Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Why I Am Working With GetEqual

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | August 10, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Get Equal, LGBT advocacy, Robin McGehee

I have decided to work with GetEqual as a member of its provisional Board of Directors.

I recognize this as a decision fraught with controversy. At the same time, I do feel strongly that GetEqual has great potential to move our struggle for rights forward in a way that more traditional advocacy cannot.

There are approximately 30 million LGBT people in the United States. Our community has made great strides in the past forty years. The stigma is much diminished in some places and for some LGBT identities; although it remains strong for others. The social and legal barriers have dropped in some places and for some LGBT identities; although they remain in place for many. Politicians and entertainers and corporate interests now regularly court our community. Some of us make a living from working in LGBT advocacy, and it is not in the job description of such work to rock the boat and make those in power uncomfortable. (Such work is essential, but necessarily limited in scope.)

But to some extent, we have become the victims of our own success. Many of us have lost contact with the struggle. We are content to be slaves in Egypt -- a relatively comfortable life, even if we do have to build a few pyramids, and some few of us are bearing the brunt of the oppressors. Going to the Promised Land is the crazy dream of a few malcontents with delusions of grandeur.

And many of us, particularly young people in rural areas, and the gender non-conforming among us, have not benefited much from this success. We still suffer in a way that disappeared years ago for many in our community.

After spending the past few years trying to move ENDA, the simplest and most basic of our federal legislative initiatives, and having the votes but not getting any movement, I see that we have become a pawn in the game of power politics.

I am not content with this. It is time to speak up in a new way.

There are approximately 15 to 30 million LGBT people in this country, a powerful force. Yet we still have odious policies in place banning gay servicemembers from serving their country. We have no national protections against discrimination in our workplaces, schools and places of public accommodation. Our relationships are barred from legal protection by federal law. The promise of our national Constitution to provide equal protection of the laws does not extend to us. "All men are created equal" has no meaning when it comes to us.

Why is this? There are many causes, of course, not just one. Yes, prejudice is part of the answer. Our painstaking education and lobbying among friends and neighbors and officials during the past 40 years has reduced that prejudice in the areas we have been able to reach. But progress is very slow in some areas, where conservative elements have made our very progress into a rallying cry for a culture war.

Why has the Democratic Party seen fit to give mostly lip service to LGBT rights, but to do very little substantively? They're blaming everyone else for their lack of results. The only person I see doing anything is President Obama, who has enacted many executive orders protective of our community. I wish he was more vocal in getting Congress moving, but ultimately the blame lies at the feet of Congress.

But Congress, despite its large Democratic majority, can get away with this because most LGBT people are not tracking. They are busy trying to survive in a terrible economy, with two wars ongoing, and a crumbling infrastructure. I don't blame them in the least. But the fact is that our issues will not gain traction on a national level until our 30 million or so LGBT people in this country, along with our straight allies, rise up and demand justice. When thousands of people flood their Congressional offices, switchboards are lit up, and the mailbag is filled with letters from constituents -- then we will be taken seriously.

Our advocacy organizations have tried, and tried hard, to make this happen. I know I have tried to help in that effort. But the traditional "ask" doesn't get much results. It doesn't engage people. They're inured to the email with an exclamation point in the title. So am I. So are we all.

Most LGBT people would flunk a test that asked them to explain "ENDA," "DADT" or "DOMA." I have friends who don't know what these things are. Most people don't pay attention to politics, and LGBT people are no exception. It's been so useless for so long that we've learned not to waste much time on it. So we're in a no-win situation. Our politicians pay us only lip service, essentially sticking out their tongues at us and saying things like "make me." Most LGBT people have better things to spend their time on, like Glee and Lady Gaga. Seriously, I understand why people avoid politics, except in times of crisis. It's such a waste of time because politicians can get away with talking, talking, talking, and doing nothing.

You see, Glee and Lady Gaga and television shows in general know something about how to get people to pay attention. We need more of that, and less of boring emails asking for money and explaining how to beg and scrape before your Congressperson, whom ordinary people can't really get to see, except in highly scripted situations en masse.

Entertainers know how to utilize dramatic tension to keep you watching through the commercials. We need more of that. In the age of information overload, we need something to focus people's attention.

Our LGBT organizations, however, have a terrible track record in this regard. We have it exactly backwards. We have an hour of commercials, and expect you to stay tuned for a few minutes of entertainment. No. I'm convinced that the way to get to LGBT people is NOT through appeals to stand up for some abstract and boring principle, and NOT through requests for money from organizations who don't know how to get real results.

We need a sense of dramatic tension in our community.

Meanwhile, in its short existence, GetEqual has generated a tremendous amount of controversy and interest.

It seems that everyone in the LGBT community has an opinion about it.

Good, bad or indifferent, it is waking people up. It is capturing their attention.

I know that Bil and Alex and many Projectors have their own strong opinions about the organization. I note that I have agreed with Bil not to discuss GetEqual, and to maintain a firewall of sorts. I want them to maintain objectivity and to be able to continue to criticize the organization, and me. I have a thick skin, and I can take it. Seriously, criticism is an important form of engagement, and I value it as much for its creation of dialogue as for its informational content.

In my personal opinion, the main value of GetEqual has little to do with its effect on straight people, or the straight media, though that will be helpful, and may come to play a larger role.

GetEqual's value is that it can, if managed correctly, wake up LGBT people. It can get them to pay attention to their own rights. It can create a sense of dramatic tension among the millions of LGBT people who don't know the difference between ENDA and DADT and don't care, but who are intrigued by the dramatic elements of a screenplay.

We need more theater in our political life. And GetEqual is one way to do that.

There have been criticisms of GetEqual. I have joined in some of those criticisms. The organization needs more transparency, a clearer strategy, more community-based activism, and specific, measurable results. I will spend my time with GetEqual working on improving these areas. I am accessible, and if you have questions, I will provide answers.

But the basic idea is sound. The organization has managed, in a short period of time, to gather together many people who know how to conduct direct action, and, more importantly, the heart and the courage to do it. They are not perfect. They are human. They have limits in their skills, their knowledge, their vision -- just as we all do. But I believe that, with guidance, the organization can make a huge difference in helping our community to stand up for our equality.

Maybe the critics are right, and it won't work. I certainly have no delusions that I have all the answers, though I have some small skills. But I feel that it can work, and it will work, to wake up the heart and the soul of the LGBT community. We must try.

What we've been doing is not working right now. I honor the major advocacy organizations, and all of the people who have given their heart and soul to build them up. We need them. But they are not enough.

We are about to enter a period where we will be in the political wilderness. All indications are that the Democrats will lose many seats in Congress, perhaps even lose control of Congress. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We are not going to get out of Egypt by asking Pharaoh nicely to let us go.

It is time for us to rise up. It is time for us to get out. It is time for us to get active. It is time for us to Get Equal.

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You go girl. If we learned anything from the 1978 Briggs Initiative and the work ACT UP did it is that traditional campaigning does very little, well, except pay the high salaries of Kate Kendall, Geoff Kors, and Solomese.

Being loud, being gay, and PRESENTING THE FACTS THAT DISCREDIT THE LIES TOLD ABOUT OUR COMMUNITY, is how we'll get equality.


Great to hear! Much respect for you and your new venture!

Some of us make a living from working in LGBT advocacy, and it is not in the job description of such work to rock the boat and make those in power uncomfortable.

As one of those people working in LGBT advocacy (albeit legal, not legislative), it most definitely IS in the job description. That too few LGBT organizations perform that part of their job is both disappointing and the reason why organizations like GetEqual are needed. I hope that our community will begin to vote - both with their dollars and their volunteer time - in favor of organizations that aren't afraid to make those in power uncomfortable.

You have certainly chosen to do that, many times over. Thank you.

I continue to appreciate your enthusiasm Jillian. I hope you are effective in your new role.

I have heard for months that GetEQUAL's "strategy" was to "apply pressure" by "embarrassing Democrats." You seem to have redefined the strategy in your Article today. Now, it is an effort to "wake up the LGBT Community." To that end I hope you speak to those uninvolved members of our community and get some feedback on "protest" and "direct action." They do not believe it is effective (it's right up there with HRC/Lobbying). That means to wake them, you'll need to convince them.

I hope GetEQUAL (and the new provisional board) takes the time to provide some reasoning or rationale for the tactics and methods used so far, or to re-define the mission and purpose of the organization. The frustration with the current pace of progress (or lack of) should require us to hold every tactic and strategy accountable. We will need significant resources to win and it is our responsibility not to waste them

I expect your leadership to help make some sense of GetEQUAL and to provide some real substance in the near term. That would be a welcome change.

Jillian good luck in your new endeavors. I will support you anyway that I possibly can. I did what I was able to do by calling my representatives in my State in encouraging them to support ENDA. You are a pillar of strength when it comes to advocacy and I am sure you will bring many positive things to GetEqual.

Well knowing that you are involved is definitely a positive for me and my opinion. I have been trying to hold off on formulating an opinion about Getequal. This will help for someone who is notirously hard on LGBT orgs especially those that are L & G with .....b....&...t as distant stepchildren.

Well knowing that you are involved is definitely a positive for me and my opinion. I have been trying to hold off on formulating an opinion about Getequal. This will help for someone who is notirously hard on LGBT orgs especially those that are L & G with .....b....&...t as distant stepchildren.

I hope this works well for you and also that this doesn't inadvertently close doors for you.

One thing I've learned is that there is value in many different types of activism. The HRC has its value too, although their history on inclusion leaves a lot to be desired. But I do believe there is value in having a muckraker, having someone who can call it like they see it without concern for how it will affect their funding. And yes, this means (as you say) some drama, some waking people to the status quo. From a distance, this looks to me where GetEqual can be most effective.

As before, all the best.

This is great news for GetEqual. It is great news for our community. All the best in your new role.

I like it.

In my eyes, Jill's inclusion on the board adds credibility. Of course, the proof is in the advocacy and we will see what we will see, but I am feeling better about GetEqual now than I did.

Beyond that, I'll wait and see what happens next like everyone else.

demandingequality demandingequality | August 11, 2010 12:16 AM

My last name is also Weiss (probably no relation) so maybe it's genetics, but I am also a long time activist (once worked for ACORN before they were infamous).

I see that what GetEqual is doing is definitely waking people up, and as a new organization are finding their way to figure out what works and what does not work, learning as they go. You will make mistakes, learn from them, get stronger and more savvy along the way.

And you will piss people off just about everywhere - when you are in the pissing people off to get their attention business, and they get pissed at you for pissing them off you know you are succeeding.

I offered Robin some of my expertise having learned from some of the people who honed this difficult direct action skill, defining wins, and goals, and all that organizing stuff.

So Jillian if you or any GetEqual leaders need any in-the-trenches info let me know.

Good metaphor (Egypt) and I support your decision. Does this mean we're all ready to get involved then? Perhaps. I don't mind participating here and there, I get the announcements.

I'm not TG but not having ENDA hits hardest for me too. After that r/o DOMA due to lacking tax breaks but we are in fact married in DC. Getting married was easy. Standing in good favor at work / not being fired, much harder. (and this is much much harder for people who must concern themselves with "passing"). I do however have to concern with that to a degree. As a "bear", I'm often trying to pass as butch without letting a purse fall out of my mouth too often. (it's worse on the phone where my high voice often gets me a gender confusion).

Your ally, John

Stuart Wilber | August 11, 2010 9:55 AM

I am so glad that you were asked and that you accepted. Again, thank you for the work you do.

Most folks know how wary I am of GetEqual. This, however, dampens some of my fight-or-flight tendencies because I know how level-headed and demanding Jill can be. (In a good way, of course!)

I hope you haven't bit off more than you can chew, Jill; but I warned you of that earlier. You're a very capable woman and while I'm automatically leery of folks who describe themselves as "icons of the community" without having two brain cells to rub together, I think your elevation to board chair can nullify quite a bit of the needless dribble that's to be expected at any board meeting.

Dear Jillian;

I Have Great Admiration For Your Commitment And Determination To Advance Our Cause Of Full GLBT Equality.

I Admit To Having Reservations With GetEqual's Methods Of Fighting For Equality. I've Questioned If Their Actions Have Helped Or Hurt Us.

That Said, Know I Have The Utmost Respect For You, Your Dedication To The GLBT Rights Movement And Decision To Work With GetEqual. You'll Bring Much To The Table Serving On Their Provisional Board of Directors. With Your Advocacy. Expertise, Knowledge And Guidance, I See Potential In What GetEqual Can Accomplish. As Well As The Position They Can Have In Our Movement.

Your Input On GetEqual's Board Will Be Invaluable, I Have Hope They Will Take The Advice And Guidance You Offer To Heart.

Best Of Luck In This New Endeavor Jill

Why is there any hand-wringing? Just do it!

Rock the boat! It is both necessary and beneficial. And I never felt like I had to ask permission, or explain my actions. Nor should you.

Great! GetEqual could use some direction, and you could provide that.

BTW, is it true that Kip's gone from GetEqual?