Yesterday, Campus Progress, the student-focused subsidiary of the Center for American Progress, hosted its annual national conference in Washington, D.C. While not wholly based in LGBT issues - Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Bill Clinton served as plenary speakers for the 1,300 young activists who attended - the conference did feature several opportunities to specifically address LGBT issues.
One panel - "The State of LGBTQ Movements," included Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trina Olson of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and Kenyon Farrow, who has worked with Queers for Economic Justice. The theme of the panel, essentially, was that just being LGBTQ doesn't make you a progressive.
The panelists spoke about the massive amount of LGBT money being poured into the marriage battle. The amount of priority marriage receives, Keisling and Farrow argued, overshadows - and, at times, cripples - other worthy LGBT causes, like anti-discrimination laws for trans people, LGBT youth homelessness, HIV/AIDS advocacy, the aging population, and local resource centers.
"It's so disproportionate," Keisling said. "Our queer-organizing local places are hurting for money, and we're spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on getting marriage. Now, we need to get marriage. We need to eliminate all these bad marriage laws. But there's no perspective. We've convinced ourselves, and the government, and the media that marriage is our highest priority. Therefore, it's our highest priority."
Keisling and Farrow said they feared that as soon as marriage equality looks like a sure thing, donations to LGBT groups will plummet and the movement will suffer greatly. One approach to nipping that collapse in the bud, Keisling said, is refocusing our efforts now and strategically looking at long-term goals for the movement. Combatting racism and economic imbalances in the country - with specific emphasis on trans people and queer people of color, is central to the fight for equality.
"We don't have a social justice framework right now," Keisling said. "Part of that is because we have civil rights framework in the United States instead of a human rights framework. But part of it is because we just want ours. If you are not doing racial justice work, you are not doing enough queer work."
Olson sought to galvanize support for grassroots activism among the 70 young people who attended the panel. She explained that being there, on the ground, is one of the best ways of effecting change.
"It's really important to realize that for LGBT people, there really is an opposition. There are people who get up in the morning, put their pants on, and go to conferences to fight with us," Olson said. "They're real people. So the same people who are icked out by us - and I really believe the reason that the marriage fight has continued to percolate and sparkle for the Republicans - is because this is about homophobia and transphobia. We're talking directly to voters. And they're not hateful. They know gay people - in their families, in their friend bases. Logic has nothing to do with any of these arguments anymore."
After the panel, which ran for an hour, most of the young LGBT activists migrated to the LGBT-specific breakout discussions.
The first three topics we discussed in my "caucus," as the discussions were labeled, were the New York marriage equality victory, what's next for California and marriage equality, and hope for a federal marriage equality amendment.
The progressive LGBT ideas discussed an hour before the "caucus," it appeared, had fallen on the deaf ears of the young LGBT progressives.