Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Stand Up And Fight

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | April 14, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, Michelangelo Signorile, OutQ, Sirius XM

I've been asked how it went yesterday, guest hosting Michelangelo Signorile's Sirius XM radio show yesterday.

My response is I'm angry this morning. I can hardly sit and type while the bees are buzzing in my chest. I was surprised to feel this emotion this morning. I'm filled with the feeling that you get when you wake up from a dream where you find out they're killing people secretly, and you're trying to tell people about it who are ignoring you, asking you want you want for breakfast, and so on.

Why am I angry, you ask? Why am I filled with a feeling that I must do something, anything and everything, this morning?

The reason is that, for four hours yesterday, I sat in a little glass room and talked about nothing but ENDA and politics. You try it and see how it makes you feel.

If it doesn't make you angry and scared, then you're probably not paying attention. More about how the show went, and why I'm feeling this way this morning after the jump.

First, let me say that the radio show went fine.

The producer, David Guggenheim, and Sean Bertollo, associate producer, went out of their way to make me feel at home, and were incredibly gracious. I was a little nervous at first, partly because there's a bunch of stuff to remember about taking breaks and announcing things and clicking buttons on a screen when talking to callers, but it got easier as time went along and I relaxed.

It was an honor and a privilege to host the show for Michelangelo Signorile, who has done so much for our community. It was interesting to sit in the host's very high seat (I'm tall and even I had trouble jumping up into it) and to hear the imaging -- which I learned yesterday is the insider's term for those little clips that come on before and after a break. I've heard these little imaging clips as a listener many times, but when I sat in Michelangelo's seat -- he who fought the battles of ACT UP and AIDS, and wrote Queer In America, a book I read early on in my transition that really called to me -- these clips called out to me very differently.

One of the clips is a voice that shouts with fiery emotion to "Stand up and fight!" That's what I remember most from the 4 hours of hosting.

Also yesterday, I had a telephone call with someone who is fighter for the community, and we talked about our feelings of being hurt by comments that people had made about us.

There were also some wonderful call-ins by listeners to the show yesterday, from various parts of the continent, some feeling encouraged, some feeling discouraged, and some unsure of where we are.

This morning, I read a comment on the blog about someone who is waiting for leadership.

And all of a sudden -- WHAM! -- I was so very angry.

Here we are on the cusp of ENDA -- the bill is being whipped this week, which will determine its fate in the House -- and yet I don't see an outpouring of efforts on ENDA. Oh, there are efforts, and yes I see those, but the feeling I get is lukewarm, half-hearted, no passion, and no enthusiasm.

Did Michelangelo wait for other people to do something about AIDS? Well, at first he did, as he said in an interview he did last week on a radio show in Texas. As he described it, he went to a meeting to talk about activism because some cute guys were going, and he wound up being fired up by the need to take action. He listened to that call, and he joined ACT UP and began his career as an activist.

So here I am this morning, thinking about all of the people in our community who don't have jobs, who are underemployed, who are hiding themselves at work, who are harassed and called faggot at work, who are fired because someone finds out they're gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.

Then I think back to that conversation yesterday with a fellow activist about our hurt feelings, and I think -- there's no room for hurt feelings in this battle.

I reflect on the listeners who called in, and I think -- why are you taking this so calmly? You're feeling disempowered when we need you most!

I think about the comment on the blog this morning asking for leadership, and I think -- no one is leading us, no one is going to save us, you must save yourself.

People have been asking where is the Martin Luther King in the gay civil rights movement? I look back to my conversation with Rev. Irene Monroe yesterday on the show, who pointed out the many, many differences between the African-American civil rights movement and the gay civil rights movement. Not the least of these is that the African-American fight involved a homogeneous population, and our LGBT rights movement is a heterogenous group of different sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and classes.

Why are we waiting for Martin Luther King? Why would we think that one person could embody all of the different parts of our community and lead us? It's you, and you, and you that must stand up in your own community. Joe Solmonese can't lead us, Rea Carey can't lead us, Mara Keisling can't lead us. We are the unleadable.

If any of you are looking around, and waiting for someone else to stand up -- that just means it's time for you to stand up.

And if you're thinking that you're not good enough, old enough, smart enough, connected enough, that just confirms that you're the right person to stand up, because you have the proper amount of humility and respect for the job.

The reason other people who are better, older, smarter, and more connected aren't standing up -- is because they're scared to lose all that.

It's you who have nothing to lose -- and everything to gain -- who are the right ones to stand up.

So stand up! Call some friends and have a brainstorming meeting about how to make something happen in your town. Get in touch with other, more established organizations, and tell them what you're doing and make them help you. Call them every day if necessary.

Start calling and emailing people to call your Representatives and Senators about ENDA.

Make posters and put them up on telephone poles, pool your money and put an ad on Facebook.

Talk to local college pride groups and unions and GSAs and have a day of action.

I don't know exactly what is right in your community, but do something, anything and everything.

Our community has no action leaders. No one is going to save us. Do you think anyone anointed me a leader?

No, in fact our leaders have mostly criticized me behind my back, told me I didn't know what I was doing, and ignored me as much as possible.

But I'm not in this for them, or for glory or money, so I ignore that and just keep smiling -- and moving forward to up the ante as much as possible. The reward for being good is goodness, and that reward is only meaningful to good people. Your reward for fighting hard for ENDA will be that you fought hard for ENDA. If you're very lucky, you may also get ENDA passed into the law of the land. If you're looking for other rewards, fuhgeddaboutit.

We have only ourselves, and you. Tell us what you have decided to do.

The world awaits you.

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It is darned hard to stay enthusiastic about calling your congressman and senators again when they are Rep. Tom Price of GA and Sen Isakson and Chambliss. The best I can do is campaign against Isakson, letting people know he supports job discrimination of American citizens and didn't attend a committee hearing he is a member of trying to stop job discrimination of American citizens.

I don't think leadership is missing, Jillian. I think we don't have effective tactics or a cohesive strategy to actually win.

You're going to see the kind of passionate response you describe as "missing," until members of our community believe we have a way to win.

40 years of frustration, coupled with the lack of any verifiable strategy to win, doesn't inspire or excite the amount of participation we need.

I appreciate your tireless efforts and I'm certain everyone else does, but sooner or later we have to embrace accountability for all tactics, ideas, strategies and organizations. We must find out what is verifiably effective and we must figure out HOW to actually win.

We've never done that as a community and certainly not as a movement. The overused word "fight" needs to be replaced with "win."

Black people aren't a homogenous group and weren't in King's time either. Black people have different sexualities, ethnicities, classes, and religions too. The Muslim movement and Bayard Rustin alone should be enough to demonstrate that. We have this huge problem of turning King into some sort of one man army rather than seeing him as a prominent leader but one of many leaders. A. Phillip Randolp and Bayard Rustin organized the march on Washinington. Randolph also organized the first nationally recognized black union, during the Depression. Malcolm X and the Muslim movement (despite its problems) organized many people. Many black people fought the Klan to set up schools in poor southern areas.

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given up by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now, I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never". We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."" This was King's response to those who demanded that he wait for a new administration of less brutal segregationists to try to fix things. Waiting for the marginally less gay-hating democrats to fix things rather than creating a resistance that forces them to deal with us now. King said that the goal of nonviolent resistance was to create a crisis so great that the group in power had no choice but to negotiate with you. It is there that we are failing. That and only caring about the needs of certain already fairly priviledged members of our group.

Martin Luther King is a name that embodies a movement. He's a representative of that movement.

We do not need more top down leadership. We need more community from the bottom up.

I keep hearing people talking about this like it's a game. "How do we win?" We don't win, we progress. We move forward. Even when we get legislation passed, we don't win. ENDA is a tool that LGBT people will be able to use when they get discriminated against. And the community will still be needed.


1. to finish first in a race, contest, or the like.
2. to succeed by striving or effort.
3. to gain the victory; overcome an adversary.

I'm inspired by the non-activists in bi-national couples across the country and world, who are stepping up and asking for city council resolutions to support UAFA. Those stories are amazing.

Will those resolutions make a difference in UAFA's passage or inclusion in CIR? Who knows. But I know one thing. Regular folks are becoming activists and that's what this will all take.

Sadly, we don't only have an absence of leadership at HRC/TF. We have an obstacle to leadership by others. We have an immovable self-righteous mountain that keeps others down and out.

I work on this movement 24/7 for free. The inertia of HRC/TF - compared to moveon.org, or heathcareforamerica.org, or change.org, or reformimmigrationforamerica.org -- is just dumbfounding.

I'm at a loss.

I keep doing my part. But as a legislative director and strategist for many years, I know I'm splashing in the kiddy pool, when we need a tsunami.

The fact that we're fighting for ENDA - anti-discrimination in ONE area - employment - by itself is the real problem. If we had a bigger, more comprehensive bill that addressed our inequality across the board - we'd get a lot more enthusiasm. Of course, that doesn't suit HRC/TF's fundraising model or decades-long failed "strategy".

We need to protest HRC and the Task Force for failing to even keep pace with modern issues-based advocacy. We may not be able to move Congress as a band of outsiders, but we could make a big stink about our lackluster failed organizations - if only we could get together on that...

Discouraged, but determined to keep trying.

I agree with your assessment - we're not participating in sufficient numbers AND we have ineffective LGBT organizations.

Finally, people in our community are beginning to demand accountability from our organizations and discovering they haven't figured out how to win. That same effort must also be applied to tactics, methods and strategies.

We are so far from victory that we can't even agree on how to define it. The fight to gain something has become the something.

I appreciate your efforts Tif and I suggest they would be much more effective if all those on the LGBT "sidelines" decided to participate, too. I think that happens when they believe we have a path to victory. People will come together and fight for a common cause IF they believe it will be effective. Our Movement has never included that possibility.