreciate that we're trying to keep our leaders grounded, they don't need the criticism or "questions." They need the blogosphere to start a movement that pushes them to do something different.

My favorite part was where they called you a "gassy gay griper," Andrew.

Deb Ramsey | June 10, 2010 7:32 PM

While I understand and can appreciate your points, I believe that there is a massive elephant in the middle of the conversation that is being ignored. Working many disparate parts into a more effective whole may be a laudable goal, but we cannot forget the huge distances of those parts from each other. There is only one thing that we all share, and that is our sexual identity difference from the majority of society. While we may all have the goal of sexual equality under the law there is no end to the number of (and often diametrically opposed), other political goals we harbor. Working in concert with other groups may entail some serious nose-holding when supposed allies may actually be working to defeat the goals of each other. Often there is more that separates us than unites us.

Calling for us all to 'just get along' seems a bit simplistic and does not address this giant weak point of our movement. We bicker no more than say... the Democrats and Republicans, the wealthy and the working class, men and women and all the other differences of our reaching 300 million people, because we are those people. Finding a charismatic leader that excites us despite our differences doesn't seem so wrong to me. That is not a perfect solution, I know, but till we can think or create our way past our differences what else is there?

"Often there is more that separates us than unites us."

Equality unites us. In fact, the majority of Americans will support that. We continue to make the mistake of including other issues in an effort to gain support - we don't need to.

Andrew for once we're in total agreement.

The criticism is often accurate, but also often regurgitated to a nauseating degree.

Ha, indeed. I'm down to following Feast of Fun, Prism Comics and Washington Blade in my news reader.

What's the difference between a blog swarm and any other day?

"What's the difference between a blog swarm and any other day?"

Ha! Truer words... :-)

This was very good. A very tight look at our blog world