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10/07/2010

Thoughts on a movement in flux

by Jeremy Hooper

One big problem I see, in a tangible, real world sense: That not enough people want to do the work. And by "do the work," I mean fully engaging in the fight, taking on whatever comes the LGBT community's way on any given day, from good to bad to weird to boring-but-important. Bloggers, not being able to fake the work -- the product is only as good as the time the writer puts into it -- know that the so-called "culture war" is not a piecemeal set of issues and campaigns that truly ardent supporters can drop in and out of. Involvement in this fight is an ongoing conversation that builds on itself, requiring daily engagement. It's all interconnected. So while my hope would be for all supporters to make the choice to enroll into this daily school of sorts, my demand for anyone who enters into it in a professional capacity is that they have no choice but to buckle down, develop an indefatigable passion for learning as much as possible, and do everything within his or her power to expand the sphere of support further than we thought it could even go.

As new groups form and old groups earn both praise and criticism, the continuing problem I see is that there are too many people who want to hold meetings, host conference calls, network at annual confabs, show up at events, put their name on things, look at their blackberries ten times a minute, and continue to collect a (donor-financed) paycheck, yet a smaller number of people who are willing to do the unglamorous heavy lifting. In fact, if one more person from a salary-earning position at a local or national group asks me to do some sort of pro bono research for them that essentially does nothing more than shorthand what they could've done themselves while benefiting me in a way that invokes Dolly Parton's "use your mind and never give you credit" line, it just might be enough to drive me crazy (if I let it) . Because if I and my bloggy colleagues can work all day every (week)day digging and pushing back and developing the kind of informed strategies that can only be gleaned by actually educating oneself about the history, complexities, and maneuverings of both the pro- and anti-equality personalities, groups, laws, court cases, and what have you, then our well-financed groups should be able to do the same.

Now, obviously some committed warriors do dedicate more time than any human should ever have to commit to this fight for basic respect and rights (within the legal groups, particularly so). But there are still not enough fierce devotees, in my view. And not enough is just not acceptable. Because remember: While it's easy for us to think of all of our groups as being self-sustaining businesses that exist simply because they've existed for some amount of time, the reality is that every last one of our groups are only monied because our community, from individuals to large single donors, keeps them in house. So if you think about the movement in those terms (i.e. as a pool of collective resources that needs to be funneled somewhere but not necessarily in the direction or proportions that it currently is) it's more than fair to look beyond both the arrows and the laurels and instead consider the brass tacks. To look beyond brand names and instead look at the sweat equity.

This fight at this crucial time in history is not and should not be a standard job. It requires much more responsibility than that. And I truly believe that the fundamental that must underly every last LGBT effort is the belief that the insatiable quest for knowledge and the principled quest for equality are infrangibly linked. We are the movement with the intellectual cards. We are the movement with opposition forces that willfully dupe the public into uninformed support. We are the movement with needed gains that are, at the end of the day (or Senate cloture vote, as it were), clobbered by misinformation, junk science, outdated notions, or even flat-out lies. So we must be the movement that knows every last in and out like the back of our bumper stickers, so that when we lobby, we'll know that one hidden gem that'll serve as the Achilles heel that brings down the conservative senator's biases. So that when we appear on TV, Brian Brown's one certain misstatement will pierce our ears like a dog whistle, instantly bringing to mind that concrete, indisputable nugget that clobbers his deception on live television. So that when we are asked to place prominent Op-Eds by virtue of our organizational reputation, it's not even that we won't need a ghostwriter -- the very idea that any other voice could possibly know more than us would be laughable. So that when we are speaking to a crowd in a tiny red state town, we'll know what fear line the local politician delivered just a week or two earlier so that we can knock his or her untruths out of the park. In short: So that when we're called upon to know that of which we speak, our bright eyes will convey the kind of unwavering confidence that cannot be denied. So that whereas our opposition comes across like talking point machines, our body of researched knowledge flows like poetry.

I (someone who's been nothing close to an organization basher and who thinks 'Gay Inc.' is a limiting label, btw) truly believe that if we buckle down and see the work as a heightened commitment that goes beyond employment, and if we become an army that prides itself on playing chess two moves ahead of the opposition, then we are uber-close to check mate. But it might require us to first raise our expectations and to light a few ass-fires.

This is the first and last time I'm going put this out there or play any of this inside baseball. There's too much work to do.


Now, that all out of the way: Go read Chris Geidner's great piece examining the more structural elements of our national groups at this point in our movement's history. It's worth everyone's time and consideration:

2010-10-07 Feature Story 5644 5720
Against this backdrop, Metro Weekly spoke with the leaders of 15 LGBT political, legal and electoral organizations whose work has a national impact. These conversations, all conducted during the week of Sept. 27, show unexpected agreements and similarities between organizations with significantly different missions. More fundamentally – and despite differences of opinion and of strategy – the interviews make clear that the relationships between LGBT organizations are not easily defined in terms of a ''schism'' or even a divide.
State of Play: As established organizations face new perspectives and groups, LGBT advocacy is evolving – despite setbacks and challenges [Metro Weekly]

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