R Conrad

Creating Change or Creating Chains? A Fierce Look at the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Filed By R Conrad | July 23, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: gay shame, HIV/AIDS, La Gai, Netroots Nation, Nonprofit Industrial Complex

Gay Shame is one of the most interesting and relentless queer political groups to be making noise in the United States these days. They have consistently deployed some of the fiercest political satire, unmatched theatricals feats, and a commitment to making their political critiques accessible through offline print media. This week while the blogger-heads and tech geeks are mutually masturbating in Las Vegas at the Netroots Nation Conference, Gay Shame has once again released a fantastic piece of work that can still reach our queer and trans friends caught in the prison industrial complex as well as those without regular access to high speed internet.


Creating Change or Creating Chains? is reminiscent of those old school queer papers where you get information, sass and sex appeal without the clutter of irrelevant corporate advertising. The target of Gay Shame's most recent publication: the non-profit industrial complex.

This paper takes a short journey through the historical context during which the non-profit sector exploded thanks to the dismantling of the welfare state via Ronald Reagan. Once the trillion dollar industry context is set, the paper goes on to describe the many ways we can self organize to take power back (direct action!) from the careerist, professionalized class of gays and lesbians that now present Gay Inc. as the only channel through which to make change.

The paper touches on consensus process, queer aesthetics, how to plan actions, making propaganda/props, strategy, logistics, press conferences, arrestability, jail support and my personal favorite, post-action depression syndrome (PADS). All of this information is delivered with a good dose of humor, from talking about being "survivors of dude-bro hetroinsurrection" to encouraging readers to steal as many photocopies from their non-profit's photocopier.

boradside.jpgThe paper is filled with great suggestions as to how the reader can assemble their own direct action group with more than a decades worth of Gay Shame's own try-fail-try to back up its recommendations. And on top of it's thoughtful thoroughness, the centerfold doubles as a fierce broadside calling for a new wave of AIDS activism that isn't mired in the non-profit industrial complex.

If you don't happen to come across one in your local queer book store or other queer & trans activist hub, you will be able to access it online as a .pdf in the coming months on the Gay Shame website. I also hear the folks at Against Equality will be touring the US with their book soon and should have a stack of them to share (that would be me)!

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Regarding the upcoming Against Equality tour, Against Equality should have saved money and joined forces with Maggie Gallagher's National Organization for Marriage national tour bus that is visiting 24 US cities this summer. You folks all have the same anti-gay agenda, so it really makes sense.

I have to admit, I'm a little confounded by the goals of AE. I mean, do we need an action committee to tell us what we dont already have?

Or to put in simpler terms:

You dont want to buy into marriage? Dont get married.

You dont want to serve in the military? It's all volunteer.

You dont want to support groups like those that want to raise AIDS awareness? No one's telling you you have to.

So what, precisely, are you trying to accomplish besides stating the obvious? I'm not trying to be facetitous. But I dont see AE's raison d'etre either.

You don't see their raison d'etre because they don't have one. They're basically just a bunch of querulous people whose political thinking stopped developing around the age of 16, prone to unrealistic utopian visions and even more unrealistic ideas of how to achieve them.

oh girl! i can't wait til i move to nyc for grad school so we can hang out!!! :)

Perhaps you should make a cartoon about how idealistic/utopic/stupid/irrelevant/homophobic we are?

It would be an honor!

:: sigh :: I'll ask again, and I would appreciate a slightly more thoughtful answer: what is your group's goal? Trust me: belittling my work is not scoring you points.

:::sighing right back:::

"Against Equality is an online archive, publishing, and arts collective focused on critiquing mainstream gay and lesbian politics. As queer thinkers, writers and artists, we are committed to dislodging the centrality of equality rhetoric and challenging the demand for inclusion in the institution of marriage, the US military, and the prison industrial complex via hate crimes legislation.

We want to reinvigorate the queer political imagination with fantastic possibility."

it seems pretty clear what we are doing and the kind of conversations we are trying to agitate from the linked website in the article.

and seriously, i want to see a cartoon. it will be almost as good as the "against against equality" facebook group that surfaced a few months ago then quickly disappeared...

>> ":::sighing right back:::""

When you're ready to have an adult conversation about this, let me know. Perhaps, if you even bothered to read the string, you would know that I was not the one that described you as "idealistic/utopic/stupid/irrelevant/homophobic", although you seem to think I was. My question is a bit more pointed, and the flowery academic language of your response ("committed to dislodging the centrality of equality rhetoric") shows a command of a thesaurus and little more.

You've published a book? Wonderful for you. Postcards? Lovely. But do they *mean* anything? In the Grand Scheme of Things, Ryan, not really. Your group has garnered up the most immediately accessible of your fellow student academia and seek to overthrow the existing power structure... without providing much of a clue what to replace it with, if anything — unless of course, you're considering yourselves as the New Leadership, becoming the very thing you say you detest. And you would not be new in that regard: look at the history of one of your most immediate ancestors, Queer Nation, and learn from that debacled experience.

As for "and seriously, i want to see a cartoon", how nice. But I dont think so. You started that particular idea as a belittling insult and didnt even have the simple decency in your latest response to apologize. That right there speaks volumes, far more than any broadside might aspire.

Well, there's a "right whatever" response. Thanks for playing.

And I guess what you're saying is that you want to live in Neverland. Be my guest. But remember that the tragedy of Peter was being cursed by his very own immortality.

God, I'm so weary of the "if you don't support marriage, then don't get married" argument. It shows such incredible ignorance, which, coming from anyone who visits this blog regularly, is truly mind-boggling, since the argument against marriage has been made so many, many times here.

If you believe that a certain group of people, whose lives and relationships conform to a state-approved definition of what a family should be, are entitled to special privileges not available to everyone else, then go ahead and believe that, but stop trying to tell me that you are fighting for equality.

The fight against marriage is the REAL civil rights battle.

>> "It shows such incredible ignorance, which, coming from anyone who visits this blog regularly, is truly mind-boggling, since the argument against marriage has been made so many, many times here."

And as your very statement demonstrates, it is made so very unilaterally, as though anyone who *does* support the concept is clearly an idiot.

What part of *choice* do you not get? Why should you think you're forcing me or anyone else to accept your position when this is how it's framed? You dont want to get married? Dont -- that's almost too easy a response, and yet it covers the bases very nicely. I'm not going to sit here and call you "ignorant" just because you happen to think otherwise on this issue. I would expect the same courtesy -- why, pray tell, is that so difficult for you?

Your argument seems to think that all gay marriage is, is "special privileges" -- frankly, I can hear that from NOM every day. What else do you have? If I'm getting married, it's not because the state has put its imprimatur on anything. I'm doing it as a very public announcement of with whom I plan to spend what little rest of my life I might have remaining. Your near Orwellian final sentence has absolutely nothing to do with why I would want to get married, so kindly take your accusations of "ignorance" and look in the mirror.

Choice - ah, yes, choice, that great mantra of neoliberalism. Here's how it works - create a system that only endows benefits like health care on married people and then turn around and say to the rest, "you don't like it, hey, it was your CHOICE to not get married!" I have lost count of the people I know, straight and gay, who found themselves compelled to marry for benefits.

As for the army, it's not a choice for the poorest and mostly people of colour of this country, mostly youth, some of them my students, who have no choice but to join in order to gain anything like a decent education. In exchange, of course, for the great possibility of getting their limbs blown off in any one of the US's unjust wars. I've had pacificst students forced to join, so please don't even begin try telling me about their choice in this matter.

A final note: pointing out that banging on the same drum of an arugment shows ignorance is not the same as calling someone in particular ignorant. Stop turning everything into a personal attack against you. If you can't see the forest for the trees, you ought not to be wandering around in the comments threads.

And, actually, a final, final note: anyone who has been engaged in any movments over the last any number of years will tell you that a group like Queer Nation or ACT UP or Gay Shame does not have to last forever (or in a particular form) in order to have a sustained impact. That's kind of the point of this post, in fact - to point to a critique of the non-profit industrial complex, which is the exact opposite of groups like Queer Nation.

Now, I ask you, what do you have to say about the original post's critique of the NPIC?

Yasmin, I dont even know what the fuck your response was about, let alone how it applied to what I wrote. I guess I'm just too damn ignorant to understand the intricacies of current political rhetoric.

There's nothing in my response that was difficult to understand. But if you want to claim difficulty in understanding as a political defense of a set of utterly indefensible points, by all means, go ahead.

What's difficult to understand is what it has to do with what I wrote, but if you wish to claim rhetorical superiority, please feel free.

All I'm hearing in this thread is a lot of nouveau political-speak and not a whole lot of viable solutions. Some of you are claiming that it's "wrong" and "ignorant" to be in favour of something like gay marriage, but you seem to have difficulties yourselves saying exactly *why* I should agree with you. "Choice" is apparently a bad thing -- somehow -- even though you cant really say *why*, precisely... and then you meander into the plight of the poor, in effect using them to bolster your argument because you dont seem to have much of anything else. When I point out that my reason to be in support of it has nothing to do with the shaky and specious arguments you trot out, you fall back on YouTube videos and didactic blogs to defend your position.

Am I supposed to take any of this seriously? You want to tear things down, but you have nothing to replace them. You cite that the point of groups like Queer Nation was to ultimately disappear, and I would respond by saying, So? What did they accomplish? Give me one concrete goal they met that improved the lives of gays and lesbians. Just one. I think you might be a bit hard-pressed to answer, but I welcome your attempts. And as far as I can see, this current manifestation of QN will come to the same end: a lot of sound and fury, symbolizing nothing... except for the waste of paper.

And then you have the bewildering audacity to tell me about life in Canada, even though it appears the closest you've been to this country is some professor's blog, one written, frankly, without much of a clue about how life in Canada works (Her extensive list of tags doesnt even include "Canada", BTW). Why you even cite her, since her position seems to be pro-gay marriage, is a mystery I'll let you reveal. That alone would be laughable if it werent so sad.

Neither Ryan nor I nor anyone else from AE or our compadres are required to answer any questions or to the badgering, lying and bullying that's been in evidence here from the start. Actually, we're not required to respond to anyone here, especially since the original post isn't even about AE. But in case there are those who don't know the history of Queer Nation and similar groups: The Reagan and Bush governments did not get around to doing something about AIDS because...they had their hearts and minds changed on their own accord. If it weren't for groups like Queer Nation and ACT UP and the many, many other queer groups and individuals who took up the fight and demanded accountability, AIDS patients would still dying untreated in their homes.

Anyone who wants references to texts on the work done by such groups should feel free to get in touch with me. Benjamin Shepard's book Queer Political Performance and Protest, is among the more recent, but there are many more including Jennifer Brier's book Infectious Ideas: U.S Political Responses to the AIDS Crisis (even more recent).

Re: Nancy Polikoff, she's a highly respected professor and intellectual and also a fellow Bilerico contributor, btw. While she is not critical of marriage in exactly the same way some of us are, she's also not pro-gay marriage in the uncritical way so many in the gay marriage movement are - the title of her book and her blog should be a dead giveaway. And a careful reading of her work indicates the nuance of her positions - it's worth reading in depth (as opposed to looking at her tags). As for Canadian examples, do take a close look at her book - and by that I mean, please read it - it's extremely enlightening. I carry it around with me whenever I present on queer politics. I've even reviewed it, and the review will give folks some idea about the book:


As for who's been or lived in Canada or not, I wouldn't make any assumptions about any of us in that regard; therein lie many surprises. And now, seriously, good night. I've got no interest in pissing contests.

But to all those who've made it this far: Thanks for the visit(s). And keep an eye out for what promises to be an exciting Gay Shame project (the point of this blog). And do follow them and us (www.againstequality.org) on Facebook and real life. We're coming soon to a venue near you!

>> "Neither Ryan nor I nor anyone else from AE or our compadres are required to answer any questions"

Translation: "I dont have to! You cant make me!"

Whatever, dudette.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 25, 2010 12:35 AM

And now Sean, you will get the response from the former English lecturer cum photographer and radical lesbian who loves cock, despises the "prison industrial complex" and does an amazing impression of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Or perhaps it is reality for her:

DQ "Dost not see? A monstrous giant of infamous repute whom I intend to encounter."

Sancho "It's a windmill."

DQ "A giant! Canst thou not see the four great arms whirling at his back?

Sancho "A Giant?"

DQ "Exactly!"

Wagnerian | July 23, 2010 6:19 PM

Yeah, the fight against marriage is a real civil rights battle alright. One that didn't garner any attention from hardly anyone until gays and lesbians started to gain access to it.

I have gay foster parents who are married. They need civil protections for their relationship, period. Equal treatment under the law is a pretty basic thing to fight for.

I think a side effect of being a historically oppressed group is that there will always be a subset of that group that becomes so accustomed to oppression that it desires to remain permanently separate from those seen as oppressors.

I think these "Against Equality" types could be thought of as the GLBT equivalent to the Nation of Islam, which continued arguing against racial integration and in favor of separation between blacks and whites long after Brown v. Board of Education.

In the case of the AE/radical queers, they prioritize abstract and ultimately unrealistic far-left political goals like ending marriage and the "prison-industrial complex" over GLBT equality, which they typically see as secondary or irrelevant. The fundamental problem is their inability to reconcile and reach a "Golden Mean" between what they think should be and what is, not to mention their lack of acknowledgment of the enormous diversity of political views among GLBT people.

Thus, while they perceive themselves as furthering a utopian future of puppies and rainbows, they ultimately do little more than further the aims of anti-gay activists and keep homophobic injustice in place (at least to the extent that they wield any real influence).

Wagnerian | July 23, 2010 7:05 PM

Exactly. They become right wingers, basically.

For the record, In San Francisco Gay Shame is mostly despised. They have had some good moments, like when they sent zombie contestants to a "Cutest Boy in the Castro" pageant, but mostly what they have concerned themselves with is shaming folks they have personal vendettas aqainst. It's really only a couple people, and a constant stream of young newcomers to San Francisco who quickly grow out of it.

Dear Waggy-

Despised? Why yes, yes we are honey, by all kinds of oppressors! As for the KKKuetest of the Castro contest, it was a smashing success(thanks for coming)! We entered a large purple monster and WON! check out the photos on gayshamesf.org.

As for us being young, some of us are, but many of us are not. Contrary to your silly beliefs, not everyone "grows up" and sells out. Some of us keep fighting.

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 2:54 AM

See, that's the thing about Gay Shame, the few people involved are completely narcissistic. They think that only they are doing the work of queer struggle. They will go up to Phyllis Lyon and say she 'sold out' cause her and Del Martin got married. Which is absurd. Much great work is being done in spite of this kind of backwards, regressive 'activism'.

Gay shame, and their tactics have hardly helped anyone. Totally ineffective.

We TOTALLY agree with you! Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin did some kind of backwards, regressive 'activism'.

And you are also true, the effective work of Phyllis and Del Lyon-Martin totally overturned Prop 8 and made gay marriage legal federally. Yay, accomplishments!

However, the one point we don't agree with you on is the "sell out" part. Everyone knows the daughters of bilitis and the homophile movement at large were always assimilationist. Silly Waggy.

Any way, got to run.
Much love,

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 1:03 PM

That's not what I said.

ohhhhhh! i love me some puppies and rainbows!

just for you alaric:

And the rest who are not married? Noone's telling you your gay foster parents can't get married - we're questioning a system that priotises the married over the rest. It's really as profoundly simple as that. Look to the north, at Canada, for a fine example of a society that doesn't privilege married people, along with Nancy Polikoff's book. And I also recommend reading reading more of the essays on Against Equality's website.

Wagnerian | July 23, 2010 7:11 PM

That's baloney. You are actively fighting against gay people having access to marriage and equal status under the law as heterosexuals.

>> "Look to the north, at Canada, for a fine example of a society that doesn't privilege married people"

LOL! It doesnt???

You might want to research that some more.

As an additional resource, here's LAW PROFESSOR Nancy Polikoff's blog for you:


I think she makes the case against the emphasis on gay marriage quite clearly. And gives some excellent examples about Canada, by the way. You might also want to check out blogs right here, on Bilerico.

Have a great weekend!

Wagnerian | July 23, 2010 9:29 PM

Your didacticism is not appreciated.

And that makes me vewy, vewy sad.

Dude(s), get a life. If you don't think our "agenda" or our politics mean anything, and that we're just crapping rainbows and puppies and that we'll never amount to anything in REAL life or as adults, fine - why, then, do you keep showing up here to shout us down? And do you seriously think we're going to stop because of a small number of shrill, incoherent and badly argued comments in these here threads (that, nonetheless, provide much amusement for our friends)?

I see pro-marriage/DADT/hate crimes legislation posts here nearly every single hour - you don't see me showing up there to scream my lungs out. Clearly, you're terrified of something you can't even articulate or name. Thanks for proving that. And for all the many, many, many hits which help drive traffic our way, by the way.

Oooops, I just disclosed our secret agenda. Oh, no, Ryan, we might never see them again - they're on to us!

Love, Peace, OMMMMMMMMM...

The point, my dear Yasmin, is that you're not really thinking beyond some short-range concept of being a radical pretty much for the sake of being a radical. You havent said once in all your posts here why we should take your position; you're just throwing around a bunch of concepts without a lot of thought to back them up.

So yes, little one: go get a life, then come back and tell us all about your big brave adventures in Maturity. I'm sure they will be riveting.

Our comments must have crossed - I just responded to your last comment above and I think my response echoes anything I could have said here. You are, as is your wont, getting pissier, angrier, more belligerent, and more condescending by the minute. I'll leave you to stew. Goodnight, Sean.

LOL -- hie thee to a mirror, missy. Then get back to me about pissy anger. You're not answering questions: in fact, you make a point of saying "I dont have to!" as though it were a badge of honour. You cant even begin to tell me why I should bother supporting your movement; I gather all is to be revealed in your forthcoming book, and you dont wish to spoil the surprise.

You truly are no different from Queer Nation and all the rest of the uber-radicals, save that they at least had a core concept they could communicate. You guys might want to work on that a bit.

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 3:01 AM

Actually, Yasmin. I comment here rarely, but whenever I do, you come busting out of the woodwork to make sure I know that what I'm saying is wrong according to you. And you always have a reading list, which I don't believe is about you wanting to share information as it is you showing off as well as being too self absorbed to see that other people actually have done their homework and have come to different conclusions than you.

It's not like you take anything I would say here seriously. So, no I'm not interested in your reading lists. I may not have made up my mind bout certain issues, but I have made up my mind about self important activist such as you.

Those lists aren't for you, "Wagnerian," they're for *anyone* else who might wonder about the paucity of information around here.

And, why would I take seriously the words of someone who can't even use his/her real name and probably shows up on different sites and blogs using different names? And is probably a figment of their own imagination?

If our politics bothers you so much, "Wagnerian," write your own blogs. Hell, focus all your energy on attacking us. Attack Gay Shame, attack AE, attack Ryan and me. It'll only help us get the word out. We love attention! We crave it! We're that desperate!

And thanks for the traffic. You've been a great help in that regard.

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 1:05 PM

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Wow, you needed to call me/us the c-word, "Wagnerian"? Thanks for proving a point I've made for a long time here - that a significant portion of the gay community is, at heart, gynophobic to the extreme. Take your sexism elsewhere, please. If you can't engage in civilized discourse, don't bother showing up.

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 5:15 PM

Actually it's not sexism. I was trying to insult you. It's the language people of my class background use. I defend and fight for women. People like you, however...

I didn't even know about this upcoming project - thanks for sharing, Ryan. The link's already been hurtling through all the social media networks and the web. It's interesting - a lot of people who are embedded in the non-profit industrial complex and are rapidly disillusioned with it seem especially excited about this project.

Can't wait to see it. And I'm going to get in touch with my local indie bookstores about stocking copies!

And, oh, yes, an additional plug for AE - folks should check out our online store where they can order, among other goodies, the fabulous postcards we're offering (and you also get a set with the book). Never let it be said that radical queers were not generous with their bounty!

A more general, not necessarily-LGBT-angled comment:

Regarding the "non-profit industrial complex" today, I have heard that the number of non-profits organizing under IRS 501(c)3 and similar rules is skyrocketing. In this high-unemployment economy, I think it is being used as a "create-myself-a-job" mechanism:

(1) form a non-profit that supposedly does some mother-and-apple-pie type fundraising,
(2) hire yourself and your friends/family as employees,
(3) set up robo-call empire and collect credit card donations from the public, especially the elderly (they love to give their money to anything related to WW-II veterans),
(4) as the money rolls in, pay your "employees" first,
(5) no money left for your cause? No problem! Plenty of money coming in? Give your "employees" a raise, then set up every corporate perk imaginable, and finally, set up a "contingency fund" ... preferably offshore,
(6) give a tiny token amount to the cause you supposedly champion so that you can include that in your advertising, and
(7) retain all those credit card account numbers in your computer --- they'll be good for another charge next month, whether the donor understood you would do that or not!

Telephone fundraising is becoming almost universally a scam! Unless you know the organization very well, never donate over the phone!

Actually, A.J, it's absolutely relevant to this post and Gay Shame's work. I personally know people who've decided that creating a non-profit is their best option. Depending on the state you're in, it's not that difficult - which explains the ridiculously high number of "non-profits" I run into my activist circles here in Chicago. I frequently find myself biting my tongue to avoid saying, "You're a non-profit to do what, now??" These aren't even as corrupt as the kind you detail (and, sadly, those exist in larger numbers; your warnings are on the mark) but they are definitely a waste of time and resources.

There are a number of good orgs out there, of course, but those who are actually dedicated to the work find themselves inundated with paperwork and a sinking feeling that they're contributing to their own separation from the very cause to which they've dedicated themselves. And the constant churning of wheels to keep money flowing can be draining.

Thanks, Yasmin. One non-profit scammed my mom's credit card account month after month, submitting multiple charges under different organizational names ... they supposedly were feeding hungry children on Indian reservations, but when I looked them up on the Internet I found a government filing that stated they have a "reserve fund" of $27 million. What crooks!

Thank you for bringing AE and Gay Shame to my attention. Its good to know that I'm not alone in my discomfort around the centrality of marriage in current gblt politics.

I also look forward to reading the upcoming book Against Marriage.

I'm not sure I agree with Against Equality's strategy or tactics, as I don't enough about the org yet, but I like that they're making people think about what our goals as a movement are. Our movement goals have become a little too closely allied with insider politics, which is inherently conservative. I say let a hundred flowers bloom.

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 1:07 PM

"Our movement goals have become a little too closely allied with insider politics, which is inherently conservative."

See, that I sorta agree with.

I totally agree "let a hundred flowers bloom". However , I also strongly say that no individual nor any group should stomp on the garden (efforts) of others, as the Against Equality folks are doing, as the "Radical Queers" are doing, and as the "Naughty North" do. Of course, I think that these are all the same three persons using different pseudonyms . I think that lots of their antipathy toward other groups and individuals is their jealousy that they can not raise any money of any significance like other groups do.

oh honey! just so you know, "radical queers" is not a specific organization or group. read as a noun preceded by an adjective.

wouldn't want you making that mistake again, that would be embarrassing!

Wagnerian | July 24, 2010 9:21 PM

I actually mourn the loss of true queer radicalim. Gay Shame and the rabid anti-marriage crew have co-opted the stance, but they are substanceless.

::waves:: Hi Conrad, hi Yasmin!

I can't wait to get my hands on these, they are BEAUTIFUL! Also, when will y'all be doing this book tour? Don't forget about us down here in the south!! I would love to see both of your shining faces.

Thanks for asking - we're hashing out the details this week and will post dates as we confirm them. And we'd never forget our loves down south!

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