Monday, August 2, 2010

Can We, Please, Work Together?

One thing that the LGBTQ community has struggled with for generations is the establishment and promotion of a cohesive message and unified front. Various organizations (whose ultimate goal is universal, Equality) insist upon following their own strategies and employing their own tactics, regardless of what other organizations are doing. And then they whine and carp about each other.

For a moment, let’s take just one issue which affects us all (if not directly, indirectly . . . no matter how some may deny that it has any importance in their lives) repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Three main organizations count this among their key issues, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and GetEQUAL (GE).  HRC and GE are more “blanket” advocacies, involved in a number of the social issues that confront us. SLDN, on the other hand, is a highly targeted group, focusing solely on LGBTQ military members and the legal issues that impact them. All, though, have repeal of DADT as one of their major goals.

HRC is “the old guard.” They’ve been around for years and have political connections like no other. They’re conservative in approach if not in politics. They take a very cautious approach to activism/advocacy in order not to offend political allies. They’ve grown to require an immense operating budget, hiring expensive full-time paid “talent” to manage the organization in a very vertical, top-down manner.

SLDN was founded in 1993 in direct response to the enactment of the controversial DADT legislation. While politicians of the day insisted that DADT would make it easier for gay and lesbian Americans to participate in the country’s military, SLDN recognized, as many of us did, that DADT only paved the way for more insidious oppression. They are bipartisan and take a very “legalistic” approach to the issue.

GE, on the other hand, is the grass roots upstart.  They’re passionate and they’re brash . . . the epitome of “in your face” without getting too revolutionary like ACT-UP of old. They rely on direct action and “civil disobedience” to get their point across.

Each of these organizations has its place in our struggle to get DADT repealed. HRC will tell you that the civil disobedience tactics of GE are risky, to the point of being counterproductive. GE will tell you that the HRC approach only appeases politicians and makes “lapdogs” of the LGBTQ community. While I have a personal bias on my preference of approaches, I recognize the value of each in the overall goal of getting DADT repealed.

Recent events have brought about the apparent confluence of the three groups’ efforts. Repeal of DADT  (along with the Inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, I-ENDA)had, apparently, been tabled by Congress for the remainder of this year, putting the entire legislative effort at risk of being sacrificed to mid-term elections. In July, the efforts of GE, and specifically (former Lt.) Dan Choi, evoked a promise of action from Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. He did this through actions of civil disobedience, coupled with a calculated (perhaps manipulative?) encounter when Reid gave the Keynote Address at NetRoots Nation, an annual convention of progressive bloggers and activists. Within days, HRC and SLDN announced their intentions to jointly renew lobby efforts in Congress to push-through the repeal and promote passage of I-ENDA.

A cynic might say that HRC and SLDN are attempting to upstage GE and claim progress for their own. I, however, choose to believe that HRC and SLDN recognize the fact that, without the efforts of Dan Choi and GE, there would be nothing for them to lobby Congress about today.

In short, individual efforts, while using different strategies and tactics, are all necessary and contribute to the overall success of the whole. HRC, SLDN and GE are demonstrating a new cooperation that here-to-fore has been lacking in our community. HRC’s political connections, SLDN’s legal and legislative expertise, and GE’s civil disobedience are three efforts which individually cannot achieve the goal, but together are gaining momentum toward victory.

I hope each organization will publicly acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of the others. I pray that they will set egos aside and embrace rather than criticize one another’s’ work.

I further hope that they, especially HRC and GE, will take a serious look at the mechanisms in place to communicate (that means “listening” too!) with members of our community. Listen to and engage your constituency. Provide email addresses and phone numbers for staff members. Respond to every contact, no matter how insignificant it seems to you (it was significant enough for a constituent to contact you in the first place). And always respond with understanding and empathy, never arrogance.

Recognize and thank volunteers and donors, profusely.

To contact HRC:
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036-3278
HRC Front Desk: (202) 628-4160
TTY: (202) 216-1572
Toll-Free: (800) 777-4723
(On the surface, HRC seems easy to contact. They’ve greatly expanded the information on how to reach them on their web site. I suspect, however, that getting ahold of anyone there, much less getting a reply to email or voicemail messages is still problematic)

To contact SLDN:
PO Box 65301
Washington, DC 20035-5301
(202) 328-3244 or (202) 328-FAIR
(I’ve never had any dealings with SLDN, so I don’t know just how responsive they are to external contacts.)

To contact GetEQUAL
(I would suggest that GetEQUAL obtain a physical address and presence ASAP to build credibility and offer access to the community at large. Make it easy to find and responsive.)

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