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02/07/2010

#CC10: Some personal takeaways

by Jeremy Hooper

cc10Despite what these cheese enchiladas and margaritas from last night might want to believe, the 2010 edition of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce's Creating Change conference is now in the history books. But as one who's determined to not let indigestion cloud my memories, I, Jeremy, would now like to share some of the thoughts that I'll be taking back from Dallas. In no particular order:

  • As active participants of this movement, we can and should challenge tactics, strategies, rhetoric, and leadership. Both ours and our opposition's. However, there's no reason to turn it personal. As people who come with all of the trappings that are laid upon us as humans, we'll naturally have our own interpersonal whatnots with each other. But for the sake of the movement, we should strive to disconnect the two. The message is what matters.
  • We all need to expand our spheres. Rather than stack our days with panels filled with the friends or communities with whom we already know and identify, we should instead consider choosing the one workshop that's most foreign to us.
  • Insider-itis (noun): The possibility for participants' shared personal histories and genuine mutual respect to alienate others in the room. It's no one's fault, and it comes from a real and human place. This writer is certainly guilty of it. But on the last night, a couple of my fellow attendees did tell me that to them, as conference newbies, the acknowledged familiarity had the tendency to come across as isolating at certain points, and counterproductive at others. It's something I'm certainly going to be more aware of from here on out.
  • Our movement is at a point of real change right now. There are plenty of opportunities for folks to rise up, but there are also other areas where the players really must step up, roll up their sleeves, and prove their mettle if they're going to continue to ask the community to finance/support/follow their way of operations. My hope lies in the former camp, with everyone using the heightened stakes to self-ignite fires under their or their staff's bootie shorts. But if not: Well, strategic streamlining is not a sign of weakness. It's both a Darwinian reality and a political necessity.
  • There's definitely a time to shut off the electronics and be fully present. Even if just for an hour or two. Thanks @equalitymonkey and @speechadvice for #showingmethat. ;-)
  • Yes, red wine can give me a nasty hangover. I thought that it was my safe(r) drink on nights that are followed by an early morn'. I was wrong.
  • I'd caution all leaders or would-be leaders to find the balance between confidence and cockiness. While a steely spine is an asset, overconfidence can come across as having a "no, no -- we got this" sort of vibe, which threatens to shut off the flow of support. At this point in the movement we should all be willing to admit that there are crucial answers that we've yet to find, and we should be open to hearing as many voices as possible. It's far better to take a certain point and then present disagreement rather than to shoot down a thought with a "you're wrong and here's why..."-like rebuttal.
  • We should talk a little more about how and when we use "homophobia." While a catch-all term that we in the fight can throw around and understand its basic meaning, pop culture's most common word for anti-gayness is loaded in many ways. For one, it allows the person who embraces bias an easy out via that old "I'm not scared of gays" line. Plus it leaves out gender expression, which is the more common reason why overheated foes would likely turn aggressive, since they've presumably never seen us have sex. But most importantly: The term just doesn't fully encompass the span of motivations or emotions that lead one to embrace bias. Some folks truly are homo-hostile, but many others would be more accurately described as heterosexist. Others are simply misinformed. Others still are being led by outside forces that we can and remove with work -- but work that could be weakened if these folks think we're accusing them of some incurable hatred.
  • We're a strong, principled movement. But we have work to do. We must do more and we must do it harder. Who's in?

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Your thoughts

If someone's a racist, they will generally deny it and use all sorts of mental and verbal gymnastics to "prove" to others that they aren't. It's the same thing with homophobia. While there are degrees of racism, there are also degrees of homophobia. Not all are on the level of genocide, but some are. All are harmful, however, on different levels.

We should never allow our opponents to control the language being used. The cop-out, "I can't be homophobic, because I'm not afraid of gays" is simply an excuse to justify homophobia. The reality is that all bigotry and prejudice does begin with fear (of the unknown) whether those afflicted with this condition recognize it consciously or not.

The current campaign by some opponents against the word "homophobia" reminds me of the one against the word "gay." We still have radical anti-gay activists saying, "Gay means happy." If we allow homophobes (of whatever degree) to tell us they aren't homophobic, can't possibly be, and it doesn't even exist, then we sede more of the debate to them. (We should be telling them to look the word up in the dictionary and see the real meaning--it's there and it's not just "fear" despite what they say.) Each time we do this, each time we offer up another word, it will be shot down by the same people and all our efforts to appease them will never be enough and they will continue to oppose us anyway. "He who controls the words, controls the debate." Our opponents are well aware of this.

Posted by: Michael | Feb 8, 2010 2:04:37 AM

See Michael, I see it in an entirely different way. I think we can actually weaken our own arguments by jumping to use this one term. Our organized opposition is so familiar with it, that as soon as they hear it they'll basically shut down all conversation. So I'm not at all saying that their "I'm not afraid..." line is justified, or that we should allow it to intimidate us. Mainly I'm saying that it's an instant conversation killer, one that allows them an easy out that *many* people (including the mainstream commentariat/pundit class) will buy.

And then thinking beyond the organized opposition: I simply don't agree that everyone who votes against us comes from a place of fear. I find heterosexism *more* dangerous, because it is so casually accepted by even our allies, yet largely unaddressed.

And then finally: For me, "homophobe" is just not the powerful term that you seem to see it as. That's why I don't see it as ceding any ground to suggest that we rethink how/when we use it.

But of course neither of us are necessarily "right," which is why these conversations are so important.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 8, 2010 7:17:35 AM

Thanks Jeremy! I completely agree with every single one of your points, and I was especially frustrated with the use of electronics during presentations. Sure, if I'd kept my laptop open at all times, my blogging of the conference would have been more "live" than the trickling in that will happen this week, but I got more out of the presentations by being respectfully attentive.

Your twitpic of the enchiladas almost compelled me to get the same, but I'm glad I made a different choice.

I'm still chilling in an airport this morning... haven't made it home yet, but that's okay. I'm making the most of it. Take care! It was very good to see you!

Posted by: Zack Ford | Feb 8, 2010 7:58:19 AM

Well Zack, I admit to having my laptop open more often than not. But I made sure to be extra attentive or throw in an extra comment in most sessions where I felt the strong need to multitask :-)

The enchiladas were so yum! Actually, all of the food at Mia's was amazing. A must, if you're ever back in the big D.

Get home safely!!!

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 8, 2010 8:24:24 AM

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