Waymon Hudson

LGBT Strategy: "My Way or the Highway"?

Filed By Waymon Hudson | October 14, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: full equality, homosexual agenda, LGBT civil rights, LGBT Rights, startegery, strategy

LGBT Rights. The Gay Movement. Queer Liberation. Full Equality. The Homosexual Agenda.

All are names that get thrown around in the fight for equal right for LGBTQ people. And all have different connotations and baggage that go along with them. Ask any person what they think the "strategy" for getting rights should be and you'll get a different answer each time. As GW Bush would no doubt say, it's strategery at its best.

ProtestLobby.jpgThe National Equality March, Obama's HRC Dinner speech, lawsuits moving through the courts, Democratic Party foot dragging, and many other events have brought the debate about what the overall strategy should be as we move forward to the forefront.

Do we protest and pressure in the streets or lobby in back rooms? Do we move state by state or bypass it and go to straight to the Federal government? Do we pass pieces of legislation as we can, like a fully inclusive ENDA, or move for a Equality Omnibus Bill?

The debate is always set up as "either/or" when, in my mind, it should be "do it all."

Now before you start sharpening your commenting swords, let me explain.

I'm no pollyanna (well, maybe a little bit). I understand there will always be infighting in any movement. There will always be harsh, passionate debate, especially when it comes to things like basic rights.

What we need to accept is that that debate is okay. There is no one path to equality.

We need the protests in the street and anger from the grassroots to keep pressure on politicians (and our own major organizations) to keep moving forward, even when it isn't convenient or easy. But at the same time, we need politicians and leaders to enact that change- it's the reality of how of government is set up.

The same can be said of the state-by-state vs national strategy debate. I'll admit that as a Floridian, who has little or no hope of getting the rights other progressive states are currently pushing for, I get impatient. Which is why I tend to support national movement. Yet I know that without momentum from states winning victories in employment non-discrimination, relationship recognition, and other issues, national leaders won't have the political will (or courage) to make the change that will effect my home state.

There are legitimate complaints and risks about any strategy people pursue: limited community resources and attention, leaving people behind, setting up bad legal precedent with lost court cases, scaring moderates with sows of anger or frustration, or being too moderate and not moving fast enough. Even within strategies, like the stat-by-state movement, there are disagreements and problems- usually one state gets all the attention and money and others are left to fend for themselves in political cycles (like with California's Prop 8 overshadowing Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas).

That's why we need everyone to balance it out. We'll never get everyone to agree on a "LGBTQ strategy." We aren't a homogenous people. Our strength is our diversity. Let's use it.

Let us protest in streets to create a conversation in the media about our rights, which forces politicians to move. The perfect example it the National Equality March and President Obama's speech to HRC. Do you think it is just chance that Obama addressed HRC the night before a massive protest on his doorstep from the same community? Not hardly.

And the cycle continues: the speech is then dissected and spread online by bloggers and grassroots organizers, who use it to create more pressure on the administration and our national organizations, to hold them accountable.

Which means more movement in political circles, who's natural state is to be more conservative and cautious.

It's the circle of political life and social change.

Progress is never organized or neat. It's a messy, crazy, and, at times, infuriating. There is never one path, just many that head in the same direction, some longer than others.

Find the one the works for you, that you can get passionate about and stick with. But have the wisdom, understanding, and foresight to allow others the same courtesy.

We'll all meet up when we get there.

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Last one there brings the b***! Good one Waymon....

When you were asking all the questions at the beginning, I just wanted to answer, YES!

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | October 14, 2009 9:09 PM

two quick comments:

I) I always try to take into account how much our own internalized homophobia plays into this whole "eating our own" phenomena - either for the individuals who are the "my way or the highway" (found in all camps, mind you)

2) i am saddened by the waste of time and energy - spirited debate is fine, but focus on the way YOU want to do the work and just do it

I somehow managed to go to the HRC dinner and on the day brandish my bullhorn demanding equal rights. I do not think this makes me a hypocrite or duplicitous, it makes me smart - i use my energy in the right ways and don't crap on other people in the process. do i agree with everything HRC does? no. But was I angered by what I thought was some truly damaging and irresponsible rhetoric and, frankly, unrealistic and magical thinking speeches at the rally? Ummm, yes.


I agree completely agree with your first point. I think that plays a strong role in much of the infighting.

I agree with your second point as well- spirited debate and holding others accountable is different from wasted time & energy.

Your point about straddling the lines (if there are any definitive lines) is well taken. Every strategy has its strengths and weaknesses. You do what you can and let others do what they can.

If they aren't harming the cause, then let 'em have at it- flowery speeches that are unrealistic to some may be inspirational and catalysts for changed thinking to others. By the same token, large orgs like HRC may have faults, but they have access that the average person doesn't have.

We all have roles to play.

Great seeing you in DC!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 14, 2009 9:49 PM

Well done! If we concentrate on civil rights for everyone, until equality of opportunity is the norm, we will all meet at the top of the hill.

When there are no legal roadblocks to our pursuit of happiness we will have achieved our goal. No one gets happiness as a gift or a guarantee.

We have to work at it.

I have to agree. I feel that a comprehensive approach which makes efforts at all levels and upon many fronts is going to be our best approach.
Each of us has an arena which we know best and in which we can work. If we each work with what we know best we can bring multiple areas of progress to fruition.

Right on! The community isn't homogeneous, so why should we all be expected to line up behind one strategy?

I agree we need a comprehensive approach from street activism to lobbyists. But here's what we don't need: HRC endorses anti-chioce, anti-immigrant, pro-war, and anti-labor candidates - which obviously divides and works against our community as a whole. To pretend that what they do is okay, just another piece of the puzzle, is to endorse their oppression of the most vulnerable members of our community. Imagine if HRC would have worked their asses off to get Ned Lamont elected instead of Joe Lieberman. Imagine if they would team-up with all of the unions to push for single-payer healthcare....and so on. Someone in previous comments said "if they aren't harming the cause..." What about when they ARE harming the cause?

Sometimes the most oppressed members of our community need to challenge and disrupt the agenda of the most privileged.

Sometimes the most oppressed members of our community need to challenge and disrupt the agenda of the most privileged.

I think that says it perfectly, Mark. Without a more progressive, sometimes radical voice, the movement would devolve into taking politically expedient "advances."

Very good point.

"Sometimes the most oppressed members of our community need to challenge and disrupt the agenda of the most privileged." - Yep.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to stomach hearing ONLY from those in the LGBTQ community who are making $20,000+ a year, esp. since they seem to ignore the needs and concerns of those making less than $6,000 a year. Also, those with good mental health and financial security often seem to ridicule, dismiss, and ignore those with mental health issues who have been profoundly traumatized and harmed by inequality.

History proves that the ones who are suffering the most will be the ones taking to the streets with baseball bats, torches, and pitchforks, while the well-off will scratch their heads and criticize these expressions of anger as "misplaced and unproductive". I predict more vandalism of HRC headquarters and similar organizations if these elite groups do not start including ALL of us, including "the least of our brothers".

Personally, I never dreamed that 8 years of college study and a very successful music/teaching career would end in total disability and a monthly SSI check for $449, specifically due to a lack of civil rights. Yep, I can taste blood, like any person who has lost everything dear to them and has absolutely nothing to lose. But of course folks in the HRC want to distance themselves as far away as possible from folks who have justified reasons to be angry - God forbid we appear too angry or entitled.

We HAVE TO have that Freirian utopian thinking that flowery speeches provide. We HAVE TO so that we can know what the best case scenario is. We also HAVE TO know we will never get to utopia - but it is in the movement towards it we keep tumbling towards better versions of ourselves and our world.

Check out my utopian project for LGBTQ equality - and to bring more voices from all people to the forefront at a hospital system in Florida where I used to work. It's my part...


Any and all of us who are LGBTQ or any combination of the above has a stake in this. Our friends, families and allies have a dog in the fight too. In the end, nothing matters but unity. How the hell do you get there?
Respect for one another's opinions and passions as valid even when they don't make any sense to me. There is no place for "My way or the highway" people in a movement. The essential self-centered egoism of absolutists make them incompatible with any strategy but their own. Incrementalists have no viable voice either. Incrementalism is an ego driven stance also. I just love being talked down to by an incrementalist who pats me on the head and "talks" to me about patience and realistic expectations.

Leave your ego at the door, it's not about you. Sometimes that means that I have to let go of my notions about how to "get there". We all want to get there but, before I start running my mouth about how to do that, I need to examine my motives. I'd better be willing to give up my own dearly held position before I insist that someone else abandon their's. If we don't do this, we risk leaving someone behind either on purpose or inadvertantly. Those of us who are incapable of tempering our self-centeredness with respect and compassion for others will, paradoxically, become the ones who are left behind.

I don't think the response here is quite so simple.... As someone else pointed out, what happens when someone else's strategy is actually destructive? For example, some people thought Joe S.'s statement that Obama can wait until 2017 to do anything (I don't think Joe was actually saying that, but whatever) actually made it less likely that anything would happen. Should they keep their mouths shut to be respectful?

We'll all meet up when we get there.

What about for those of us who have a different idea of what "over there" looks like? Is it possible that we don't just have different strategic visions in this diverse LGBTQ community, but materially different interests and goals?

Those seem to be the easily avoided questions of these past few weeks, in part because they don't have happy answers.

Good points Alex. I think that respect can really help along with the understanding that we do have different goals and interests. I will try to give an example from my own thinking.
I do not think that marriage is a great thing or that it should be the primary goal. But I do think that it should be available to everyone who wants it. I would rather it not have a cultural sacred cow status but right now it does present certain realistic advantages. Ultimately I would rather see a variety of intentional family structures legally recognized. So I respect that there are people who wish to dump the institution of marriage but as long as it is a cultural institution everyone should have access to it.
So I don't care enough about marriage to try to end it as an institution but I care enough about equal access to cultural institutions to try to gain equality in this area. In short I want a level playing field for all. Now a person whom I respect wants the institution of marriage to become obsolete and so wants to change the shape of the playing field and is dedicated to that effort.
I don't see us as automatically at cross purposes but it would be wrong for one of us to try to insist that the other join our goal. It isn't that I can't see the theoretical value in her position. But we are each queering this marriage thing in our own way according to our goals. She consistently wants to knock down and replace existing cultural institutions and I consistently want those institutions to operate in a balanced way but we are concerned about those same institutions and each bringing pressure to bear upon them and I would like to think that it is born of the same concern for people as a whole and persons as individuals.
I think that we are often too quick to look for divisions and focus on those rather than look for connections and focus on those.

Alex, I think you raise good points. There are, at times, very different goals.

That's where I think Cathy's idea's (and the ones I express in the post) come in: if people are seen as "doing harm" to what you see as the cause, you can speak out. You absolutely should.

You example of Joe S is a good one- some people saw his statement as giving too much latitude and cover for more foot dragging, thereby hurting the cause. So they spoke out. Loudly. And he's already "explaining" his statement (read: backtracking).

It's why we need all the voices to balance, keep things on track, and move forward.

It is interesting to see that some people - like Cathy - actually used the March for the true intention it should have been promoted as all along, rather than a national love fest and photo op many people used it as.

There were people, as with any event, that ere there for the party and the photo ops. But I will say that, in my experience, most folks felt exactly like Cathy at the March and were there out of passion, anger, and determination.

Waymon, thank you. Up to this point, the only thing I saw out of this event was a bunch of photo op postings and very little, if anything, of substance. I guess that those who went there to actually protest, spent little time taking pictures. I have seen mostly silence from the true activists, except now.

It is always the thing where activist do the work, not waiting for praise. Others post what has happened to inspire, while others post nothing of substance. It's human nature.

I try to fall into the 2nd category, which gets me a lot of flack at times. The videos of the Eagle Bar Protest has gotten a lot of play and inspired many to act up. Yet others see it as me self promoting. But, most of what I do, no one ever knows. That's fine. You learn a lot in nearly 13 years as an activist.

And to you, Cathy, thank you for all you do for our community. You always inspire me to do better.

Monica, I feel the same way about you. :)

And I think that you make an amazing point- while some may have been there for photos or fun, others covered the event to inspire or include people that simply couldn't be part of the event. Words and pictures have a huge emotional impact.

Our stories have to be told.

While the chaos of a million points of activism is natural and beautiful and magical, there is still one big missing piece: a national coalition geared at multiplying our movement numbers though concerted and inspirational effort.

Why do we not have even 10 national organizations working together - transparently and through public participation - to set collective targets. Need ideas? How about: A national lobbying month on EDDA (starting with the states that have such protections, and getting each congress person and senator from those states to target ONE colleague from another state). PUSH the vote on DODT repeal (truly orchestrated)? Whip Count Congress on Hate Crimes (using actonprinciples.org's new PUBLIC whip tools).

The possibilities are endless, while the absence of vision and cooperation among the big organizations is mind-boggling - as is the pass that this type of "it is what it is" commentary provides. The cause deserves more cooperation and vision - if we could only get pass our own lack of self-esteem and correspondingly HUGE egos (organizationally and personally).

Where is the NEW initiative - and change we can believe it? Where is the pointed vision - that capitalizes on the thousands of points of light?

I think most of what you described in your article are "tactics" and not strategies. There is the ability to have a unifying strategy for LGBT Equality where each effort can compliment others.

We have held some "LGBT Strategy" meetings in Dallas, TX. We have made a few observations so far:

1. The consensus is that the LGBT Community does not currently have a Strategy or Plan for our full equality.
2. There are several divisions within the community, but there is a sincere interest in creating unity.
3. The primary goal of LGBT efforts is focused on "Equal Rights" and not our "Equality."
4. Less than 10% of the estimated 10 million LGBT persons in the US is "involved" or contributing.
5. We must create a strategy/plan to win - with a very clear path to equality that will ignite a sustainable "movement."

I think anyone and everyone that cares about our full equality needs to consider new ideas and the possibility of a unifying strategy. It is difficult to call our combined efforts a "movement," because we're not really getting anywhere.

I read on TBP or somewhere that hundreds of LGBT leaders met the day before the march to work on strategy. So where is this grand plan? Let's not keep it buried in the backrooms of HRC, the Task Force, etc. Personally, I thought the Dallas Principles statement was a good start but that didn't specify a step-by-step timetable. Unless the gay movement, so-called, figures this out and reaches a consensus, we leave it by default in the hands of Obama, Barney Frank and a few others.

As far as I know, the sessions preceding the March were training sessions teaching grassroots activists the strategies for getting things done (lobbying politicians on all levels, working with the faith community, etc). I'm not aware of a "leaders summit", but if there was one, I'd love to hear all about it!

AMEN! SUCH a good point! I SO agree with you. A lot of people have been repeating this. HOWEVER, How do we convince the angry edges of this? That we're all valuable and we need to appreciate what everyone brings to the table?

I think some of the angry edges will never agree, but that's true with any movement. What we can do is find the places where we agree (some don't like the marriage fight, but most can agree on repealing DADT, for example), and let the hounds loose with all their diverse tactics. It's about embracing the messy chaos of civil rights struggles, not trying to tamp it down.