CA Gay Groups Advise Waiting, Waiting
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
July 14th, 2009
Those gay organizations that led the disastrously ineffective campaign against Proposition 8 are sharing their wisdom again. According to the LA Times,
“Going back to the ballot . . . in 2010 would be rushed and risky,” read a joint statement issued Monday by three gay-rights groups and signed by more than two dozen other groups and individuals. “We should proceed with a costly, demanding, and high-stakes electoral campaign of this sort only when we are confident we can win.”
Personally, I suspect some organizations have ulterior motives behind their opposition to moving forward.
Take, for example, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. This organization is primarily a health organization – with a few other worthwhile programs. I have long pointed out that this organization is far removed from gay men and women in the community and no longer provides any services to gay men and women other than those narrowly defined by their state-funded programs (they dropped the word “Community” from their name years ago).
Yet Lorri Jean, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s Executive Director, was one of the small number of individuals calling the shots during the campaign. Lorri was so concerned about Prop 8 and took her job so seriously that she decided to take a month long vacation in Alaska. In July 2008. Three months before election day.
But the Center has an opinion is back with an opinion about the next election date, and it takes little to see their motivation for delay.
Jim Key, spokesman for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, also worried that a 2010 political campaign might tap the same donors that service organizations rely on to fund HIV care, services for homeless youths and other programs at a time when, because of the economy, those programs are needed the most.
In other words, your fight for equality cuts into donations for our programs. And so you should wait.
Another group counseling waiting is Equality California, another prime player in the 2008 losing game.
“We initially said we believe 2010 was the right time to go back to the ballot,” said Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, one of the state’s biggest gay-rights groups. But he added: “We’ve also made it very clear we will only move forward if we have a clear road map to victory. . . . The last thing we want to do is go back to the ballot and lose.”
He said his group has sought advice from political consultants and polling experts and would present it publicly later this month.
This is the same group that kept quiet about their “inside polls” that showed the campaign behind and instead let gay folks – who might have walked precincts and held house parties and talked to their church – believe that we were ahead and their efforts weren’t needed.
We don’t have to wait for next month to know what they will say. EQCA will give us a slicing and dicing of the demographics of voters who vote in gubernatorial elections and tell us that there is a tiny advantage to avoiding the older voters now in order to chance it with higher black turnout in 2012. And in 2012 we’ll hear that 2014 is really, really even better.
I think that all of these organizations miss the big picture. Because they are all motivated by fear.
They fear a decrease in donations. They fear a repeat of the loss of position they felt after Prop 8. They fear losing by a bigger margin. They fear that they may upset the establishment or the connections or the money guys or the Party or any of a number of others who can give them goodies, enhance their image and influence, and prop up their resumes.
I fear too, but my fears are different.
I fear that we are fighting a battle of retreats. I fear that we capitulate, give up territory, and let our enemies define the frontier.
We are accepting the declarations of our enemies that the battle is over. We are conceding defeat.
In every instance in which a state has passed a discriminatory amendment to deny gay couples equality under the law we have stood back, said, “oh well”, and waited for the next battle. What we should have done is collected the signature to reverse that vote, put it back on the ballot, and fought in every state in the nation.
I’m not saying that we should have committed huge sums or that we should have exhausted our resources, but we should have made the citizens of those states face this question for the rest of their long-lasting lives until they tired of their own bigotry and – faced with scorn from their children – reversed their position and removed discrimination from their constitution.
Had we been battling in other states, I believe that the tide would have already turned. And Proposition 8 would never have happened. They would never have dared attack us in California. And faced with the prospect of voting until equality wins, Californians would have voted for an end to the war.
We should go back to the ballot in 2010. And should we fail, go in 2012. And if that doesn’t work, we’re back in 2014.
We need not put $40 million on the line. We need only push Gay, Inc. out of the way and run a grass roots campaign that ignores the “political consultants and polling experts” and speaks to our neighbors and our churches and our communities. We build coalitions that include churches and civil rights fighters and ethic interest groups and Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian activists and Susan who picked up a flyer at her yoga session and Gilbert who saw a table in front of a bar on Saturday night.
Screw the pointless tepid advertising. Away with the carefully crafted (and stupid and offensive) scripts for volunteers to follow when calling specifically filtered phone lists. Be gone with centralized “messaging” and selected media access. Done with the elimination of anything that will remind the voter that we are actually talking about real living breathing gay people. And enough with the pussy-footing around about who is funding the anti-gay efforts and their motivations.
Our cause is right. Our cause is just. Our cause is moral.
And the battle is in our own states, cities, and communities. We aren’t going away. Our need for equality isn’t diminishing. So why have we let our “leaders” convince us that the battle is over in Oregon or Arizona or Colorado or Wisconsin? The question is not whether we should be putting this back on the ballot in California in 2010, but why we aren’t putting it back on the ballot in every state in which discrimination has been enacted.
HRC Feels the Heat, But Still Doesn’t Get The Message
June 5th, 2009
One popular blog reported yesterday that the Human Rights Campaign cut a deal with the White House to withhold public pressure on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until sometime next year. HRC immediately issued a statement calling the report “an outright lie” and “recklessly irresponsible.” Nevertheless, many grass roots LGBT activists weren’t convinced.
I had already observed that when the HRC met with the White House following the removal of key commitments from the administration’s LGBT civil rights web site, they basically handed the administration a blank check to delay away. HRC Director Joe Solmonese simply told reporters that he was “pleased” and that they have a plan.” With that, there was no further pressure or call to move forward on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the many other issues that President Barack Obama had once advocated. That milquetoast statement told me everything I needed to know about HRC’s sense of urgency.
So when yesterday’s report appeared on the Daily Beast, LGBT activists and bloggers all around nodded and shrugged. Sound about right, we thought. And the HRC’s subsequent denial sounded hollow. After all, we’ve been complaining that we’ve gotten a lot of great words from the Obama administration with little actual movement. Why would we consider HRC’s words any more important than their actions?
Radio talk show host Michelangelo Signorile had long complained that HRC appears to have gone completely underground following that White House meeting. He tried over and over to get someone from HRC to appear on his program, but he was rebuffed every time. Other journalists complained about the same problem.
But all that changed yesterday. Signorile got a call from the HRC yesterday that they wanted Solmonese on the program that day — within a few hours. (Signorile has posted audio of that interview with more background information.)
It’s very clear that HRC sees that they are being left behind. The massive nationwide Join The Impact protests following passage of California’s Prop 8 caught everyone off guard. Since then, two prominent lawyers bypassed the traditional LGBT leaders and launched their own lawsuit against Prop 8. Others have called for a march on Washington to show their impatience. People are impatient and they are voting with their feet. The HRC is being being bypassed.
Joe Solmonese appeared later yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. While he’s definitely feels the need now to answer for the perception that HRC has given the White House a pass on DADT, he’s still not much of a fierce advocate. Consider this exchange, where Solmonese dutifully mouths the White House’s talking points.
SOLMONESE: Well I think on any measure of issues we are working on right now with the White House, whether it’s movement on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the White House is working on these issues. But Lorre Jean brings up an incredibly important point particularly with regard to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There’s overturning the policy which I believe the administration will do in the course of the year or so, and then there are good hard working people like Dan Choi, and Arab language interpreter who potentially could be thrown out of the military in the next few weeks, and the President has the opportunity to stop that from happening. We’ve asked him to do that and pressed him to do that and hope that he will.
MATTHEWS: But if he does that by executive order, what is he worried about? Why is he not doing it? Joe?
SOLMONESE: Well, we don’t know… he may do it and he has the opportunity to do it and it may be that… I don’t know why he wouldn’t do it, but I mean with regard to overturning the policy generally, I mean you brought up… I don’t think its the case he want to not necessarily upset these military leaders, but he understands there’s an implementation part of this policy that has to be worked through, and I think on any measure that he’s working on with us, and I see we’re working daily with them on getting the hate crimes bill to his desk right now, is that he approaches these things in a way that they will be sustainable and will work in a way that’s going to work for the community in opposed to an expeditious manner which I think you saw President Clinton undertaking the first days of his administration that actually got us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The only difference between Solmonese answer and the near-nonanswers coming form White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs is that Solmonese is a bit more articulate. Maybe Solmonese should become Press Secretary instead.
Contrast that to Lorrie Jean, of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, who also appeared on Hardball:
Getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” doesn’t change what’s been happening. Gays and Lesbians have been serving in the military for decades, for hundreds of years and those kinds of problems don’t exist. While they figure out how they’re going to work out all those permutations, the President could take a very simple step. He could issue a Stop Loss Order and could say, hey look, right now our country is under attack by terrorists around the world. We need every able body that we can have, every valuable person. And so let’s stop drumming people out now while we figure this out.
You can watch the video here.
What Defines a Community Organization?
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of the other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
November 25th, 2008
Tonight there will be a “townhall meeting”, a 90 minute online forum to address “Prop. 8: The Facts and the Future”. It is hosted by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and will feature its CEO, Lorri Jean.
At first glace this seems like a reasonable organization and individual to take charge and really address this situation. After all, what could be more representative of the gay community than “the world’s largest LGBT organization”?
But is this really the world’s largest LGBT community organization? And what makes an organization “community”?
I would argue that for an organization to be “community” it has to fit some criteria: it must be where the community is, provide services to the community, be welcoming to all members of the community, and be a home, a place of security and warmth, a shelter.
Sadly, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center fails on nearly all accounts.
The heart of Los Angeles’ gay community can be found in West Hollywood on the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica. Although today that portion of West Hollywood plays social host to a mostly white male gay crowd of a certain age and dynamic, it is to that location that our community gravitates in time of protest. Yes, there are other parts of the city that play host to various subsets of our community, but West Hollywood is ours. It is our safe spot.
Hollywood is not.
A lone gay man or woman would not feel completely safe at night on Hollywood Boulevard towards the eastern end of the cruise strip. This is straightsville, and not a very safe part of it at that. Yet it is on a side street off Hollywood, three miles from the community, that the LAGLC’s chose to purchase a four story office building. And while it may be safe to wander around the neighborhood streets during the day, parking is only available for a hefty price.
If there is one thing obviously missing from the neighborhood in which the Center is located, it would be gay people.
But they also have another site – used mostly for fundraising. It has an art gallery, a theater, and rooms your organization can rent for occasions. It’s also in Hollywood and has no parking and I’ve yet to meet the person who wanders over to spend the afternoon.
But one might overlook the location if the draw was adequate. If they offered a service that was communal, that drew people together, that created a bond, a common meeting space, a feeling of unity.
Well, perhaps a glance at the Center’s revenues and expenditures can give us some sense as to whether LAGLC has the unification of the community as their primary goal.
According to LAGLC’s Form 990 for the year ended 6/30/07, the Center allocated their program service expenditures as follows: 77.0% as a pharmacy, 5.8% as an AIDS information clearinghouse, 5.7% for health education, for combined health services of 88.5% of their overall expenditures. Perhaps that’s why health care is featured so prominently on their website.
But healthcare is not their only function. They also provide care for homeless youth, free internet access, programs for seniors, and legal advice. All told they spent $32,895,161 doing good deeds.
For which they received reimbursement of $36,711,446 by the state, insurance companies, and fees.
Even after paying all administrative and fundraising expenses, the Center was in the enviable position of being able to reserve 43% of their direct public support away for a rainy day.
As for the average Joe or Jane gay person, for you there is not so very much.
Now you may be new in town and wander down Rand Shrader Place wondering what that brightly colored building is. And you may even go inside thinking it would be cool to maybe meet other gay people. But unless you are here for medical services (what’s your insurance?) or have an appointment, there’s no seating provided in the marble lobby and loitering isn’t allowed. (While once waiting for a friend who was receiving “legal advice” I was informed that there was a bench outside).
If you’re new in town and want to hang out with other gays, try either Starbucks on Santa Monica across from the gym or the new coffee place on the corner of Robertson. Or visit a church, join a club, or have a cocktail in any of dozens of bars scattered throughout the city. But don’t go near the Center.
Now don’t get me wrong. I very much appreciate the medical services they provide to those who are indigent or uncomfortable with another health care provider. And it’s awfully nice that someone is caring for youth and seniors. Truly. We need to better address the issue of homeless gay youth.
But I’m not sure why an adjunct of the State Health Department thinks that it is qualified to speak for me on issues of civil equality or why Lorri Jean has anything to say about the passage of Proposition 8.