Guest Blogger

Broad Outlines For Change Within the GLBT Movement

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 19, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: gay agenda, plan for gay rights, plan for success, Wayne Besen

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Wayne Besen is an author, activist, columnist and public speaker. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Truth Wins OUT, an organization founded to combat the 'ex-gay' myth and right wing propaganda.

wbauthor.jpgAs far as action-steps a few broad outlines are clear:

1) Much better minority outreach. The specifics are for each organization to figure out. I am grappling with this, as are many organizational leaders. We can do a better job and we must.

2) Test a marriage campaign in a state and do the polar opposite of what we have done in the past. In other words, use real GLBT people to have a real conversation with the people. Do it in a state where we will lose - so we can experiment without the pressure of blowing a victory. But, take a poll before the campaign and after the campaign to see how effective the approach is. Was progress made? Right now, we keep doing the same poll/focus group tested campaigns. Perhaps this will prove most effective in the end. But, we won't know until we test a new way. Isn't it time?

3) Direct action must be a component added to every organization. This will bolster - not replace - the insiders. To continue to have only lobbyists who are not backed by legions of people is a strategic mistake. I know some of you are "message" control freaks and just terrified of direct action - as it may go against the poll-tested talking points. But, guess what, in the Internet age, you lost exclusive control of your message 15 years ago. Indeed, Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, Hilary Rosen, Rachel Maddow, Ellen, Rosie and Elton John - among others - all are gay and have huge national platforms (and this does not even count others like me, Signorile, Andy Towle, Rex Wockner, Bil Browning, Mike Rogers, Pam Spaulding, John Aravosis etc.) and can dominate a news cycle on gay issues at any given time. Thus, the age of organizations exercising strict message control is gone. done. finito. This is why direct action can strengthen your cause, not weaken it. Accept this reality and adjust.

4) We have to give America a civics/history lesson. a) People don't understand that the courts are there to protect minorities from mob rule - tyranny of the majority. b) People buy the line that anti-gay churches are just voting their values. Voting values is only to ensure that a religious group can practice their beliefs and live their values. It does not allow them to force other people to live by the rules of their church - effectively making everyone members - against their will.

5) We must do a better job making people understand the difference between civil and religious marriage. It must be hammered home. Until people get this simple point - we will have trouble.

6) Finally, there is a misconception that those who are protesting are some dumb mob who go home and do nothing after the screaming dies down. While this may be true of many, even a majority, a sizable minority of protesters will become energized and propel the movement forward. My own activism began after I saw a Save the Children billboard in Fort Lauderdale during a campaign in the late 80's. I then went to a rally and decided to dedicate myself to the movement. Many of us have a similar story.

So, far from providing a venue for a bunch of people yapping, these protests are energizing those who will eventually replace us and lead the movement. The passions stirred at these events do not stop when the protesters leave. Individuals will take this energy to the workplace, to universities, to the op-ed pages, to blogs, to their family dinner at Thanksgiving this year. Many more people will now come out over the holidays as a result of what is going on. They drew strength to do so from the massive crowds.

So, let's give these people who stood out in the lousy weather a little more credit. The action we are now discussing is already in motion in a thousand different ways that are not included in any memo or action plan we may write.

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Wayne, you are right about putting our families, our couples, ourselves out in front of voters. It has already been done and successfully! In Massachusetts, when we faced repeated attempts to put an amendment banning same-sex marriage before the voters, MassEquality ran ads featuring--guess who?--us! MassEquality also organized us to visit our legislators to tell them our stories; to write letters to our local newspapers to tell our stories; and to speak directly to neighbors, other family members, and co-workers, again to tell our stories. The result? A pro-equality majority in the Massachusetts legislature defeated the proposed constitutional amendment for the last time on June 14 2007, after a fierce three and a half year battle. It's important to note that in Massachusetts, we never faced a statewide vote on our right to marry because we forestalled it in the Legislature. This is a significant difference from campaigns in California and elsewhere. But, we did face the same opposition messages: same-sex marriages would destroy opposite-sex marriages; we are not fit parents and endanger all children with our (subversive) sexuality. Many of these messages were delivered at weekly religious gatherings and our Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry greatly blunted the power of an anti-gay religious movement by speaking out consistently for our freedom to marry.

Reformed Ascetic | November 19, 2008 8:33 PM


You hit on one of my pet peeves. I think it's important to include pro-gay religious groups in the message. I also don't think it's as effective as it could be to just argue civil marriage vs. religious marriage when religious groups who want to marry gay people can also be included. At least that is what I have personally observed.

Wayne, please don't cede the religious ground to the right-wingers.

Thanks for a thoughtful look at the state of things today. I think you have expressed great ideas here, and have finally expressed some long ignored truths about how the real world will/does work.

Excellent Wayne. We must all strive to be the master of our own image rather than letting others (the meek turn the other cheek) define it for us. Through direct action our power will be enhanced and our LGBT movement will seem larger than life in our democracy claiming our power as first class citizens.

On #2, We don't have very many states left to "test" in. We should have learned from our mistakes in 2004. Apparently, we didn't.

LOL - Yeah, I have to say... Not my state please. :)

This is a GREAT post, Wayne. Your bullet list should be required reading for all the org folks.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 19, 2008 2:08 PM

Monica is right concerning the diminishing number of states to "test" in. That number includes those states which have no sembelence of marriage equality measures on the books, but which also have resisted anti-equality amendments to their constitutions. In those states, and in the states which would have to undo their own amendments, a daunting task, questions as to the pros and cons of civil unions versus full marriage by that name are remain largely academic exercises unlike on the East Coast, for example. I fear that the overdeamonization of civil unions as intrinsic evil per se in some quarters may actually work against efforts in those states to simply preserve at least some modicum of legislative/judicial ability to leave open any options at all, imperfect as some of them might be.

Now I need to go back into my 1950's fallout shelter and wait for the rocks to come flying.

Evidence based activism, it's about time. It is a great strategy. Let's get to work.

I like the idea of doing a "try out" in a "polar opposite" state. See -- North Dakota seems to have particular accessible requirements for the Initiative process.

I should add again, ND did pass a measure against same-sex marriage in 2004. However, it only requires a little more than 25,000 signatures to put a measure on the ballot again. As a "small market" it's less expensive to run a campaign there and perhaps easier to reach people one-on-one, assuming that LGBT people come out.

I think that the narrow margin of victory for Prop 8, compared to the ballot measure in 2000, shows also that people's minds do change. It's worth a try. Please don't write off states which have passed anti-LGBT measures in the past.

Definitely a "YES" to including all pro-gay religious groups. My undocumented/illegal husband is Christian, and his church is "open and affirming" in theory (but still evolving in practice). As a pianist I've played for many, many churches that are queer-positive in WA. I really do not know of other parts of the US, but here in Western WA (esp. Seattle) there are many churches that welcome us. Believers-of-Christ really aren't that scary once they wash the HATE off of them!

We need our allies. ALL of them. A-L-L of them.

Given the number of marriage certificates DOLED OUT LIKE CANDY to some VERY anti-religious folks, HOW IN THE WORLD can our government maintain a "religion-only" policy when it comes to marriage? Have they not been paying attention?!

John R. Selig | November 20, 2008 5:54 AM


Nobody has said this better!

It is great having people in suits talking to people in suits. But until there are some people in the streets providing a sense of urgency the talking (along with the ignoring and inaction) will go on forever!