Diane Silver

How the National Equality March Could Undermine LGBT America

Filed By Diane Silver | August 19, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Fred Phelps, LGBT Rights, National Equality March

There are no villains in this post. Please note that fact before reading farther. I don't believe that the wonderful folks who are organizing the national march are evil or stupid, but I am worried that we could be marching ourselves right off a cliff.

I'll admit that I've never been a fan of this particular march. I wrote about my worries in Political IQ. I shared many of Bil's concerns. Today, I will also for the first time share his endorsement of the march, and I may well find myself in DC in October. I have to admit, though, that I can't give the wholehearted endorsement Bil makes.

My greatest concern right now is the way the debate over the march has taken shape. Too often I've heard march supporters argue that they endorse the march because they're tired of complacency and inaction.

Their pitch seems, at least to me, to be promoting the national march as the ONLY way LGBT America can fight for equality. In other words, you're either supporting this one event or you're satisfied to sit back and do nothing. One of my long-time heroes, David Mixner, has dubbed the march opposition the "Oh Lord, Not Now Movement."

With this kind of argument, we run the risk of thinking we've done our job by simply attending one march on one day. With this kind of argument, we run the risk of ignoring the kinds of tactics that will win equality because marching in Washington, DC, will not move Congress to vote for our rights.

Let me say that again: No Washington march. Will. Move. Congress.

Why not?

Because representatives and senators don't represent the gaggle that will gather in DC on Oct. 10 and 11. Representatives and senators answer to the constituents in their districts and home states. Only one kind of activity is going to get their attention, and that is the grassroots organizing at home that can elect equality minded people to office and punish those who vote against us.

Fifty thousand or 100,000 people or hundreds of thousands marching for equality in Washington, DC., does make a statement - and it's a good one. But I ask you to imagine the sight of just 50,000 marching for equality in your home town. This is a particularly important exercise for those of us who live in flyover country.

Right now, I'm closing my eyes and imagining the impact of 20,000 people marching in anti-gay pastor Fred Phelps' hometown of Topeka, Kan. If we could get thousands on the street in red-state Kansas, we'd swing the Kansas vote in Congress. If that didn't happen today, it would happen quickly after because we would have the support we need to kick fools out of office and elect politicians who support equality.

I live 30 miles from Topeka, and I've spent more hours and shed my sweat and tears then I care to count in working for equality in Kansas. And no, I don't think it's a pipe dream to envision thousands of pro-LGBT marchers in Topeka.

Now imagine how much clout we would have in Congress if we held those kinds of marches - and did the kind of local organizing necessary to create massive turnouts - in hundreds of cities. The post-Proposition 8 marches were a great beginning, but that organizing effort hasn't gone far enough, at least not yet.

By the way, in case you think organizing rural America isn't important, think again. The Constitution tilts the center of power in the U.S. Senate toward rural states. In other words, it doesn't matter how many pro-equality senators are elected from New York and California. LGBT Americans won't win until we conquer rural America... but that's a topic for another day.

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Let me say that again:

No Washington march. Will. Move. Congress.

You hit the nail on the head, Diane! Thank You!

(And that's all I'm going to say.)

Agreed. We will in the end only pry our rights out of the hands of others by making it either too costly or too inconvienient for those others to deny us them.

I understand the hesitancy. I have it myself. But what I do understand is that Equality Across America, the organization behind the march, its sole purpose is to organize all congressional districts across the country. And yes, that includes rural districts. And each district will have a representative at the march.

They hope to have not just a march, though, but training sessions and networking areas so that everyone can learn the tools they need to go home and organize there. Locally. This isn't just about convincing Congress in Washington DC. It's about convincing your local representatives at home. Something I gather from what you've written you would support. Because you're right - it's all about the local struggle.

Granted, not everyone can afford to go in October. But EAA is getting local, everyday grassroots representatives from all districts, who will then go back to those folks and organize. And then, EAA will facilitate ongoing discussion and pooling of resources between districts through online tools, conference calls and more.

To me, that sounds like exactly what we need. People are so focused on the march itself, that they miss the point of what happens after. The whole point of gathering together in the first place. To organize.

Once we do that, bringing thousands to Topeka, KS won't be a dream anymore - it could be a reality.

Wow. After writing this, I realized that maybe my hesitancy is gone. LOL.

My concern is that we *don't* get at least 100,000 people in DC. Then we'll look weak and disorganized.

Queer strategy has been one mistake after the other for thirty years. And the leadership hasn't thought of one argument to convince the public. So they want a fully televised march, complete with drag queens, leather pigs, and some well dressed urbanites kissing and dry humping their way around the mall. That's what the media will show, and it'll nicely turn public opinion against us. At least it'll be fun, which is what this is really about anyway.

The "Equality March" will seriously undermine LGBT America because it diverts attention and funding from Maine (and possibly the state of Washington) where a referendum battle is going to have a real impact on peoples' lives and give a huge momentum boost to the side that wins.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 20, 2009 5:03 AM

Good. This comes on the heels of endorsements by MCC, Choi, Michael Letwin of NYC Labor Against the War and Julian Bond, NAACP Board Chair and the MCC.

The debate has never been about activists vs. slackers, local vs. regional vs. national, rural vs. the big city, or Atlanta vs everyone. It’s always been a fight by Democrats to suppress the idea of mass actions that might injure their party. This march and succeeding ones will undermine the hold of the Democrats and build the movement locally and nationally. That’s why it deserves our total support.

However it’s organized and promoted this and succeeding rallies are going to showcase the obdurate bigotry and contempt of Obama’s administration for the LGBT communities. They’ll help build the movement that will either force the Democrats (and their junior partners in crime, the Republicans) to accept our full agenda or get politically shoved aside by people who will.

It's time to force the issue. Lobbying and begging doesn't work but a series of national local and regional demonstrations will. This is just Round 1 of what will be a long fight to make the bigots and bigot panderers in the White House and Congress lead or get (politically shoved) out of the way.

It's also time to start getting buses, planes and car pools lined up and time to start on the banners and signs.

Repeal Bill Clinton's DADT and DOMA now

Pass the ERA

Pass ENDA and DADT now

Bring the Troops Home Now

Tax the Churches now and for all eternity

CINDY SHEEHAN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2012!!! (She hasn’t announced but I hope she does)

Free needles, condoms and Sex Education/AIDS Awareness classes in every school, especially religious schools

Repeal Prop 8

and etc.

But Bill, and I say this with all respect:

We will not get much mileage out of a well behaved march in an empty city when Rahm is sure to have the President elsewhere conducting a huge event to cut out news cycle to nothing.

Were this a protest, blocking traffic, spontaneously forming, melting away and then reforming to present the biggest nuisance, then maybe.

We would get far more attention holding protests at every DNC and Presidential event, making their denial and delay on our rights an albatross around their necks as far as their ability to spin a message

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 20, 2009 1:59 PM

Good Morning Maura.

My experience is that those sorts of demos work as an adjunct to mass demonstrations. At least that's been the case in every big movement I've been in. They seem to follow in the natural progression of things as lulls set in between mass mobilizations and activists get antsy for some action.

They can be handled in one of two ways.

Ft. Lewis Washington is an Advanced Infantry Training Center. For tens of thousands of young working class soldiers that was their last stop before Nam. We organized a GI-Civilian Alliance for Peace and got a huge response from the base.

By 1970 or so we'd had dozens of huge demonstrations and had a pool of activists ready for some !!!ACTION!!!. A very smart lady in our group organized a mock 'invasion' of Ft. Lewis, complete with boats, officers covered in chicken feathers urging the troops on to death and pre-wakes for the soon to be dead.

The GIs loved it. Earlier our group got on base and kept the MP's busy for hours going from barrack to barrack passing out leaflets. I don’t remember anyone being arrested in any of those actions. Many of the MP's just look the other way. Efforts around the country to reach out to GIs contributed mightily to the growth of the GI antiwar movement and that combined with our ongoing mass demos and the ferocious resistance of the Vietnamese to LBJ invasion and attempted occupation ended the war. But it took 12 years!

Contrast that to the 'Days of Rage" when 350 ultraleft SDSers (out of the 25,000 they predicted) decided to attack Chicago in 1969. Dressed in brand new leathers, wearing football helmets, carrying baseball bats and bellowing ‘bring the war home’ these spoiled children of the upper middle class launched their 'offensive' on the evening of Wednesday, October 8, 1969. They attacked "ordinary cars, a barber shop...and the windows of lower-middle-class homes as well as police cars and luxury businesses".

The Chicago cops and the FBI loved it. They had a field day. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. There were lots of arrests, lots of bruised kidneys, torn scalps and prison time. And SDS managed to alienate just about every working class district in Chicago. Who wants a bunch of frustrated rich kids ‘attacking’ you neighborhood.

It was an unmitigated disaster. It’s only saving grace was the maoists and ultralefts could only find 350 people out of 200 plus million willing to take on the Chicago PD with a base ball bat. I can’t imagine why.

If you like variants of the first action I described with plenty of legal help available and a sensible approach to disruption that minimizes the price the movement and individual activists have to pay I agree with you.

And even then the question of violence is not always up to us. My first demonstration was a sit-in by about 15 or so Friends of SNCC the FBI office in Denver in 1963. The FBI attacked us, knocking one lady to the floor after slapping her newborn baby out of her arms. I was shocked shitless and I’ve always remember that when I plan demos. I prefer to march with large numbers whether it’s disruptive or not.

Disruptive is good if you can get away with it. With tens or hundreds of thousands at your side it’s a lot easier to come out of it without bruises.

I think the second example I gave is totally counterproductive.

Sorry that was a little long but you can't take on a question like this with sound bites.

Bill, the first example, not the second; disruption, not destruction, and strictly hit and run, melt away before we get caught, and do it again and again and again....

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 21, 2009 12:45 PM

Great. It sounds like an excellent idea.

Here's an equally respectful suggestion if you're interested.

Before the march get together with like minded people and use blog sites, leaflets or whatever to promote the creation of a nationwide, democratically run activist group with elected leaders to accomplish what you want to see.

They’ll help build the movement that will either force the Democrats (and their junior partners in crime, the Republicans) to accept our full agenda or get politically shoved aside by people who will.

What exactly do you mean here, Bill?

Do you mean we will replace unwilling Democrats with willing Democrats? Or do you mean that a thrid party, one that is an alternative to both the GOP and the Dems, will eventually emerge?

I have great doubts whether the former (replacing Dems with other Dems) will ever work --- and that is why I am looking for signs that a strong third party is about to coalesce.

At the moment, I don't see those signs --- but if in the coming years the Dems flub this one up, I think the surfacing of that third party is almost inevitable. (And may the Goddess bless us on that fine day!)

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 20, 2009 7:08 PM

AJ, like you I don’t think there’s any basis for a mass leftist or reformist party for now. The main reson is that most people have't bothered about politics for quite a long time. The economic collapse is changing all that.

I do agree that we need a new party that one will develop. The Democrats can’t be reformed because they’re intimately tied into institutions like the military industrial complex and the use of racism, homohating and union busting to insure that our society doesn’t develop a democratic economic system.

Political democracy absent economic democracy is a sham.

Right now I’m hoping that the AFL-CIO will unleash the Labor Party set up and funded by unions about 10 years ago. They keep it under lock and key because of their self-destructive loyalty to the Democrats – AFL-CIO bureaucrats seem to enjoy lying under the bus as much as LGBT Democrats. Unions are the heavy infantry of social change and as they break with the Democrats things will begin to change decisively. But I agree, we have to wait and see. Last year I was predicting the extinction of the twin parties and people were incredulous. Today, not so much.

The Labor Party could whither on the vine waiting for brother Sullivan and the other AFL-CIO bureaucrats to grow a spine. Something new could turn up out of the blue and break the back of the Democrat Party. Politics is one big surprise after another.

At this point I don’t think the Greens, the Naderites and the Peace and Freedom groups have the program or the weight to tackle the twin parties. A Labor Party would. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

It’s sure to come. American society is fracturing at a pretty fast clip. The economic crisis is on the verge of becoming a depression. Depressions are not self correcting. The US is committed to stealing resources around the world and will always be involved in wars from now until the day we put the military industrial complex behind bars. The communal allegiances of Americans are being shattered by class polarization, and for the first time since the thirties, a very determined class consciousness is being awakened. The twin parties are reeling from crisis to crisis, unwilling and unable to solve them because they’re tied to a terminally ill social order. They’re Whigs.

Last year my bumper stickers said “With Democrats like these who needs Republicans” and “Bring the Troops Home Now”. This year they say “Class War – Bring It On” and “Unions, the anti-theft device for working people”. People love em.
I guess where I disagree with you is about that goddess stuff. Odin doesn’t like that kind of talk. Not at all. If I were you I’d stay inside during thunder storms until he calms down a bit.

Well, Bill, now I know where your "PLAY" button is.

BTW, I love thunderstorms. And last time I scanned the Hollywood gossip rags, Odin was banging the Goddess and they were getting along famously.

It's when you guys say things like this:

Tax the Churches now and for all eternity
Free needles, condoms and Sex Education/AIDS Awareness classes in every school, especially religious schools

that people get fed up and don't want to deal with you. How about you recognize that your beliefs and morals are different from others' beliefs and morals and neither side will ever be reconciled? No one should be forced to go to church or read the Bible, but no one should be forced to accept homosexuals or their lifestyle.

If you want to force your "education" on religious schools then we should force traditional Christian values on public schools.

It seems you want tolerance from everyone and only you are free to be intolerant of those who don't agree with you.

"No one should be forced to go to church or read the Bible, but no one should be forced to accept homosexuals or their lifestyle."

This is undoubtedly a mistake to engage in this discussion, but here goes: what do you mean by accepting? Do you accept lawyers? Do you accept the rain? And I have no idea what a homosexual "lifestyle" is, nor a heterosexual one, for that matter.

"If you want to force your "education" on religious schools then we should force traditional Christian values on public schools."

AIDS prevention education is an issue of public health and the general welfare of society. Religious school students aren't innoculated against HIV by their mere status as such. Therefore, for their own health and safety, they need the same information as public school students. HIV is a fact of life, not a belief system. Therefore, it is not comparable to teaching "Christian values" to anyone.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 20, 2009 7:36 PM

Actually Rory, I think kids in cult schools might need condoms and scientific, reality grounded sex education much more than kids in public schools.

They're constantly exposed to a barrage of bs about abstinence. Then they’re told that they can be saved from personal disaster if they repetitively chant incantations. Add to that the allure of being sinful and ‘nasty’ and being forced by fear to seek sex in unsafe parks and cruising spots and HIV/AIDS becomes a very big danger.

I agree --- generally, they need it much more than the public school kids --- I'll even agree that they are victims of their parents' viewpoints (just as I was a victim of my family's viewpoints) --- but in a free world, is it our proper place to force it onto them? See below.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 21, 2009 12:36 PM


It has to be forced to protect children.

For the same reason we should advocate using the law to close down and prosecute the owners and employees of christer snake pits where GLBT children and young adults are tortured and sexually abused to 'cure' them of their genetic gifts.

GLBT children are 'our' children when they're in danger from bigots, whether their parents or mendacious cultists out to make a buck with snake oil 'cures' for our common and wonderful genetic heritage.

And for the same reason we should advocate that armed guards be present whenever catholic priests and bishops, protestant pastors and rabbis, mullahs and all the rest are near children. The priests are the worst offenders but 'ministers' from all the cults are implicated and many are guilty.

"Actually Rory, I think kids in cult schools might need condoms and scientific, reality grounded sex education much more than kids in public schools."

Probably. But I prefer an understated argument. And since my point was the same either way, I didn't go there.

Although we are apparently on opposite sides of this issue, I agree with Harry. I wasn't happy to see the "sex ed forced into religious schools" statement, but, having other comments to make, I didn't bother to point out that dictating certain curricula in private, religious schools can be unconstitutional. (Also, I was pretty sure someone else would point that out, and I wanted to see who.)

Rory, you were right at the git-go: Arguing about these points is a big mistake (at least, in this context). You make good points, but none of them come close to trumping constitutional considerations.

At least, I am glad to see that there are people on both sides of this issue who understand civil rights, and some who are even willing to defend the civil rights of the opposite side. These are exactly the kinds of people we need in order for the world to get along, if not agree.

Some Christians claim that they have a right to live in a world that is free of homosexuals. They don't. But conversely, GLBT people do not have a right to a world free of homo-disapproving Christians. This probably will never change, and the best we can do is to learn to respectfully stay out of each other's way.

A.J. -

I wasn't especially happy to see the 'forcing sex ed' comment, either for a couple of reasons. However, I chose to interpret it as relating to AIDS prevention because I think there is an argument of a legitmate governmental interest, as the legal phrase goes, to have it taught regardless of religious objections. I think that since schools have to meet state requirements to issue diplomas and need to be accredited, I think it's a closer call with schools than churches per se.

But I do agree, constitutional rights should be respected. The trickier part is agreeing what they are, and who is entitled to them.

I'm pleased to see the discussion. Thanks so much, everyone! I do want to add just a couple of things.

First, we'll only win our rights if each of us in the equality community (LGBT & straight) take action. The level of passion in this discussion is a wonderful sign of engagement and commitment, and it's a delight to see that in the people posting comments. Without that kind of involvement, we'll never win.

But we'll also never win without unity. The first step toward unity is respect. When I started my post by saying that I didn't see the people who disagree with me as villains, I meant it.

We may disagree on tactics and strategy at times, but we are unified on our goal. When I worked as an activist, I met other LGBT activists who I disagreed with so strongly that I wanted to scream and beat the heck out of, well, something, yet I never doubted their commitment to the cause, and I never doubted their decency as human beings.

There ARE NO VILLAINS in this debate. There is only disagreement about the best way to succeed. Honestly, I don't know if there is one tactic that will win. A human rights struggle such as ours takes time. It's a decades-long and sometimes even centuries-long pursuit that has to employ a variety of tactics to succeed.

But we will never achieve the unity we need to succeed if we put each other down. Just a reminder from someone who has been beaten up in far too many political discussions.

Take care all.


What a great and well thought out first post. As a fellow Midwesterner, I share your concerns about how things go in the heartland.

Instead of leaving a lengthy response to your post, I'll write up something myself as a post. You're on to something and it'll take me a bit to work out what I'd like to say.

I completely agree that a march won't be the solution to all of our problems. It's the broader vision behind Equality Across America that I'm excited about - this is (and has to be) much larger than one single march in DC.

While I share the opinion that a march on Montgomery, Alabama or Tupelo, Mississippi would be a much bolder statement by the LGBT community, I would not go so far as to say I can't fully endorse the march for what it is.

In this argument you forget an important detail, the march is the weekend before lobbying days and no U.S. Senators of Arizona will be hanging out in Tupelo that Monday (unless by a freak coincidence).

It's imperative that our community doesn't search out yet another reason to segment ourselves from each other. The inclusion issue of the B&T in the LGBT is a difficult enough hurdle to jump as we attempt to stay united in the quest for equality.

I hope we will all recognize this as an opportunity to utilize the massive momentum of our community since the passing of Prop 8 and not sit back and wait for the steam to run out before attempting a charge.

Some gay leaders insist on getting their faces on the national networks, whether Congress is in session or not. So be it. But let's make sure the march includes a lot of fundraising to benefit the Maine referendum campaign. Do you hear that, discos of D.C.? Donate your cover charges and a portion of your drink prices to "No on 1."
State or district-level rallies are a better idea, and even those may not accomplish a lot, at least in the short run. Equality Florida assembled nearly 1,000 people in Tallahassee this past spring. Yet the legislature went home without holding a single hearing or taking a single vote on any of the gay-equality bills.

The March debate misses one major point: we do not have a national coalition or community strategy for delivering congress. There is no coordinated message or media plan. There is no PROCESS for setting OUR agenda. We have no MOVEMENT analysis that includes public demonstration plans. Essentially, the March is happening in a vacuum because the status quo nat. orgs. have failed their mission: to build a LGBT coalition that represents the will of its peoples.

Resistance to the March is all "either or" instead of "both and" as MLK proposed. Where is the analysis of the current movement organizational structure (or lack thereof). Where is the analysis of the inner workings of the private list-serves, or backroom deals HRC is making w/B. Frank about timing and priorities.

Where is the analysis of the fact that we (HRC and Frank) are shooting for repeal of DADT by next Spring!!! as some golden ring agenda!?


We need a new coalition - like a quilt-coalition - stitched together from activists all over the nation - dedicated to a movement based not only on our righteous anger - but on our great love.

The March threatens the status-quo groups who like the private dance they have created. The PEOPLE however are fed up. This is the point of the March - we are annoyed with our nat. "leadership" and want a more inclusive, transparent, and democratic PROCESS for OUR movement strategizing and decision making (and group mobilization must be part of that new plan, once we have a NATIONAL QUILT-COALITION.

We're MARCHING FOR LOVE - and to SHAKE UP our movement - so we might save ourselves - despite the "prevailing wisdom" of the inside gay team.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 23, 2009 1:37 PM


As long as debates about strategy for the LGBT movement are limited to shadow boxing between LCR, Stonewall Democrats and other self appointed movement ‘leaders’ we'll be permanently under the bus. As long as movement hustlers and Democrats like the leadership of No on 8, EQCA and others are allowed to put their partisan loyalties before the needs of the movement they're going to continue to lead us to defeat after defeat.

The GLBT movement won't be in a position to begin winning until it consciously breaks free of the political limits imposed on it by partisan front groups, most of them Democrat. We need a nationwide, grass roots, democratically run activist organization that can discuss and adopt a strategy and program, and democratic methods to adjust both as the situation changes, and an elected leadership, paid or not.

That’s one of the goals of the goals of the MoW organizers and why leftists supported it wholeheartedly from the beginning. We also like it because it’ll be a forum to ‘criticize’ the bigots in the White House and Congress and organize against them.

The movement’s attention should now begin to focus on breaking with the Democrats and creating a national organization led by and for LGBT folks, a home base of our own. Northing is as remotely as important as that.