Bil Browning

Pandora's Box: The National Equality March

Filed By Bil Browning | August 17, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: EAA, Equality Across America, March on Washington, National Equality March, Pandora's Box

I've made my concerns about the National Equality March known and Cleve Jones responded with his reasons why it should go forward. After spending a week at Netroots Nation talking to Kip Williams, the Director of the march's organizing campaign, Equality Across America (EAA), I'm reminded of the Greek myth of Pandora's box.

Hope.jpgFor those who don't know the myth, Pandora was created at Zeus's instruction after Prometheus stole the gift of fire. She was gifted by other dieties with talents like beauty, persuasion, curiosity, and music - hence her name which means "All Gifted." Zeus gave Pandora a box full of all of mankind's evils but didn't tell her what was inside; instead he just told her not to open it. Compelled by curiosity, Pandora opened the box and all its contents flew into the world.

The last item in the box was Hope. Pandora slammed the lid shut once she realized what she'd done and trapped Hope inside. Scholars have spent centuries arguing over the basic crux this presents: Is the box a prison for Hope (trapping it away from mankind) or a pantry (saving it for use when needed)?

The National Equality March and EAA also present the same dilemma. I choose to believe Hope's retention is meant to be comforting and not a bane to our existence. In that spirit, I've decided to whole-heartedly endorse Equality Across America and the National Equality March. My reasons after the jump.

The box is open and some unpleasant concerns have flown out recently - and not just around this march.

A History of Oppression Continues

The LGBT community is used to being downtrodden and dismissed. Prejudice, animosity, and apartheid flew out of Pandora's Box long ago. Our community's dealings with these evils isn't anything new; it's also been a part of human civilization for centuries. We still fight to overcome these nightmares and legitimately prove that Americans have properly put aside our differences in favor of our common equality.

Our right to marry was stripped from us at the ballot box in California after the state supreme court had ruled in our favor. Maine is fighting to keep that same right - even though the state's legislature and governor passed and signed this into law. The far right has long complained that we'd only won the right to marriage via the courts, but once they realized that public opinion had shifted and we can now claim our rightful place in society through the legislative process, once again they're trying to overturn those rights.

Don't be fooled, this isn't about which route we take to our natural liberties. This is about forcing their beliefs on a group of people that they despise and disdain. This has more to do with Pandora's "gifts" of intolerance, racism, sexism, antipathy and contemptuousness.


Pulling together an event of this magnitude is a logistical nightmare. With only a couple of months left to firm everything up, we're going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Not only do we need to work out the ins-and-outs of what to do with youth who show up without housing plans, transportation issues, speakers who will motivate the attendees, cooperation issues with Gay, Inc., and funding, but there's all the small details and massive egos that will need to be massaged and managed.

As our community's leaders have jockeyed for position to be the top dog, we've undercut the very people we're supposed to be supporting and empowering. This isn't limited to those who work for Gay, Inc. You can see it in communities across the nation. Look to your own state's various LGBT organizations and their interactions with each other and the body politic. As an oppressed group, we take it out on each other. Infighting, hostility and distrust have become common weapons that we use on each other with deft precision. We don't need the right wing to do the damage; we often inflict it on each other.

Even in my own post, I got sidetracked by my concerns and worries instead of taking the step backwards to look at the big picture. We don't have the luxury of slapping something together half heartedly. We need to use the same precision you use to cut a diamond. Our lives, our families and our civil rights are just as valuable and shouldn't be handled like offal.

Owning the Box

It's clear now that this is our strongest and best opportunity to make a communal statement that will resonate. Going to Washington does not take away or diminish other efforts. Consider the IMAX experience versus the Netflix version. The impact of what you see on widescreen can never be entirely duplicated at home.

The reach of the march extends far beyond the individual in-your-face. It is a show of solidarity and force, a statement that is in proportion in its volume to the need for such a statement. The communal voice has been silent since the loss in California. That voice was heard in the wake of Prop 8, but not since. It's time for that voice. While the idea may have been the province of only a few people in its inception, it is now, in its full discussion, owned by many.

The geographic distinctions of time and space, first chipped away at by smoke signals, and telegraph and telephone and radio and TV, are now entirely extinguished by the handheld and instantaneous presence of everyone in view of everyone else. We should not underestimate the power of sentiment generated when people gather to make communal that which can be done privately. People can pray in private but benefit from spiritual asembly. People can do yoga in private but do it better as a class. People can sing in the shower or as part of a choir. There is an amplification and timbre to the communal voice that generates its own music.

Hope Is Not Imprisoned

I don't envy Kip's position. His job is monumental and he'll need every bit of support possible to pull this off. We can't do this on a wing and a prayer. We need to open the box back up and pull out Hope.

Gay, Inc. is not the enemy of the grassroots movement. The young new activists and online media gurus are not diametrically opposed to established lobbying efforts and infrastructure. We have to find a way to bring all of our best activists, strategists and lobbyists together in a way that allows them to work in conjunction while checking our egos at the door.

I'm putting my own reservations aside in favor of Pandora's last and best gift to humanity. None of us can open this box on our own. This time to pry the lid open, it's going to take all of the muscle and determination of our community. After all, we too are "All Gifted."

It's time to take Hope out of the box and use it.

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Thank you for the change of heart. We've been working our butts off for the past 3 months to make this happen - under the mantra of "If you build it, they will come." It's happening!

I would also like to encourage any organization that is interested in endorsing the NEM, to please log onto and click on the "Endorse Our March" link.


Hope? That's the reason for a party in DC? Please.
The mainstream movement threw away an easy victory on domestic partnership. They demand full marraige rights despite 15 years of polls saying the public are opposed. As usual, the 'strategy' is counterproductive, and it actually weakens the democratic base at a time when we need every bit of political capital for healthcare.
Helping put in national healthcare would be a worthy goal for the movement. But go on, have your party instead. And don't bother with a list of realistic proposals. One abstract word should do the trick.
Hope. Give me a break.

Yes, nevermind that those same polls have steadily shifted in our favor. Nevermind the fact that fighting for 'second best' makes no sense. Let's placate the bigots and fight our damnedest for second class. I love the idea.
Personally the DC march strikes me as a waste in the biggest of ways but, sorry, I couldn't just let that one slide. Marriage equality, among other things, is hardly a fantasy ideal at this point. It's an increasingly attainable goal. So could we, ya know, not delude ourselves into thinking fighting for something short of an equal status in area x, y, or z is a good idea?

I'm beginning to fully understand why our movement is so disjointed and, frankly, I wish it were more of a shock.
Matt's got it right. "Toxic" is exactly what these comments devolve into and, as the word implies, they do far more harm than good.

I'm so tired of complacency.

You're right. My tone was nasty. I was busy and wrote without thinking. Plus, I've watched the community shoot itself in the foot for thirty years, and I'm grouchy about it.
But I still think domestic partnership is the way to go. The polls show we wouldn't have to fight for it. And full marraige would probably follow while we work on more important issues.

Well, Bil, endorse away if you want ... that Kool-Aid at Netroots Nation must have tasted good, because you sure took a big gulp of it! ...
in fact, wasn't that last round of Kool-Aid served by a guy from San Francisco named "Jones"? ...

Thanks for reminding me why I never click through to the site. For whatever reason, you guys have the most toxic comments section around.

Pshaw. Check out Queerty or Joe.My.God. where comments are pretty much unmoderated. :)

I'm saddened to the see the mental slavery of some of these responses. "Civil Unions" is the "Separate Drinking Fountains" of the new millenium.
You don't get what you don't demand. This is not about "wanting Equality on paper", it's about destroying centuries of bigotry and prejudice. "The public" was opposed to integration. Gay Marriage is not a Straight issue. My God, if we can't get you LGBT people to grow a pair and fight for what is right, how can you expect straight people to care?
You set the tone for how you'll be treated. Time to get off the ground.


I’m a blog reader and Ph.D. student at Miami University. I’ve been reading Bilerico regularly, especially the dialogue related to marriage equality. I’m writing to ask if any of you would be willing to participate in my dissertation study, which focuses on how bloggers are debating marriage equality (and specifically Prop 8) online. You can contribute to this study by participating in a short email interview.

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"Hope" is a great way to put it. I think maybe that's what I felt about this march. I'm 21 years old and don't have much of my own individual gay history to fall back on. I graduate college next year and will be working on clawing my way out of the Bible Belt. This March in Washington will help (hopefully) create an experience for me to fall back on when I read the depressing headlines in Washington, California, and Maine, or when I come home to hear Glenn Beck on my mother's radio.

Hope is exactly the word, which explains why it always left a bad feeling in me when I read a blog opposing the march.

Don't want to go? Think it's a stupid idea? Great. DON'T GO. But my hotel is booked and paid for, and I'm already thinking of who to invite to go with me. Anybody know of any good books on tape? The drive's gonna be 22 hours total for me. Definitely worth it.

Lauren Fureymoore | August 17, 2009 4:08 PM

Harry Potter! Long car rides are great for Harry Potter---battles, love and good triumphing over evil. That's what it's all about!

I'll see you there, baby!

And I agree. IF someone doesn't want to go, so be it, but I'm going, and I'm bringing my crew with me. It's sad how many LGBT people seem to WANT this march to fail, so they can say "told you so!" instead of, oh i don't know, actually putting positivity to use.

We need to claim and own this fight.

helen boyne | August 17, 2009 4:24 PM

Well said. I am in the process of reading MLK's "Why We Can't Wait". It is a great, all too familiar read. Many in the early civil rights movement, wanted either there own territory to claim victory or where afraid seperate actions would dilute "the" effort - including RFK. (I book speaks of the movement's disappointment in JFK.)

I am going from NJ, relatives are coming from Seattle. Come on .......

For those dismissive of the March saying things like "it's a waste of time to have a party," I suggest you read the FAQ on the March website...and take a look at the website as a whole to get more information.

It's not a party. It is laser focused on the message: Equal rights in all matters governed by civil law. And that's a message that needs to be heard. Through Equality Across America and the March, that message is being brought to the audience that can actually legislate change: The United States Congress.

I also spent last week at Netroots Nation. Somehow I missed the Kool-Aid, but I did get to spend lots of time talking to Kip Williams about the National Equality March and Equality Across America.

Kip did something that few activists have done. He listened to my concerns, explained to my the vision for not just the march in DC, but for a larger campaign focused on supporting local grassroots activism across the country, and he did so without being defensive.

Our movement for full equality needs more inspired action and less criticism and complaining.

I'm with Bil on this. I am choosing hope of negativity.

Thanks Michael. I know we both went with reservations, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who "drank the Koolaid."

Please excuse the obnoxious tone of my post. I was busy with other things and wrote without thinking. And I'm so different than the mainstream community, sometimes I feel like I'm in another Universe. Sorry.

No problem, Wilberforce. We all have days like that. I know you don't have bad intentions. :)

Thanks for the apology though - not everyone knows you as well as we do. *smiles*

Bil, this post is beautiful, especially the close! Though I HOPE that marchers will not forget all the other SMALLER but still important LOCAL struggles going on this fall (the big picture is NOT DC, its the whole country), I certainly don't want to see this march fail. I'd rather see ALL of it succeed. However, lets make DAMN sure that if we're going to go to DC en masse, we not slack off in all of the other BIG LOCAL CONTESTS that are going to decide the future momentum of our movement.

Take lots of pictures for me while you're there, folks, and make sure to say hi to my gurl Hil for me!

Regarding my "Kool-Aid" remark, if you shack up with one side of the argument for an entire week, and ignore the other side of the argument for an entire week, just exactly what quality of decision do you expect to arrive at when the week is over? I object to the decision-making process here as much as I do the conclusion.

Now, despite my "toxic" comment above (which I do not apologize for, by the way), I think my position is very similar to Phil's above.

I do not want this march to "fail" --- instead, I think it is a poor channeling of resources in the first place. But if the GLBT world can pull this off without robbing more important and less optional battles ("more important" IMHO and "less optional" meaning ballot initiatives already in process), then more power to you.

"Civil Unions" is the "Separate Drinking Fountains" of the new millenium.

Mr. Miller, I live in a state where civil unions would be a definite improvement over what we have now. We have been fighting --- and last time, succeeded by one vote in committee --- to avoid getting the separate drinking fountains written into our state constitution. And it still might happen, and a March on Washington will do little to prevent it.

It's not a party. It is laser focused ...

Laset focused when one of the major targets ... Congress! ... is not even in town? Give me a break!

Our movement for full equality needs more inspired action and less criticism and complaining.

Michael, I hope we are friends, but our community also needs to use its resources wisely. I would like to think that the GLBT movement can multi-task and fight more than one battle at a time --- but the Obama campaign distracting us from winning on Prop 8 seems to indicate otherwise. I wish we had some "inspired action" (plus some very good, very reality-based planning) before November 4 instead of all the "complaining" (and blaming and finger-pointing) that took place once we had lost.

Having spoken my piece, I will now, at least, do the side supporting this event one favor: I'll stay home and shut up. Good Luck.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | August 17, 2009 11:40 PM

There was a lot that went into our side losing on Prop 8. Much of that has been rehashed again and again.

I agree that we need a smart use of our community's resources and that we need to focus on smart use of those resources, but also on expanding those resources.

My evolution in thinking about the march comes not just from having spent time talking with Kip Williams, but also through conversations with Bil Browning, Pam Spaulding, Eden James from Courage Campaign, and others. Rather than saying "no, no, no" in the short term, I am focused on our we can build a stronger more sophisticated movement prepared for the long term struggle.

No one wants you to shut up. We want you to actively participate in helping to win full equality for the LGBT in a way that makes sense for you.

Clarification: In light of some private emails I have received, I want to be clear that by using the term "shack up" I did not mean to suggest that anyone was having sex with anyone else, or that anyone was using sex as a political persuasion tactic.

What I meant by the "shack up" is that attending a week-long convention at a big hotel in a major city often means that a large group of people isolate themselves from the outside world for the entire week. That creates an "information bubble," an environment where everyone is cut off from news and other outside input, and thus certain people can lobby about their own personal agenda, effectively resulting in an exercise in people brainwashing each other. Once the central lobbyist gets a few powerful converts to his (or her) way of thinking, the campaign snowballs and eventually the remaining people have to either buy in to the platform, or be ostracized, or just leave.

I have attended such conventions (usually non-GLBT related) and I know how relentlessly some people can "put out their message" every five or ten minutes. In extreme cases, it can be daunting to stay in touch with reality --- and sometimes a drive to get out of that bubble is worth the effort, even if it happens to be ten below zero in International Falls, Minnesota.

As for who rolls in the hay with who else --- hey, of course it happens more or less depending on the group, but generally it's not my concern and I just don't go there. I regret any mis-understandings on this point.

Washington state and Maine are due for massive battles at the same time, and we face an uphill struggle in both states. But, what the hell, let's put our time, effort and money into a picnic on the Mall. Madness.

Lazy...apathetic....know it all....?.....then stay home and complain some more at the local bar. It's simple....walk the walk or at least stay out of way...some of us are caring enough to say ENOUGH !

I have absolutely no problem with anyone who exercises their First Amendment rights.
Pay no attention to anyone who says your march is anything other than a great thing in a great country.

I wish everyone safe travels and good memories.

Finally everyone is getting it! Our time is now and we must take advantage of it. This is our civil rights movement and the DC event can really get us more organized to fight for our rights! I am there along with several from Dallas.

Rev. Donna tara lee | August 18, 2009 9:54 AM

Hi All,

I come from one of those states that have no equality for GLBT folks, Florida. As I see it the mMOW is a focus on getting our rights now at the federal level For that reason I shall be in Washington for the MOW. We need Natl. equality now. Not in incremente but NOW! Not state by state but federally NOW!
Can you imagine the Southern states in the bible belt ever passing GLBT rights? They only integrated because of federal court decisions. We are all citizens first and foremost of these United States. Do to that we should all have equality NOW!

Hey Rev!

I LOVE that you bring up that there are lots of states that are falling behind and that we need to keep them in mind. I LOVE your enthusiasm! Please DON'T FORGET ABOUT WASHINGTON AND MAINE IN ALL THE EXCITEMENT, THOUGH! We have the potential to have the tires blown out from 'neath us in our frenzy. If Both anti-gay amendments win in MAINE and WASHINGTON this will be a clear message to the nation--especially after Prop 8--that American's aren't willing to accept us yet. Lawmakers will hear this loud and clear. If you plan to march on October 11, YOU GO, GURRRRL! Take LOTS of pictures for Philly, and share them with me! But DON'T forget about the good fight being fought LOCALLY ALL OVER OUR GREAT NATION!

Laura McFerrin | August 18, 2009 4:36 PM

We are denied hundreds of basic human rights simply because of who we love. Every day we are denied the right to marry, visit our loved ones in the hospital, adopt children, get insurance and feel safe in our own towns. And sadly, some can’t endure being a second class citizen and take their own lives. Every day is one more day of being treated less than human.

How has the lack of basic human rights affected your life? If you are attending the National Equality March in Washington D.C. on October 11, 2009, have access to a video camera and want to share your story contact Laura at for more information.

Stanley Smith-Hanes | August 22, 2009 11:50 PM

Tell that to my husband. We spent several thousands of dollars on 2 weddings to take our rightful place in the marriage world and now you think we should chuck all that for domestic partnerships. Take your head out. That's what they tried to do with drinking fountains and buses. No thank-you. Yes it is no wonder our community has a hard time gaining ground.