I have decided to work with GetEqual as a member of its provisional Board of Directors.
I recognize this as a decision fraught with controversy. At the same time, I do feel strongly that GetEqual has great potential to move our struggle for rights forward in a way that more traditional advocacy cannot.
There are approximately 30 million LGBT people in the United States. Our community has made great strides in the past forty years. The stigma is much diminished in some places and for some LGBT identities; although it remains strong for others. The social and legal barriers have dropped in some places and for some LGBT identities; although they remain in place for many. Politicians and entertainers and corporate interests now regularly court our community. Some of us make a living from working in LGBT advocacy, and it is not in the job description of such work to rock the boat and make those in power uncomfortable. (Such work is essential, but necessarily limited in scope.)
But to some extent, we have become the victims of our own success. Many of us have lost contact with the struggle. We are content to be slaves in Egypt -- a relatively comfortable life, even if we do have to build a few pyramids, and some few of us are bearing the brunt of the oppressors. Going to the Promised Land is the crazy dream of a few malcontents with delusions of grandeur.
And many of us, particularly young people in rural areas, and the gender non-conforming among us, have not benefited much from this success. We still suffer in a way that disappeared years ago for many in our community.
After spending the past few years trying to move ENDA, the simplest and most basic of our federal legislative initiatives, and having the votes but not getting any movement, I see that we have become a pawn in the game of power politics.
I am not content with this. It is time to speak up in a new way.
There are approximately 15 to 30 million LGBT people in this country, a powerful force. Yet we still have odious policies in place banning gay servicemembers from serving their country. We have no national protections against discrimination in our workplaces, schools and places of public accommodation. Our relationships are barred from legal protection by federal law. The promise of our national Constitution to provide equal protection of the laws does not extend to us. "All men are created equal" has no meaning when it comes to us.
Why is this? There are many causes, of course, not just one. Yes, prejudice is part of the answer. Our painstaking education and lobbying among friends and neighbors and officials during the past 40 years has reduced that prejudice in the areas we have been able to reach. But progress is very slow in some areas, where conservative elements have made our very progress into a rallying cry for a culture war.
Why has the Democratic Party seen fit to give mostly lip service to LGBT rights, but to do very little substantively? They're blaming everyone else for their lack of results. The only person I see doing anything is President Obama, who has enacted many executive orders protective of our community. I wish he was more vocal in getting Congress moving, but ultimately the blame lies at the feet of Congress.
But Congress, despite its large Democratic majority, can get away with this because most LGBT people are not tracking. They are busy trying to survive in a terrible economy, with two wars ongoing, and a crumbling infrastructure. I don't blame them in the least. But the fact is that our issues will not gain traction on a national level until our 30 million or so LGBT people in this country, along with our straight allies, rise up and demand justice. When thousands of people flood their Congressional offices, switchboards are lit up, and the mailbag is filled with letters from constituents -- then we will be taken seriously.
Our advocacy organizations have tried, and tried hard, to make this happen. I know I have tried to help in that effort. But the traditional "ask" doesn't get much results. It doesn't engage people. They're inured to the email with an exclamation point in the title. So am I. So are we all.
Most LGBT people would flunk a test that asked them to explain "ENDA," "DADT" or "DOMA." I have friends who don't know what these things are. Most people don't pay attention to politics, and LGBT people are no exception. It's been so useless for so long that we've learned not to waste much time on it. So we're in a no-win situation. Our politicians pay us only lip service, essentially sticking out their tongues at us and saying things like "make me." Most LGBT people have better things to spend their time on, like Glee and Lady Gaga. Seriously, I understand why people avoid politics, except in times of crisis. It's such a waste of time because politicians can get away with talking, talking, talking, and doing nothing.
You see, Glee and Lady Gaga and television shows in general know something about how to get people to pay attention. We need more of that, and less of boring emails asking for money and explaining how to beg and scrape before your Congressperson, whom ordinary people can't really get to see, except in highly scripted situations en masse.
Entertainers know how to utilize dramatic tension to keep you watching through the commercials. We need more of that. In the age of information overload, we need something to focus people's attention.
Our LGBT organizations, however, have a terrible track record in this regard. We have it exactly backwards. We have an hour of commercials, and expect you to stay tuned for a few minutes of entertainment. No. I'm convinced that the way to get to LGBT people is NOT through appeals to stand up for some abstract and boring principle, and NOT through requests for money from organizations who don't know how to get real results.
We need a sense of dramatic tension in our community.
Meanwhile, in its short existence, GetEqual has generated a tremendous amount of controversy and interest.
It seems that everyone in the LGBT community has an opinion about it.
Good, bad or indifferent, it is waking people up. It is capturing their attention.
I know that Bil and Alex and many Projectors have their own strong opinions about the organization. I note that I have agreed with Bil not to discuss GetEqual, and to maintain a firewall of sorts. I want them to maintain objectivity and to be able to continue to criticize the organization, and me. I have a thick skin, and I can take it. Seriously, criticism is an important form of engagement, and I value it as much for its creation of dialogue as for its informational content.
In my personal opinion, the main value of GetEqual has little to do with its effect on straight people, or the straight media, though that will be helpful, and may come to play a larger role.
GetEqual's value is that it can, if managed correctly, wake up LGBT people. It can get them to pay attention to their own rights. It can create a sense of dramatic tension among the millions of LGBT people who don't know the difference between ENDA and DADT and don't care, but who are intrigued by the dramatic elements of a screenplay.
We need more theater in our political life. And GetEqual is one way to do that.
There have been criticisms of GetEqual. I have joined in some of those criticisms. The organization needs more transparency, a clearer strategy, more community-based activism, and specific, measurable results. I will spend my time with GetEqual working on improving these areas. I am accessible, and if you have questions, I will provide answers.
But the basic idea is sound. The organization has managed, in a short period of time, to gather together many people who know how to conduct direct action, and, more importantly, the heart and the courage to do it. They are not perfect. They are human. They have limits in their skills, their knowledge, their vision -- just as we all do. But I believe that, with guidance, the organization can make a huge difference in helping our community to stand up for our equality.
Maybe the critics are right, and it won't work. I certainly have no delusions that I have all the answers, though I have some small skills. But I feel that it can work, and it will work, to wake up the heart and the soul of the LGBT community. We must try.
What we've been doing is not working right now. I honor the major advocacy organizations, and all of the people who have given their heart and soul to build them up. We need them. But they are not enough.
We are about to enter a period where we will be in the political wilderness. All indications are that the Democrats will lose many seats in Congress, perhaps even lose control of Congress. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We are not going to get out of Egypt by asking Pharaoh nicely to let us go.
It is time for us to rise up. It is time for us to get out. It is time for us to get active. It is time for us to Get Equal.