Guest Blogger

National Equality March: The measure of success

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 12, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Bob Summersgill is a long-time GLBT rights activist in the District of Columbia who has successfully led numerous human rights efforts.

Thumbnail image for Bob Summersgill.jpgOpen Left blogger Adam Bink raises the question of how do you judge the success of this weekend's National Equality March. It is a good and fair question.

I think success of the National Equality March should be judged based on achieving the stated goals. In this case it was "Equal protection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now."

Well, by their own time frame, they have failed.

We certainly don't have equal protection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states now.

But, let's say that they don't mean what they said in their mission statement. After all, they said they would "work until it is achieved." So at the initial planning stages, they distanced themselves from achieving their goal "Now". To further explain that they don't actually mean "now," they are creating Congressional District Action Teams (CDAT) to carry on the work. "This march is a first step to build a grassroots network in all 435 Congressional Districts to make this demand a reality."

That's great. To pass legislation, we want people in every legislative district lobbying their representatives in Congress. They will also be tasked with helping in state and local actions. Personally, I think that you can only effectively lobby one legislative body at a time, but I wouldn't doubt others may be better at this than I am.

As we move forward, we will have various successes.

The NEM lists a few examples of what equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states:

  • The right to work our jobs and go to school free of harassment and discrimination.
  • The right to safety in our daily lives, and protection from hate crimes.
  • The right to equitable healthcare, and the right to donate blood.
  • The right to equitable immigration policies.
  • The right to marry.
  • The right to serve in the military openly.

All of these are good and important goals already adopted as standard goals in the LGBT rights movement. How can we distinguish the successes of the CDATs, collectively they are Equality Across America (EAA), from the other groups that are already working on these issues?

NEM states, "Many bills currently exist to address some of these issues, but we do not support a piecemeal strategy. We seek one federal solution to full equality." The EAA Toolkit for CDATs includes the similar statement:

We have one single demand: Equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. We will accept no compromises, and no fractions of equality.\

Therefore, if any piece of legislation passes, but doesn't include everything, it won't be supported by the CDATs. Each success that we have which leaves any piece out--is a fraction of equality-- we can credit to the existing and traditional LGBT political groups such as the members of the Equality Federation working in 41 states. and federally focused organizations such as HRC, NGLTF, SLDN, and Lambda Legal. Obviously when the Hate Crimes bill becomes law in the coming months, we won't credit EAA.

Other EAA statements carefully state that they are seeking " full federal equality in all matters governed by civil law." Note the word "federal." That get's them off the hook if South Carolina doesn't come around on marriage law. Likewise, they will get no credit when Rhode Island passes a marriage equality law and Idaho does not. Likewise, they get no credit when ENDA is passed and Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed, since they oppose such incomplete measures.

As a person who lobbies for LGBT rights in the District of Columbia--notably excluded from EAA since we don't have voting Congressional representation--I know that the great successes that we have had are due first to active engagement with people across the District to change hearts and minds about LGBT people and our rights. And second, involvement in the political process in which we take steps forward as we can, work on every piece of our agenda that we can advance, and accept half-measures for the moment. We don't ever stop pursuing the end goal of full equality. I am confident that my colleagues working across the states agree that incremental steps are the only way to achieve our goals.

In D.C., we have achieved all of our goals of equality under the law save marriage. We will have passed a marriage equality law by the end of this year. Our success is a result of 50 years of engaging the public, 35 years of engaging our elected representatives on all manner of issues, working on their campaigns, and holding them accountable for their actions. And lastly, 8 years of strategic and incremental steps making marriage equality in DC is nearly assured.

So success for the National Equality March and EAA would be, what? One great piece of federal legislation guaranteeing all of our rights? I wish them luck. I do hope that they succeed. I just can't imagine that holding out for perfection, and rejecting every step on the way, will achieve the stated goal, was "Equal protection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now."

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