Michael Crawford

Caught on Tape: Who's Blocking Gay Progress?

Filed By Michael Crawford | August 05, 2007 12:19 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Democrats, gay rights, nondiscrimination, politics, Republicans

There has been much frustration in the LGBT community over the difficulty in passing LGBT civil rights legislation in Congress even with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. That frustration is justified, but I think too often misdirected at our national advocacy organizations. The real problem as humorously laid out in this video from the Campaign for America's Future is the intentionally obstructionist tactics of the Republican Party.

The quote from Trent Lott at the end of the video about obstructionism as a political strategy to blame the Democratic majority for congressional gridlock is telling. The Republican Party doesn't want to see progress on LGBT or any other issues in Congress. They would rather see the Democratic Party fail than participate in solving the issues challenging our country. They have built a political platform on anti-government rhetoric even as they use the government to benefit the rich and the powerful.

This is not to say that our national organizations are perfect. They are not by any means. There is much more than can be done to build the raw political power similar to that wielded by the National Rifle Association that puts the fear of God into politicians. We are not presently in the position except in limited circumstances to vote out of office people that vote against our interests or to move enough votes to guarantee victory to candidates that unequivocally support fully equality for LGBT people.

Our allies in the Democratic Party are also at some fault for not being willing to expend the kind of political capital needed to force LGBT civil rights to the front of the congressional legislative agenda. We have given much money, time and energy to get Democrats elected to office. That support has so far gotten us only limited success.

We have much work ahead of us to build a stronger movement that engages the American people to help us achieve LGBT equality. It's not going to be done by our national organizations alone which in a lot of ways are dwarfed by the size of the anti-gay organizations. It's not going to be done simply by electing any candidates who come around saying that they are Democrats. Most importantly, it's not going to happen if the majority of LGBT people refuse to join the fight for their own civil rights.

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I think the issue for some of us (including me) is this:

Most importantly, it's not going to happen if the majority of LGBT people refuse to join the fight for the own civil rights.

I know that the national orgs, esp. HRC, take criticism on all ends, and sometimes I think they have to have the patience of Job to take it with grace. And that's why I'm glad when they participate in projects like this one - so they can be part of that critical conversation instead of avoiding it or circling the wagons when someone says something bad, etc.

You're right that a big criticism is that they aren't getting us married away or signed up for the War fast enough. I'm always kind of annoyed with that - I'm sure there are areas for improvement, but for the most part they seem pretty intent on those goals. I think the issue for me, and the reason I'm probably never going to sign up for an HRC rally or anything, is that last sentence that I quoted of your post. What are "our civil rights"? Getting married and joining the military? Eeeep! Those don't sound like things that I really want! (Although, who knows, maybe next week I'll learn to love the orientalism and join the battle against Islamofascism.)

I'm not saying those are bad things, to be clear, just not all that important on my radar. I mean, HRC puts out a questionnaire for the presidential candidates and asks about monogamy in 13 different ways, even though at most 10% of LGBT people live with a conjugal partner legally defined as the same sex based on the 2000 census (it said that there were around 770,000 same-sex households in the country, and estimates of the LGBT population range from 8-20 million). And yet they don't ask about funding the Runaway and Homeless Act, (quality) universal health care, and LGBT elder care, all of which seem to me to be more important than the issues that the HRC asked about.

I dunno, they can do their own thing. But when they are taking up issues that mainly affect a minority of the various queer peoples, a minority I'm not part of, it's kinda like, whatevs. I'm not going to let them tell me what "our civil rights" are.

What i don't get about our national orgs is why they still support politicians and candidates who don't help us. Just because incumbents are Democrats doesn't mean they're our friends or supporters. There are many challengers to incumbents who are, but don't get any help. I see the orgs as way too entwined with business-as-usual and not as fighters. Like they're happy enough just to have a place at the table and to have their calls returned, but don't want to upset anyone in power.

People like Tim Gill and his donating thing are far more important, i think.

It's like when NARAL and other pro-choice groups supported Lieberman over Lamont even tho he was horrible. Our orgs need to be only supporting those who are willing to push our needs like ENDA forcefully and to spend political capital on them.

The national organizations have never solely focused on getting people married or getting them to sign up for the Iraq war. They have been fighting for an end to discrimination against LGBT people on a multiplicity of fronts including hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, immigration, workplace discrimination, adoption and child custody, safe schools etc.

Also, the issue of marriage is not something that only a minority of LGBT people support. Marriage touches a lot of the issues that we are dealing including access to healthcare, child custody, immigration issues for bi-national couples, inheritance, hospital visitation, taxation etc. There more than 1,200 federal rights and responsibilities that are connected to marriage and hundreds at the state level as well.

Some activists try to spin marriage as an issue solely affecting white gay men with money. That is so not the case. There are many Black same-sex couples particularly in the South who are raising children who would seriously benefit from the protections that come with marriage. And, there have been more than enough stories of people being denied the chance to visit their partners in hospitals, the surviving partner having all of the couples belongings taken over by the hostile parents of the deceased partner and people unable to sign onto their partners healthcare benefits. That to me makes marriage a worthy goal, not one superior to the issues we are facing, but definitely one worth fighting for.

The efforts of Tim Gill through Gill Action is not a reaction against what the other national organizations are doing its a complement. At least, that's how I see it.

In a lot of ways we seem to have this either/or mentality in the LGBT movement rather than an "and" mentality. There is a great need for more organizations focused on more pieces of the puzzle to move the movement forward. There is a need for legal, political, electoral, direct action, educational and other groups. The expectation that one great leader a la MLK is needed is not going to happen.

There is too much work to be done and far to little people doing it. I speak out in support of our national organizations not because they are perfect, but because I think its important to recognize the good work that they as well point out how they can get better.

I suppose it comes down to this:

Also, the issue of marriage is not something that only a minority of LGBT people support. Marriage touches a lot of the issues that we are dealing including access to healthcare, child custody, immigration issues for bi-national couples, inheritance, hospital visitation, taxation etc. There more than 1,200 federal rights and responsibilities that are connected to marriage and hundreds at the state level as well.

Like, yeah, but it doesn't seem like anyone's actually fighting for those rights. Maybe I just haven't seen it yet, but I've been following this movement for a while now and I'm seeing a whole lot more focus on getting relationships recognized than getting those 1200 benefits out to the people.

The recent UPS/NJ thing highlights this. Like the fight was ostensibly for health care benefits for the partners of some of the UPS workers, but the rhetoric that surrounded it was pretty much "UPS won't accept our relationships." From what I read from local and nat'l orgs on the subject, as well as a few bloggers and media folk, the big picture was that civil unions weren't marriage. But if it was actually about the benefit, and not the recognition, then shouldn't the big picture have been health care for all? And doesn't it seem arbitrary to think that someone who's married is more deserving of health care than someone who's not and discriminatory against LGBT folk considering that even if same-sex marriage were legal the whole US over, we'd probably marry at lower rates than straight people?

I'm not saying that you or a nat'l org or anyone is against the benefits like health care; it just seems that people are more focused on that piece of paper than those 1200 benefits. Sure, as you said, it touches on issues like immigration, health care, retirement benefits, etc., but marriage is probably one of the worst ways to distribute those benefits, and one that's especially bad for LGBT people.

I know that the orgs focus on issues outside of marriage and DADT, but they do spend an awful lot of time, money, and effort on those particular issues at the expense of the others you and I have mentioned.

I've been thinking this for a while now, this is something that I've talked about with Bil and others not associated with this blog, but it just doesn't seem to me like my goals and the HRC's have much in common. So if "the majority of LGBT people refuse to join their fight for the own civil rights", maybe the issue is that they feel alienated by their civil rights issues that do get privileged above the others. Or they don't like being told what "their civil rights" are by people who have a completely different lifestyle and vision for their lives.

Or maybe they're just lazy, lol.

Where were the national orgs during all the state fights against the horrendous and hateful amendments? What have the national orgs gotten us?

Seriously. Show us their accomplishments. I think we don't see them, if they even exist.

And i think Gill is explicitly reacting against a DC and Federal strategy that has failed us entirely. He's spoken about it.

I don't think it's either/or---it has to be about accomplishments. Access alone is not enough, especially at a time when we're losing rights.

If we see them endorsing Hillary before the primaries are over--even tho she's not at all the best candidate for us, we'll know they care more about their own access than helping us.

@ Alex

You say "it just doesn't seem to me like my goals and the HRC's have much in common." Fair enough. Though I don't see why you pointed the finger at HRC when my post and comments were are about the national organizations not as a euphemism for HRC, but the national organizations meaning all of them. Your goals may not be in alignment with HRC's, but I do think that their work with the students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the efforts to get more major corporations to include gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination policies and their outreach to religious leaders through their Religion and Faith Project are worthy endeavors.

You also say "I've been following this movement for a while now and I'm seeing a whole lot more focus on getting relationships recognized than getting those 1200 benefits out to the people." Well, legal recognition of their relationships is what triggers those rights and responsibilities. That's really what the NJ fight around UPS was about. They were demanding equal treatment under the law and pointing out the inadequacies of civil unions.

The fight for those 1,200 benefits is also evident in the Uniting American Families Act, Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and The Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries as well as numerous state and local level legislative efforts.

@ Amber

I am getting from the tone of your comments that you are not seeing the national organizations working with the state groups because you don't want to see it. The national organizations were in various states in recent years working with state groups to stop anti-gay amendments including AZ, MA, WI, MI, OH, OR, TX and others. Did we get the results that we wanted? With the exception of AZ, no. But, its not accurate to say that the national groups were absent.

Its fine if you don't like the national groups. No one is asking you to. There are national groups that I don't care for, but rather than trash them, I simply don't focus on them.

I think a big part of the problem a lot of us have with HRC in particular is that this organization has had to consistently be shamed into doing the right thing, seemingly almost every time when it comes to the rights and interests of those not directly in sync with those of the ultra-wealthy gay elite.

As you may remember, Michael, you and then-HRC Executive Director Cheryl Jacques publicly responded to an expose I wrote in 2004 when transgender activists lobbying for trans-inclusive legislation discovered that despite its public claims to the contrary, HRC had failed miserably to publicly promote the inclusion of gender identity and expression protections in ENDA or the hate crimes bill in Congress. So poorly did HRC advocate for trans-inclusion that every single office NTAC visited which voiced an opinion believed that HRC was against including transgender people in those bills.

It was only after my piece was widely published online, generated a strong community response, and a second protest was held in front of HRC headquarters in August that the organization finally relented and agreed to only support trans-inclusive legislation in the future.

You don't need to go back three years to see this in action, though. It's the HRC Executive Board cheering wildly as Hillary Clinton excludes transpeople from her support in ENDA. It's Mike Gravel being excluded from the upcoming "debate" until HRC was publicly embarrassed into including him. It's HRC finally agreeing to include two real journalists as panelists as a result of more community outcry after originally saying that only Joe Solmonese and Melissa Etheridge, neither of whom have any real journalistic credentials I'm aware of, would be asking the questions. No matter where you look, we see this pattern with HRC continuing to repeat itself over and over.

Donna Rose, HRC's sole Executive Board member, wrote a post on her blog recently (http://www.donnarose.com/Blog.htm June 22nd post)which speaks to the issue quite well. In it, she tells how, in her opinion, there's no interest among most of the Board members in including more diversity in the organization's leadership. She also describes how one Board member's response to the question of adding more diversity to HRC's Executive Board, that it would be considered by him to be a "personal insult".

It's therefore not surprising to me at all that the community as a whole is progressing beyond HRC and their Executive Board's ivory tower mentality. The organization is becoming more and more commonly seen as outmoded and irrelevant by our community. This is an organization that has had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward the ideal of advocating in a truly inclusive, and progressive manner, and it's my belief that our community is just moving beyond HRC's kind of selfish and self-involved political game playing.

Indeed, it is the HRC leadership's own public actions which accurately cast the organization as out-of-touch with our modern community's values and goals, just as it is their staunch refusal to open their leadership ranks and decision-making process to the community-at-large which ensures their own increasing irrelevancy to the average LGBT American.

It's pretty clear they don't care to hear our voices, and given that, why should we care to hear theirs?

Well, you may not have been talking about HRC, Michael, but they do seem to be a lightning rod for this sort of criticism. LOL.

Republicans suck! Gosh! They're really the ones holding us back! And that Trent Lott! He really doesn't like Teh Gay!

It's just funny that in a post about blaming those "really at fault", people, including me, go right back to blaming HRC. OH WELL! Maybe I'll go post on that topic - it seems to get people riled up.

Rebecca's examples are exactly right, and why we don't like them (altho it's more great disappointment than dislike for me).

I used to give to them, but wised up. Where were -- and where are they now -- legally challenging every single one of the amendments in all those states? The fights have all moved to every state, and to every school board and every local govt, etc. Why don't we ever see them use their contacts in DC to pressure Senators and Reps to step up to help publicly? ...

It's a given that the GOP hates us--their platform and all their actions hurt us everywhere--that's not a surprise to anyone on Earth.

What the problem is, is that our supposed friends aren't helping us, and many of us don't see our orgs pushing them to. HRC and other groups love to award Senators and Reps, etc, and score them, and to endorse them, but none of that translates into real action for us, usually.

It's true of all national orgs i think--see pro-choice groups and labor groups and all others.

Maybe they're all operating on outdated models, and fighting fights that have moved elsewhere and out of DC?