This blog post by Rex Wockner gives a good sketch of the perceived divide I mentioned, especially if we consider the title:
Grassroots, Netroots, Stonewall 2.0 Activists Demand Equality, Formalize Split With Activist Establishment
Seeing the issues in such a clear cut, binary way is to not apply any sort of critical scrutiny — it’s too black and white, too neat and tidy to pit sides against one another rather than acknowledge the real complexities that make up the community: our attitudes, commitments, experiences, and expectations. It makes for a good blog post or newspaper article, but that’s about it. I’m thrilled the younger generation (and I feel totally stupid saying that, but that’s my own issue!) feels fed up and angry and like they’re not gonna take it any more. I loved seeing them on the streets, gay and straight alike, singing and chanting and shouting. Marches have not only enormous symbolic value, but they build community, they bring people together, they engender action and inspire people to return to their homes ready to work for change. They are also a part of our history, as the subtitle of Lucy Barber’s book makes clear: Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition. Too many people, however, seem to suggest that such transgressive action must be valued over against the amazing work that organizations like the Human Rights Campaign do, and have been doing for decades. The argument isn’t compelling; it’s not sophisticated, which is precisely why it’s so prevalent.
Wockner writes in his post:
“About halfway through the National Equality March, when it became clear that the turnout was big enough for the march to be deemed a huge success, a reporter said to Cleve Jones [the organizer], `You realize you just split the gay movement in two.’ Jones nodded and grinned.”
The cutesy way in which this is written, combined with Jones’s alleged nod and grin, makes me wonder what the goal and purpose of the march really was. This rhetorical flourish hinges the success of the entire event on whether or not it breaks apart the very community it purports to sustain and encourage. What is suggested is that for LGBT America to move forward we must do so without the old guard, without Joe Solomonese and the Human Rights Campaign, without anybody who attended the national dinner, heard Obama speak, and wasn’t insulted, outraged, or demoralized.
For me, being at the national dinner was an amazing experience — being in the same room with a United States President is a powerful thing. After the dinner was over, HRC president Joe Solomonese responded, in part:
“Tonight, President Obama told LGBT Americans that his commitment to ending discrimination in the military, in the workplace and for loving couples and their families is ‘unwavering.’ He made it crystal clear that he is our strongest ally in this fight, that he understands and, in fact, encourages our activism and our voice even when we’re impatient with the pace of change. But these remarks weren’t just for us, they were directed to all Americans who share his dream and ours of a country where `no one is denied their basic rights, in which all of us are free to live and love as we see fit.'”
What’s really important about this is that President Obama, even though he was speaking directly to us, to the LGBT community at large and directly to those of us sitting in the room before him, he was also speaking to everyone who happened to be watching the speech as it was carried live by both CSPAN and CNN. As President Obama delivered his speech, in between a backdrop bedecked with the HRC logo and the podium with the Presidential Seal, powerful symbolic, social, and political meaning was being created. At one point Jeremy turned around and looked at me with an expression full of the weight of this history that we were witnessing as Obama proclaimed that “You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman” and said, “This is going out on CNN.” The message was clear: yes, we are hearing these words. But so are countless numbers of other Americans who, whether they agree or disagree, are witnessing the only president in American history who has ever uttered such words or demonstrated such public support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans.
As Joe Solomonese said: “It’s simply unprecedented.”
The main issues that require our attention are the passage of a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
I laced up my sneakers this weekend because this is my community and these issues are of vital importance to it. I laced up my sneakers because Matthew Shepard was killed eleven years ago and we still have no federal hate crimes legislation on the books. I laced up my sneakers because in this country our relationships are not valued; our talent at work is not valued; our skills as military service men and women are not valued; and, in many places, our lives are not valued. I believe the president will make good on his promises. I also believe that he cannot do it without the Congress, and it is up to us to hold them accountable. Barney Frank may be right when he says that members of Congress don’t care about marches. But they will care once folks, inspired by their experiences and fired up by what they’ve seen and heard and felt and learned, walk off the streets of Washington and go back to their homes where they call their representatives and senators, write them letters and post cards, and make sure that they know just how important these issues are to us — and that we will not rest until full equality has been achieved.
Last weekend’s events were watershed moments. I feel fortunate to have been able to participate in both of them.