Joe Mirabella

#SSS: Interviews with GetEqual Robin McGeehee and Friendfactor's Brian Elliot

Filed By Joe Mirabella | July 18, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: brian elliot, civil disobedience, Friendfactor, GetEqual, robin mcgeehee, Same Sex Sunday

In this special interview-only episode, Joe Mirabella interviews GetEqual co-founder SAME-SEX-SUNDAYweb.jpgRobin McGeehee. Robin discussed the future of GetEqual, the importance of civil disobedience to the LGBT community, and more.

Phil Reese interviewed Brian Elliot, creator of Friendfactor. Friend Factor promises to revolutionize how the LGBT community uses social media to connect with their straight allies. It is scheduled to launch this fall. You can get the inside scoop on this episode of Same Sex Sunday.

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Great interview with Robin, Joe.

Anyone interested in the future of our LGBT movement, even if they disagree with GetEqual's tactics to date, should find this discussion fascinating.

Robin, your words resounded in me with such force that I had do a little dance in my living room. I especially loved when you said "What we should be doing is creating a movement." I think the idea of creating a national infrastructure to empower local organizers in holding leaders accountable, around iconic moments in strategic districts, is nothing short of brilliant. These are the seeds of a successful strategy.

Our current advocacy organizations have been brilliant in interfacing with political leaders and showing them the importance of our issues, and encouraging them to move our issues forward. But they have failed at getting those leaders to keep their promises and to move our issues forward in the face of even the most minimal opposition. That makes sense, because it's hard to point the finger at a friend without losing that friend.

That is where GetEqual comes in. What we've been lacking as a movement is the ability to execute a classic pincer strategy, because we had only one claw. A lobster can't pick up anything with only one claw. Anyone who understands negotiation knows that the only way to "get to yes" is to have a Better Alternative To Negotiation. If you have no alternative but to take what you're given, then you have no negotiating power. That's what GetEqual is. GetEqual is the BATNA -- the second claw.

I was with you until you said she'd said "What we should be doing is creating a movement." I'd agree with that sentiment; I'd agree overwhelmingly.

But if they can't create by-laws since early December, how am I supposed to have faith that they'll lead us to the Promised Land?

It's one thing to spew out all these great and wonderful platitudes like "I'm for full equality!" but an entirely thing altogether to actually have a plan and execute it well.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | July 18, 2010 12:39 PM

I don't think it's about any one group leading us to the Promised Land. It's building the broad-based movement that will lead us to full federal equality.

Robin is right. We need to be building a movement and that responsibility falls not just with GetEQUAL, but with every LGBT organization.

But you don't build a movement by alienating your fellow organizations either. GE is very vocal about their displeasure with the other orgs and seem to expend more energy than is necessary pointing out how they are better.

And I'm not sure how you build a movement by punishing the only people willing to carry water for you politically or by decrying the hard work that's been done over the years as "not enough" or "ineffective".

I agree we need to build a movement. I agree we need a broad-based movement even. But I don't see GE contributing to that cause. I see them detracting from it.

I love direct action. I think protest actions, civil disobedience and the like are 100% needed in our movement. I just wish GE was employing a strategy that made more sense. I wholeheartedly disagree with their strategy and I still question if they know the difference between a tactic and a strategy - especially after listening to Robin again confuse the two in this interview.

I mostly agree with your assessment about GE Jerame, but I have one major disagreement and it has to do with "direct action."

You claim "I think protest actions, civil disobedience and the like are 100% needed in our movement."

Please tell me why.

While protest and civil disobedience were effective in the 60s and 70s, they have been ineffective the last 20-30 years. These two tactics are primarily used to "attract attention" to an issue. We don't need attention, 96% of adult Americans are very aware of our struggle. Reminding them doesn't seem to offer any benefit, either.

The true test of whether an action or tactic is helpful or effective is based on results. People protest all the time, but none have shown any verifiable results. In 2006 4 million people protested our immigration policies in America in cities across the nation. They even "demanded" action. Nothing happened. In fact, I can't find a single protest or act of civil disobedience during the last 20 years that was even taken seriously. Certainly none have achieved anything.

Our other problem is participation. There is no "show of strength" or "solidarity" when we fail to attract even a small crowd. After GE engaged in a half dozen publicity stunts they made an "emergency call to action" and invited people to protest in DC. A few dozen people showed up. I think that demonstrates what I learned from focus group research and hundreds of interviews - the majority of our community knows protest and civil disobedience are ineffective in 2010. I know many people want to continue to make comparisons to the 1960s, but the world has changed. Communication has changed. It's our turn.

With this comment I am suggesting we hold tactics accountable. If they are effective fine, but if not we need to re-direct the time, energy and money that is being wasted into something that makes sense and is effective.

My own experience tells me otherwise, Andrew. We've used it many times to great effect in Indiana. Not every time, but more than once. So I completely disagree with your assessment that protests and civil disobedience are just about visibility.

Even so, sometimes visibility is a problem. One of the reasons I am so passionate about ENDA is that Indiana is one of the states where it is still legal to fire someone for being LGBT. Our own anecdotal evidence told us that most straight people (and more than a few LGBT people) had no idea this was still legal.

Guess what? Polling numbers totally backed this up. Something close (either just over or just under) 50% of Hoosiers thought it was illegal to fire someone for being gay. So, your 96% figure is just horseshit, I'm sorry.

Direct action isn't just protesting - though protesting is a part. Another part where I agree with Robin is that I would like to see people at every public campaign event until election day asking about our rights. That too is direct action. I wouldn't go so far as to say we should act like the teabaggers, but if the idea is to hold them accountable - that's how you do it.

You don't pick on Pelosi, Reid, Frank or Miller specifically. You put out a list of Congressmen that haven't committed to support ENDA or who have said they actively oppose ENDA. You then provide salient, rational talking points to all your on-the-ground minions to be able to address these issues at every campaign stop.

You track campaign stops for them on your website, so folks know where they need to show up and when.

THIS is the kind of direct action GE should be engaging in...Not the ridiculous stunts they've pulled so far.

Brian, your Friendfactor idea is also brilliant. I support you 100% and can't wait until the platform is up and running.

Funding a new LGBT non-profit to engage in "crazy shenanigans" to "embarrass Democrats."


Introducing the new career of "activism" by paying Robin McGehee to "embarrass Democrats."


Wisdom from that paid activist McGehee:

"What we should be doing is creating a Movement."


"Here are some markers Chairman Miller because with the bad economy, I guess you can't afford them."


"We should all send Nancy Pelosi a pack of gum everyday until she learns she can do more than one thing at a time."



Apparently, there is nothing new from GetEQUAL after their "Summer Camp." No strategy, no formal structure or organization, no full disclosure about funding, no rationale for their "crazy shenanigans," and no idea what their purpose is.


Too much of this interview is make believe. GetEQUAL didn't put our issue on the "front page" of anything. That's a gross exaggeration. They have been ridiculed and laughed at - but, not on the front page. Now, they have been mostly dismissed by the LGBT media.

Nothing in this interview provided any idea of how we can move forward or how we might achieve the required 60 votes in the US Senate. Nothing about changing minds. Nothing about igniting an effective movement.

There was plenty about activists getting PAID. That is the only thing GetEQUAL has accomplished - activism is now a career.

Embracing "accountability" requires answering questions. GetEQUAL hasn't answered any questions and they have never provided any rationale for their "crazy shenanigans." Robin and Kip were hired to "embarrass Democrats." They have succeeded in embarrassing us - all of us.

If GetEQUAL has any evidence that "demanding" is effective, they should provide that.

Chairman Miller ignored their "demands."
Nancy Pelosi ignored their "demands."
President Obama ignored their "demands."
Rep. Jared Polis ignored their "demands."
Rep. Ike Skelton ignored their "demands."

GetEQUAL has been and will continue to be: shoot, and then think.

** Somebody please tell Robin McGehee (Speech Coach and Community College Professor) that "agreeance" is not a word.


Very smart and thoughtful approach. This group has taken the time to plan and organize their effort. Instead of just suggesting "we need to create a movement" - they are creating one.

Our Equality requires changing minds and Brian makes a lot of sense. It's classic "Harvey Milk" being brought into the social networking realm. Instead of just using the "cultural conversation" to keep score, FriendFactor is trying to accelerate that conversation.

I'm glad they're thinking before acting. I'm looking forward to their launch.

Is there anyone at GetEqual that knows how Congress works? How the hell do you put ENDA back on the radar this late in the game? It's late July. There's a month-long recess coming up in the beginning of September until August 10 and they plan to adjourn in the first week of October.

In reality, we have - at the utmost - until Labor Day to get ENDA through the House and the Senate. In an election year, there is no way social issues - especially LGBT issues - are getting a vote after Labor Day.

So, we have until Labor Day, which is 7 weeks away. 4 of those weeks, Congress isn't even in session.

I'm really trying to see the opening GetEqual sees that no one else can see. They should've been harping on ENDA instead of DADT if they wanted to stand out from the crowd. But DADT was the only real possibility for movement, so how else do you get to claim a win but jump on the only bandwagon that's moving.

Here's an area I agree with Robin - the grassroots needs funding in order to function. What Willow did with JTI was amazing in terms of dedication, but it takes its toll.

I have no qualms with Robin, Kip or anyone at GE taking a salary. I think some of them might be getting a tad much in terms of salary, but that's neither here nor there. If it helps Robin pay off her past debt from activism, then she can call it a wash.

That doesn't change the fact that I fundamentally disagree with how GE is doing business. But Robin is 100% correct - activism isn't cheap and we shouldn't have to go broke doing it.

Whoa! Now we've gotten into some really off-the-wall stuff.

Is Robin really saying that when Bil questions GE about something, he should also question every other org at the same time? Otherwise, I don't get it. How is it that HRC, the Task Force and so many of the other orgs are put through the ringer on a regular basis and she isn't aware? Especially since she's been one of the people asking the other orgs tough questions...

What's more, how is someone's personal motivation NOT relevant when their work doesn't necessarily match their stated goals? Robin is the one who has complained repeatedly about the power-hungry access-gays who are only in it for their own self-interest. Isn't that a motivation judgement? Isn't that questioning someone's integrity? The very things she's complaining about happening to GE...

In other words, ask everyone else these questions - but don't ask us.

I think it's shortsighted to say it doesn't matter if Democrats lose control of Congress this fall.

Speaker Boehner would not have held a vote on DADT and he would not have allowed Hate Crimes to be attached to anything. He would have probably blocked D.C.'s marriage equality law. ENDA wouldn't be on the radar at all, and you'll likely see another attempt amend the constitution to forbid marriage equality anywhere in America.

You may not be thrilled with the pace of change under Democratic rule. I'm not. But if you think it'll be better if we just take our toys and go home, you're wrong.

I said 96% of Americans "are very aware of our struggle." If 50% of Hoosiers are uneducated about discrimination laws that is a different issue.

You have provided your sense that direct action is effective and you claim anecdotal evidence. The truth is nobody can provide an example of protesting working in the last 20 years, but they still have a love-affair with it.

I read in your comment about the need to educate and inform and that isn't done well as a "protest." I agree we need to educate our fellow citizens, but showing up at their campaign rallies to "scold" them just makes them more relevant to their supporters. Watch the video of Senator Adabo's Birthday party when some LGBT "activists" confronted him. It wasn't at all effective, it was sad.

The contrast provided by Joe's two interviews is illuminating. FriendFactor wants to enroll people and educate them about LGBT people SO THAT THEY WILL SUPPORT US, while the children at GE want to engage in silly publicity stunts believing we can demand our way to equality. You seem to agree with this idea of "demanding" Jerame. Do you have any evidence that works? Something from the last 20-30 years?

Finally, I would be willing to begin to believe that protest or civil disobedience was effective if there was some evidence OR if they attracted some participation. In case you haven't noticed nobody is following GE's lead. The same is true for EQA and JTI. If any of these orgs made sense they would inspire the community to ACT. They haven't. I have interviewed hundreds in our community and I have commissioned research that confirms members of community know protesting and civil disobedience are relics of the past. They are not effective. Many of us are beginning to fully understand they are actually counterproductive.

Michael Buchanan | July 19, 2010 11:04 AM

I have a lot of respect for her. I come from the deep south as well and she feels like a kindred spirit.