Bil Browning

In Response

Filed By Bil Browning | September 04, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Adam Bink, Equality Across America, Gay Inc, Indiana, marriage, National Equality March

I wrote this in response to Adam Bink's guest post "You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?", but realized it was too long for a comment. It also seemed to put a foot into the thread on contributor Diane Silver's post, "'One Fight, Not Fifty' Sets Us Up for Failure." I hope you'll indulge me while I bring both threads into one and start a new discussion.

Let's focus our attention on Adam's question: What happens when an activist/organization leads us down a path that might be detrimental to some in our community - especially if they didn't consult with those who would be affected the most? Should we all jump on board and how does it affect other issues we might be working on and the resources we need to win our goals?

I realize my reasoning on this might be unpopular with the pro-march, anti-march, or Gay Inc. crowds, but here it is...

It's pretty easy for me to flip to the "We've got to make the most of this" mentality. It's not the first time I've been stuck in this position - other events outside of my control have forced me to know that problem all too well.

(No hate - as with the March, what's done is done. We can't hit the undo button so we make the most of it.)

The View From Here

The last positive thing to happen in Indiana was the overturn of the sodomy laws. We have no hate crimes protections or employment, housing, public accommodations, or even hospital visitation rights. Two gay men or women together are often still denied hotel rooms, apartments, or - as in the case in Louisville recently - a McDonald's sandwich. It's a completely different world that several on the coasts just don't get.

Years ago when I was gang raped and went to the police, I was told "Men don't get raped and you're gay so you probably wanted it. You should be glad we don't arrest you for sodomy."

While state law requires police agencies to monitor and report cases that "could be" hate crimes (to see if we need a hate crimes law, of course!), but rarely do. Indianapolis, for example, reported a big fat zero for years until we made a huge stink about it on Bilerico-Indiana and other local blogs.

Employment vs Marriage in the Heartland

Both Jerame and I have lost jobs for being out and active in the community. Yet, while we're pushing strongly for ENDA on Bilerico Project, what big blog from a coastal state is matching us for ENDA coverage? Those states already have those protections and could care less about ENDA mostly. They've got theirs.

We have a large crowd of transgender and middle American readers who do care about protections we don't have. I've begged for other blogs to pick up Jillian Weiss' Daily ENDA updates targeting legislators. No one has. (We have it as a middle column item so you can see the last 7 posts in case you missed one. It's at the top of the main page.)

Only Pam's House Blend - from a southern state even if it is coastal - has stayed on ENDA with anything more than lip service to news tidbits. What has been the big focus instead? Maine. California. Marriage.

What has marriage done for Indiana? Well, it lost us hate crimes protections and employment protections to start with. All of our dollars sent to the state org has been used to fight off an amendment for years now without any progress on basic rights. We've been stuck playing defense instead of offense - spending thousands of dollars and untold man hours - every time another coastal state with protections we don't have takes a step forward for their citizens.

We don't get a say in whether or not it happens. We don't get to play petty "But I didn't ask for it" or "It'll drain resources from us!" or "Look how it will affect us here!" or even "Hey - stop and think about this for a bit, would you?" politics because no one listens or gives a crap. Instead, we get told "It'll lift you up - eventually" or "We'll come back for you - later." No one does.

Some states like California, lack only the name "marriage" to complete the standard laundry list of gay rights legislation: anti-bullying, housing, public accommodations, and employment protections, adoption rights, hate crimes legislation and relationship recognition. Other states are in a worse position than my state - Florida and Arkansas have an adoption ban and thirty-odd states have marriage amendments.

The only route left for states like California and Massachusetts to take is via the federal government - legislatively and in the courts. Or they could come back to help us for a while. All that money spent on marriage in California could have funded a half dozen flyover country state equality orgs for a year or two...

Gay Inc vs Flyover Activists

But at the same time, is it fair for those of us in flyover country to demand that LGBT rights progressive no further for anyone else until we've caught up on our own via our state legislative processes? That could take decades.

National orgs don't have a presence here beyond Lambda Legal's yearly fundraiser that takes thousands of dollars from our community without return. Our state org doesn't even support same-sex marriage - only that we don't need a marriage amendment. If they actively said they supported marriage, we'd get creamed by an instant amendment.

HRC helped with Indy's HRO, but hasn't been seen since Stu Rosenburg helped save Indiana Equality from themselves with the amendment. Other than as a name on some of IE's events and a big booth at Pride every year where they sell t-shirts and sign people up for mailing lists, HRC has been absent lately; they've dropped off the Indiana Equality steering committee. PFLAG, Lambda and HRC are usually the only national group to even have Pride booths here.

HRC doesn't have a local chapter here anymore. Pride At Work's chapter is shut down. Only sparsely funded PFLAG chapters remain of the national presence - nothing stops a parent's love.

There is very little connection between your average Indiana activists and the national organizations. We feel like the unwanted step-children of the LGBT movement. I'm not trying to lay blame for this; I'm just saying what the reality really is.

Moving Forward

Do I think that the National Equality March was called for too quickly without enough preparation time? Of course. Extra time to prepare isn't a bad thing if used properly, but it can also suffocate the life out of a project too. Perhaps the grassroots uprising style of management and time frame will serve us well. No one expected Woodstock to linger in the public conscience as long as it has.

I sign onto the idea behind the march - Equality Across America and the need to focus on the federal government for our rights. Marriage won't come to Indiana for decades if left on our own or if we wait for the big orgs to notice us. Neither will hate crimes protections nor employment protections. We have to focus nationally or we'll forever be left crying in the corner and watching our brothers and sisters on the coasts celebrating their victories.

If I can help connect the passionate activists we have in Indiana who feel completely alone and unsupported with thousands of other disenfranchised people from Middle America and the people doing good work at the orgs and the coastal folks who've been through these fights before, that's a net positive for me.

So that's why I'm supporting the march in the end. It's a useful tool to get my state somewhere better. We've already been forced to drop what we're doing and insulate ourselves from negative repercussions without help from those who put us in that position.

To echo Obama, we are the ones we've been waiting for - we've had no help before and none is on the horizon.

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Speaking as a resident of one of those coastal states that already has an ENDA on the books, I can tell you from personal experience that just because an anti-discrimination law exists it does not automatically follow that the law will be strictly obeyed or that anyone will be held to account if it isn't.

State anti-discrimination laws do make life easier for many LGBT's, but the reality is that just as in the case of racial and ethnic minorities, the basic societal change we seek in the way we are treated by those outside our community will only happen once non-discrimination is the law of the land.

That's a big reason (for me, at least) why we must have an inclusive federal ENDA and why we cannot settle for anything less. State laws are great when they work, but the federal level is where real change begins.

Rebecca, how do we KNOW that, we HAVE NO precedent (at least in the gay community).

We have no precedent because after 40 years of lobbying and negotiating and dumping money into DC, we still have NO laws protecting us. In 1992--17 years ago--the DNC reached out to gays and lesbians at the National Convention, and made us all sorts of promises. Over the next four years, the next two major bills to get passed in DC that mentioned our community were DADT and DOMA.

How will we ever know how amazingly wonderful these Federal laws will be if we never see them materialize? So we keep sending money and resources to DC, and we keep hoping for the day when equality is the law of the land, meanwhile in small states with a chance to make a change in public opinion and in a smaller state legislature where politicians are more accessible and are more willing to take chances, we close up shop.

We need feet on the ground, but we need them in the State Capitols, in the City Halls, in the County Boards--we need them affecting change on a very fundamental level locally. HRC, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, NGLTF are all great, don't get me wrong. I donate to all four of them (I really have to start picking and choosing after these 4 guys, local orgs and Maine and Washington, I'm just bout broke!) but we need to start from the ground up, not the top-down.

Can't we see that this local momentum spreads? Look at states that have some light protections as opposed to states that have NONE. They are usually touching states that have LOTS of protections. Iowa has Marriage, Wisconsin has DP benefits, Illinois has its best shot ever at Civil Unions this fall. This is not a coincidence, as Madonna would say.

States that have these protections have mainstream citizens that are comfortable with them. If we fight for more states that have these protections, we'll have more mainstream citizens that are comfortable. How did New Hampshire and Vermont get marriage? They had Civil Unions first, their citizens realized its not so bad, it stopped being political suicide to vote for full Marriage. (I'm not advocating for incrimentalism, here, I used that example to show that having protections changes the minds of the public). That's how its going to work in New Jersey, too.

Don't stop supporting work in DC, because we can't get lazy there either. But open your eyes up and your minds to the fact that its a big country. There are a LOT of different unique struggles going on all over. Step out of your world and take an interest in someone else's. The gay community needs allies from INSIDE the community as well as out--we here in the heartland need the attention and help of all y'all in the hoppin' places.

If we can continue our march of local victories, our Federal fight will be MUCH easier and MUCH shorter. If 40 states already have ENDA, its not going to be hard to get DC to level it off at 50. What do you say?

You still seem to fall into the "Gay Man Syndrome," thinking of all the wonderful things that have happened for gay men, and oh, yes, you sort-of, by default, have to include lesbians.

Massachusetts still doesn't have employment protection for trans people, and yet gays and lesbians (yes, bisexuals, too) have been protected for what, two decades now? Why the slow progress? Only a few gay and lesbian people actually now care to help, compared to the thousands who fought for marriage rights.

New York gays and lesbians refused for 30 years to include trans people in SONDA, and nearly a decade later, the state still hasn't passed one for us.

You mention New Hampshire as if it was some wonderful place, but don't tell that to the trans people there. The day they passed same-sex marriage, they dumped a bill that would protect the employment of trans people. The gays and lesbians went out celebrating their victory, which to me was the same as pissing on trans people.

Bil, California also has a law banning the panic defense, on top of all that was mentioned.

This just shows that you don't have to live in the South, or a fly-over state to get screwed if you're trans. And even, as Becky pointed out, some state and city laws aren't worth the toilet paper they're written on. Atlanta's law is the same way.

I really wanted to work a "Remember HRC & ENDA?" into this section and touch on the examples you gave, Monica, but I didn't talk about the orgs until after that part.

Instead, we get told "It'll lift you up - eventually" or "We'll come back for you - later." No one does.

Thanks for bringing it full circle.

Phil, I'm not saying that state and local laws aren't worth fighting for. On the contrary, they are the foundation that has gotten us to the point where passage of an inclusive ENDA is possible.

In my opinion, the major problems with state and local anti-discrimination laws are that: a) they generally have little or no influence outside of their own jurisdictions, b) their enforcement is often spotty, sometimes virtually non-existent, and c) there are often so many loopholes written into these laws by homo/transphobic legislatures that they're essentially toothless and useless in the practical sense in terms of actually protecting LGBT's from discrimination.

While good arguments can be made on the similarity between the struggle for equality for racial and ethnic minorities and the struggle for sexual and gender equality (both in the transgender sense and in the male-female sense), I believe there are valid parallels and precedents to be drawn from the struggles of the past to this one.

The passage of an inclusive ENDA would make non-discrimination the standard nationwide, and that would be a very big deal. Currently, about half the country's population lives in a place that LGBT rights are protected and this would fill in the other half.

Would it end all discrimination against LGBT's? Of course not, no more than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 suddenly ended all discrimination against African-Americans and Latinos. What it would do, however, is put the entire country on notice that this kind of behavior is condemned by our country and its laws. It would also offer a manner of redress to all LGBT Americans when they are discriminated against in the workplace.

ENDA is by no means a cure-all, but it will put us on the path toward a more just and equal America. It'll offer a way to challenge injustice to many Americans who currently do not have that right.

It's not even close to everything we need, but it's what needs to happen next if we are to take the next logical step as a valid American minority group seeking full citizenship in this country. You're in a much stronger position to argue that LGBT's are entitled to marriage rights, for example, when you've already established in federal law that LGBT's are entitled to be protected from discrimination in the workplace.

The perception amongst many of us in the South and Midwest is that the emphasis on marriage starting in 2003-2004 DIRECTLY CAUSED the re-election of Bush, the election and re-election of extremist conservatives at all levels, and bypassed the larger need: employment rights.

The perception of this year's equality march in the T community is that it's all about marriage, and that T people aren't wanted or invited. Indeed, no T organization I know of is active in its planning or is encouraging attendance. That's exactly what HRC did with the Millennium Farce in 2000.

Marriage matters to T people, but many T people see marriage as an impossible dream, both economically and practically. If you live somewhere between Frederick, Reno, Miami, and Detroit, you probably live in a state that is unlikely to pass inclusive employment rights in your lifetime, which makes ENDA the greater priority, both to southern and Midwestern activists of all stripes, and to the T community. If you don't have a job, you're probably not getting married, and probably don't have possibilities for getting married.

Sorry, it ain't our march. It's taking away from the efforts to pass ENDA. So, Bil, I agree with you - and thanks for featuring Weiss' updates.

The perception amongst many of us in the South and Midwest is that the emphasis on marriage starting in 2003-2004 DIRECTLY CAUSED the re-election of Bush, the election and re-election of extremist conservatives at all levels, and bypassed the larger need: employment rights.

Agreed, Polar. Thanks for pointing that out - I didn't think to include that aspect, but you're right - that is common thought in the Midwest.

Thanks for this, Bil. You know, I'm actually onboard with the idea of connecting people in local areas to organize together. When I heard that at the NN'09 caucus, that intrigued me greatly, and I asked for more details about it. It's certainly a gap that exists.

A few thoughts:

1. I fail to see how asking people to spend all this time and money to go to (in your words) "a big gay circuit party" will increase that networking. You could say that the march is actually more like a convention where you do that kind of thing. In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn't.

2. You say "All that money spent on marriage in California could have funded a half dozen flyover country state equality orgs for a year or two...". The same could be said for this too, on a smaller scale, right? If you could turn back time and folks weren't forced into the "what's done is done" mindset, and you could choose to not do this, would you?

3. I'm also interested why the arguments you originally made (below) are nullified, or or outweighed by "we have to rescue this thing"/"the path to equality is paved through DC" points. Just looking for honest responses, because I do think they are strong arguments.

Congress isn't in session on October 11th. What's the point of holding the march on a day when none of the participants can lobby the actual folks who can solve our issues?
This is a public relations nightmare for flyover country.
Sucking time, resources and queerpower to work on a do-nothing march on DC is a tactical mistake.
A march on Washington will not bring marriage equality to flyover country. It will help to prod conservatives to rally and focus energy and money into states like Maine (that could repeal marriage) or Indiana (where we've successfully fought off an amendment every year for almost a decade).

My first thought on skimming through this post, Bil, was you can come right on up to Illinois where we have all (including the Ts) have protections other than relationship recognition. And I think that we'll have some form of that within a year or two.

I guess the question is whether a critical mass of sorts has been reached so that federal is, for all intents and purposes, the only game in town.

I do have to admit that I have resentful the right word?...tired? of California's issue regarding the word "marriage" practically taking the time and the money that it has.

I agree with your resentment about the word "marriage" in California, Kev, but at the same time - isn't that a little petty of us? If we were "them" we'd want the next step forward too.

It's such a complex swirl of issues that there's not an easy answer to Adam's question. I'm glad you're participating though - I'd like to see you offer more thoughts since you're from the same area, but in the largest city in the area. The difference between Chicago and St. Louis or Indianapolis or Des Moines is still huge - let alone someplace like Goshen, Indiana that just had their human rights ordinance fail when one of the sponsors caved to the religious right lies.

Bil, it's not even so much at the word "marriage" as that so many of the memes that have come out of the Prop 8 battle (the homophobic blacks, the racist atheist gays, etc.) seem to have come from that Prop 8 battle which was an important battle but a California battle, nevertheless. But now it seems to have taken on some sort of national referendum status.

Mist of the gays I know here in the Midwest, for example, are spiritual and/or religious.

Bil - Has there been meetings of activists in Indiana to discuss strategy, shared experiences, shared goals, and needs & concerns?
The central valley, and wilderness areas of California tend to the type of conservatism that you talk about and live with, I know, this is where I was raised. Moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 1965 (I was 16, long story) and finishing high school in 1967 gave me choices that I did not have in my old community.
My activism is a direct result of the claustrophobia, narrow-mindedness, bullying, and assaults that I endured from age 6 to 16. My activism tends to be simpler than our national organizations that often look like white men's social clubs. I wonder how many New York and Washington based organizations have people with farm experience? I know GLAAD has a few, anyone have an answer?
I believe the March on Washington will have positive effects for the participants, I am less convinced that Congress or the President will make any changes in their attitudes about and towards LGBT people. We are(again) going to hear a lot of platitudes from those in power and little action. This is a replay of the joke from the 1950's, "The queer is the homosexual gentleman who left the room."
I agree that the basics covering employment, housing, safety, and health should be addressed first, then marriage. Strong organizations that work to address local concerns are essential for quality of life and cannot be dictated from coastal based groups.
Gay liberationists were against traditional anything, sex, marriage, education, literature, and the idea that LGBT people were going to somehow become like everyone else was not acceptable. Try to find and read,"The Education of Edward the Dyke." for a taste of this belief.
I would be glad to explore this idea of local vs. national further. 34 years of activism has taught me a lot about what works.
Cleve Jones, Cindy Creager at GLAAD, and the Gay History Center in San Francisco can tell you more about me and the work I have done.
Thank you for writing and for exploring difficult questions and ideas about who we are.

Bil, your points on what's amiss in certain regions are well noted. What I fail to see is any concrete explanation of how this march will address these issues.

You keep mentioning the idea behind the march and the message? Who will this message reach? The national protests over Prop. 8 passage, arguably the largest for a long time, only received media attention for, what, 2-3 days? What did it achieve? Nothing.

DADT talks and interviews with heroes like Fehrenbach, constantly covered by CNN and Rachel Maddow; Dan Choi as well. Any action on DADT? Not a single move from Congress, and latest news coming from aides basically confirming to not expect DADT action in the near future.

DADT is easily the most supported issue publicly, followed by ENDA. Hate Crimes closely following. Any action? The Matthew Sheppard bill is stuck in limbo even 10 years after its lobbying.

Not only that, but how many people do you expect to attend? Not that many. You earnestly think this will even get on the radar of the national conscious? No way in hell.

Ultimately, states that you mention will have to receive justice by the federal courts. Congress won't do crap. Just look at how Healthcare, the meat and potatoes issue by which Obama was elected on a landslide, has been turned on its head and derailed by the right-wing.

If Demcrats can't even muster the votes for a basic premise of their party platform, how the fuck are they going to pass LGBT bills?

And are you sure even ENDA will help? I'm back in Florida, and all the employment protections in the world will do crap to shield you from an easy "cutting costs in a recession" disguise for prejudiced firing. ENDA will do very little to deter your everyday job loss over discrimination, since discrimination is so difficult to prove in a lawsuit.

Gay activists and the mainstream media paint a rose-tinted prospect on the advances of the gay rights movement. Load of crap. This country will take at least 2 more decades before we start seeing any real movement on the nation as a whole.

Texas has the protections for hate crimes and all, but when even the cops don't pay attention then what can you do? The same for here in Austin, I was protected from employment discrimination, but they can always find a reason to hire the "other guy".

Things aren't going to change until the fundies lose their power to poison peoples mind, and when my generation and those before it are in the ground.

Sorry, but that is the facts of it.

And don't get me started on HRC, buncha token gays for big biz/gov to be able to point at and tell us how they got them some gay 'friends'.

Just go away Joe, I ain't buying.

Re activist groups who don't agree with one another on how to proceed: it's very PC and idealistic of us to expect that each group should consult "the people most affected" before they make their own move. It almost borders on expecting that each group should ask permission of everybody else. We started hearing this expectation voice during the Prop 8 campaign, when there was disagreement on how to fight it.

But typically, in political disagreements, nobody ever does that. Mainstream example: the Democrats on health reform. Did the Blue Dogs consult with the rest of the party before veering off to do their anti-Obama thing? No. Did they consult with any of the Americans who voted Obama into office in hopes that he would do sweeping reform? No.

And I doubt that the Tea-Baggers consulted with Republicans who feel revulsion at the extremism and violence of this movement.

People who disagree usually think they're right, so the last thing they'd do is consult with anybody who might tell them that they're pushing their activism in the wrong direction.

I have a historical clarification to make, and I'd like to point out a possible strategy that Indiana has overlooked.

The last positive thing to happen in Indiana was the overturn of the sodomy laws.

The sodomy laws in Indiana were not "overturned" --- they were rescinded by the state legislature in 1971, in a sweeping updating of the state penal code that brought it much into line with the Model Penal Code drawn up by the American Law Institute in 1962. When the Lawrence v. Texas decision was issued by the US Supreme Court in 2003, it did not affect the situation in Indiana in any way that I am aware of.

Bil, when you tell the story about going to the police after your gang-rape attack, the details don't all compute, even though the terrible police treatment does. Did your attack take place in Indiana? Your narrative leads us to believe that it did, yet I doubt that you are old enough for this to have happened before 1971 (unless you were a child, and the police allegation that you were "a gay man and probably wanted it" does not indicate child abuse was an issue). If the policemen you speak of were Indiana officers, then their malfeasance is even more egregious, because probably there was no sodomy law for them to charge you under, and they were just bluffing you to frighten and discourage you, and to get rid of you that much quicker.

We have no hate crimes protections ... While state law requires police agencies to monitor and report cases that "could be" hate crimes (to see if we need a hate crimes law, of course!), but rarely do. Indianapolis, for example, reported a big fat zero for years until we made a huge stink about it on Bilerico-Indiana and other local blogs.

This is correct. Briefly, Indiana has a Hate Crimes Reporting Act which requires, rather ambiguously, that "bias incidents" be tallied by local law enforcement agencies and reported to the state. At first, the Indiana Human Rights Commission supposedly accumulated this data, but later this function was moved to the Indiana State Police --- who now, if you can get any statement out of them at all, mostly claim that the incidents reported are so rare there is no point in keeping count of them. Of course, this is not because such incidents do not occur, but because they do not get reported to the ISP.

In contrast, the Bloomington Human Rights Commission, under the outstanding staff leadership of attorney Barbara McKinney, keeps such records in apple-pie order for that city, as required by the Bloomington Human Rights Ordinance. That small city alone tallies scores of bias incidents every year, showing that the dearth of information re the rest of the state is because of non-compliance with the state reporting law and non-reporting of the incidents. [Read their lastest yearly report here.] (I can only assume that Bloomington reports its incidents to the ISP, where the data unceremoniously falls into some bit-bucket that leads to cyber-oblivion.)

The strategy that we have missed here in Indiana is that, if we wish to walk an extra mile to get hate crime protection here in this state, we might bring suit against the Governor, the Indiana State Police, and every county sheriff in the state, suing them to follow the existing Indiana Hate Crimes Reporting Act.

Before we do this, though, a consensus of attorneys would need to verify that the current law is ironclad enough that suit can be brought with any hope of a meaningful outcome. For example, if the law states that data collection and reporting to the ISP is optional and not mandatory, then we are dead in the water.

It is clear that the legislature might be hesitant to pass an actual hate crime law, if the legislation we already have in this area is routinely ignored and considered meaningless. Moreover, it is more difficult for us to lobby that a hate crimes law is needed in the absence of data showing that hate crimes do occur frequently within the state --- but the absence of such data is due to the non-feasance of the state itself.

I hasten to point out that, if this were done, it does not need to be a purely LGBT effort. There is a possibility that orgs that represent other minority groups, such as the state chapters of the ACLU, NAACP, NOW and similar groups, state inter-faith councils (if we find any), immigrant protection groups, and others might be willing to join us in presenting the suit.

Such an approach is high risk --- it could be expensive, and it could result in the existing law being meaningfully implemented, or it could result in the existing reporting law being rescinded by the legislature. And it is one of those things that, if the citizens concerned, whether LGBT and non-LGBT, are off doing other things, then it will never get done.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | September 5, 2009 7:20 PM

Allen, I believe the effective date of Indiana's repeal of sodomy laws was November 1, 1977, not 1971. As you stated, it was part of a general adoption of the Model Penal Code, and as I recall a lot of fundies were furious that it got by them. Had it been a separate bill simply dealing with sodomy, the prohibition might have stayed in place until the Wright vs. Texas decision.

You are correct that it was not 1971, as I stated. According to Wikipedia (see link below), Indiana repealed its law in 1976 (same year as California!) --- but it doesn't say when the repeal took effect, and you could be right about November 1, 1977.

To check the Wikipedia entry, go 3/4 down the webpage here.