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Open Letter to Angry and Frustrated LGBT Activists

October 11, 2010 Update: The truth is, this wasn’t originally, a well written post. I was asked if it could be posted as an editorial elsewhere on the web, and so I cleaned it up for that purpose. I’m posting the updated text here too, since it is better written. I’m leaving the original below  however.
Preface: The following was written in response to a post on Facebook, where an activist was expressing frustration and suggested that voting in this election wouldn’t make any difference. I thoroughly disagree with that idea. I’m posting it here, with the thought that maybe it will springboard a dialogue about how activists who feel frustrated by slow progress can minimize burnout, and keep fighting the good fight. How can activists keep focus on the issues and use their energy wisely to produce results.
Many LGBT activists are feeling frustrated and angry at the lack of progress on any LGBT issue since Obama was elected, and that frustration is prompting them to stay away from the polls this November. I guess they think it will send a message to the Democratic Party or something. But keeping a Democrat majority is a top priority, because there is a massive culture war going on and this election is just one battle within all of that.
Will all due respect, I get so tired of new activists who think that if they shout loud enough, it will make things different.  Some of us have been doing that for a long time. Shouting, rallies, protests, are all needed activities, but only part of battle. Some blast Blue Dog Democrats, and even the President’s administration for not standing with us 100 percent, and those frustrations are warranted. Yet abandoning all Democrats and the democratic process of elections, isn’t the answer. IF- we are going to see full equality, we must must work on many fronts and many battles and not leave any alone. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as other items of legislation are all important.

Some are suggesting that because Congress won’t pass ENDA or DADT, and because the Justice Department continues to defend DADT, that the best thing we can do is let those Democrats lose in November as payback for abandoning our issues. But if we lose either the Senate or the House (or goddess forbid, both) we are totally screwed and there won’t be ANY progress on any LGBT issue at all. I believe the President fully gets why these issues are important to us. He either doesn’t have the political balls to do it, has advisors who don’t have the political balls, or sees doing things for the LGBT community will only be like pouring fuel on the already out of control culture war. I don’t know. But I do know that he hasn’t been “with us” for a while now, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Too many LGBT activists wear blinders to any other progressive e cause, and are failing to consider the gravity of the current Tea Party climate. There are all out attacks on women’s rights, for example, as no fewer than five candidates for Congress are running on a platform that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape or incest. Do these activists recognize just how close the far right is to gaining power where no progressive cause has a chance? Also concerning are the attacks on Health Care Reform and Social Security. If the conservatives are successful in privatizing Social ?Security, we may as well kiss any chance for LGBT equality good-bye, as no progressive policy will have any chance at all, if the major progressive policy of the last century is struck down.

We have however been making progress on ENDA and other things in both the House and the Senate, as well as making progress in the Courts. If we want to see progress continue, we MUST MUST keep Democrat control in both of these legislative bodies.  If anything, we needed to be out there finding Democrat opponents  (or supporting them where they exist) who are up against the Blue Dog Democrats who keep acting like Right Wing conservatives.

Do you know who Jesse Helms was? Do you realize there are five Tea Party candidates that could make their way into the Senate in November who would make him look like a liberal? Do you have any idea how much that will deter full equality? Activists: be passionate and angry about being treated as a second class citizen! I’m simply suggesting that the first place to turn all of that emotion is on making sure we lose as few seats as possible in November, and then use it full force on all the many fronts where we are fighting. Stop thinking that if one person (like the President) did one thing or another, then everything would be better. If you don’t feel the current Democrats are acting in our best interest, then the on November 4th, get busy working to elect more progressive Democrats in 2012 and 2014. It takes some time to get progressives elected, so get working on it soon rather than simply lament the lack of such folks directly before an election.
The sad news is that we are still a long way from Equality, but the good news is that if we can stop a rise in conservative control of our government, we can keep making progress. We should never settle for minuscule gains, but allowing the Far Right to win isn’t the answer.

Original Post:
Preface: The follocwing is something I wrote in response to a post to Facebook, where an activist was expressing frustration and suggesting that voting in this election wouldn’t make any difference. I thoroughly disagree with that idea. I’m posting it here, with the thought that maybe it will springboard a dialogue about how activists who feel frustrated by slow progress can minimize burnout, and keep fighting the good fight. How can activists keep focus on the issues and use their energy wisely to produce results. Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

Who told you to “just vote and call it a year”?  I most certainly didn’t! I only said that keeping a Dem majority was the top priority. And I said that there is a massive culture war going on and this is one battle within all of that. That’s all I said.

Will all due respect, I get so tired of new activists who think that if they shout loud enough, that that is what is going to make things different.  Some of us have been doing that for a long time. Shouting, rallies, protests, are all needed activities, but only part of battle.

IF, we are going to see full equality, we must must work on many fronts and many battles and not leave any alone. DADT, DOMA, all of that is important. YOU can say that the administration doesn’t have to defend these policies, but are you a lawyer? Do you understand why the Justice Dept is taking that approach?  I don’t, and I’m not in any way defending them for it. I do however recognize that the issue is more complex than a simple, decision to defend it or not defend it. The President accepted a compromise to allow the Military to do its survey. As wrong as that may have been, that was the direction he took. The Justice Dept may feel that they had to file the brief or be seen as not supporting the plan to let the Military complete its report.

But if we lose either the Senate or the House (or goddess forbid, both) we are totally screwed and there won’t be ANY progress on any LGBT issue at all.

The President fully gets why these issues are important to us. He either doesn’t have the political balls to do it, has advisors who don’t have the political balls, or sees doing things for the LGBT community will only be like pouring fuel on the already out of control culture war. I don’t know. But I do know that he hasn’t been “with us” for a while now, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

We have however been making progress on ENDA and other things in both the House and the Senate, as well as making progress in the Courts. If we want to see progress continue, we MUST MUST keep Dem control in both of these legislative bodies.  If anything we needed to be out there finding Dem opponents  (or supporting them where they exist) who are up against the Blue Dog Dems who keep acting like Right Wing conservatives.

Do you know who Jesse Helms was? Do you realize there are 5 Tea Party candidates that could make their way into the Senate in November who would make him look like a liberal? Do you have any idea how much that will deter full equality?

And do you realize the current state of culture war? A woman’s right to choose was supposedly decided how many years ago, and yet it is still a major battle being fought (and one where progressives are losing ground).

Be passionate and angry about being treated as a second class citizen! I’m simply suggesting that the first place to turn all of that is on making sure we lose as few seats as possible in November, and then use it full force on all the many fronts where we are fighting. Stop thinking that if one person (like the President) did 1 thing or another, then everything would be better.

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10 Comments

  1. Pingback: Open Letter to the Lazy Gays | thomascwaters.com

  2. Bolton, I think you missed my point. You are dissatisfied with the democrats, and frustrated with them too. I agree. Typically, I find the democratic approach tends to be too timid on everything, tiptoeing around looking for kumbaya moments. I am not saying that they don’t have their problems.

    What i am saying is the Republicans at this point are beyond hope. And that fact that you think the comment that republicans want to eliminate you is “fear mongering” demonstrates you have not really researched the real movers and shakers behind that party at the moment. The leadership is more Jim DeMint than Olympia Snow.

    A core difference between the way we see things (so far as I can tell from these couple of posts) is that you kind of view the political action as moving forward or staying in the same place (ie. repeal or don’t repeal DADT, and legalizing or not legalizing same-sex marriage). However, this is a pretty rosy, optimistic view. In fact, the is also the option of attempting to remove, restricts or prevent the attainment of rights through legislative processes. Much of this is done at the local level and then bubbles up to the top, just gaining protections and achieving equal rights typically also starts at the bottom and works its way up to the federal level.

    An obvious example of this is the anti-marriage amendment proposed to the US Constitution. This effort was spawned from Republican-allied activists, supported I think exclusively (or almost exclusively) by Republicans, and is not yet dead is terms of their future plans. Proposition 8 in California is another examples. Legislation is again being proposed to prevent LGBT people from being school teachers and to prevent LGBT people from adopting kids or being foster parents. And while not every Republican is supportive of these efforts, almost none of them will stand up against them. Further, many of the current major powerbrokers in the republican party support these moves.

    Non-action by the democrats is frustrating and annoying. The stupid idea that DADT should be repealed by congresses is naive and lacks a clear sense of the history of progress on civil rights in the United States. Nevertheless, being directly attacked by the right wing which is currently associated with the republicans party, with few if any elements in place anymore within the party to resist them, makes it clear that for the meantime, the LGBT community’s best bet is to throw their lot with the democrats. If these should change down the road, then that is another question.

    Of course, you may find these scenarios rather doomsdayish and improbable. However, if you research the state of affairs for LGBT people in the 50’s and 60’s in the US, you will find that shock treatment was pretty standard, that actually just engaging in same-sex relationships was illegal, and so forth. Indeed, quite a lot of progress has been made, especially in the 80’s and 90’s.

    Also illuminating is pre-Hitler Germany, say the 10 years before is rise to power, when Germany was considerably more free and nobody every thought anything like the Nazi’s could every seriously come to power. Unfortunately people, especially when economically stressed, are capable of some truly poor decision making.

    Allt hat said, obviously you will do what you think you must. I can only hope that perhaps it is mostly synergistic with what Tom and others are doing.

    Finally, just a comment. Perhaps you don’t care about the HRC, but as a racial minority, I do. I’ve seen plenty of race-based discrimination. I infer from your comment that since you aren’t susceptible such discrimination that you don’t consider the issue important. And this is part of what I mean by saying that LGBT stuff seems like just a white issue so much of the time. And kind of attitude is what makes it difficult to build coalitions. Just as the ethnic activists need to rid themselves of homophobic (or uncaring views), so must the LGBT activists. The community isn’t big enough to make much progress on its own.

    Good luck on your efforts.

  3. BoltonKWinpenny says:

    Sorry for my delayed response. I didn’t realize this thread had moved. I guess if I click “subscribe by email” I will get notification of movement? I only discovered it because it caused a message from my “Google Alerts.”

    I’m certainly not confident about not voting for democrats only because they’re democrats. Now that Obama’s DOJ appealed both the DADT win and the Mass DOMA win, I’m voting for only Sestak. Everything else will be a write in. What seat do you want, I’ll write you in. Don’t give me that horse-crap about the DOJ has to defend. No, it really doesn’t, it especially does not need to appeal. If they have to appeal, then why did they wait three months to decide?

    I was following another blog on the subject of gays turning away from the Democrats, and I like one of the comments:

    http://www.bilerico.com/2010/10/what_would_you_tell_a_frustrated_gay_voter.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BilericoProject+%28The+Bilerico+Project%29

    “I would tell a frustrated gay voter this: Own it! You vote. You make your choices. You allow yourself to be lied to, over and over, in a repetition of craving. It is time to look for candidates who support equality for all, and vote for them–even if they don’t win. It is a natural consequence of change that the first people for whom we vote will lose.
    But if continue to vote for people solely on the idea that they are “electable,” then we will never build support for candidates that share our views, and thus, we ourselves destroy their “electability.”
    We are part of the problem, we need to accept that change only comes with the willingness to vote differently.
    The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Anyone through with being crazy yet?”
    – symbiote

    I met Dan Onorato at the Keystone Progressive Summit. He looked me in the eye and said my marriage is not worth being recognized by the state (I’m paraphrasing). I simply can not vote for a man, who not only believes that but, will take this thought into governing Pennsylvania. Even if I fully believe and supported everything you say, there’s no way that my brain could convince my hand to select his button in the voting booth.

    I don’t think it matters if Corbett removes PA HRC. In fact having PA HRC without including LGBT is government spawned oppression. I’d rather see it gone than remain without LGBT.

    I don’t see any progress in DADT through the legislature, so no, this is not a battle that I think will be determined dependent if republicans are in office or not. In fact, simply removing DADT without forcing the military to accept gays is a step backwards. They will simply do their study and decide that there’s a kid from Arizona who will feel uncomfortable serving with gays, and that will be that. I’ll bet good money that the result will be, “No, not yet, we’ll readdress this in the future.”

    Having Dems or Reps running Pa will not change the movement of LGBT issues. Been there, done that. Regardless of who’s in power, what does and will work is a continued push through awareness and education campaigns, not supporting political candidates… although I consider a big lobbying effort an awareness and educational campaign, not for the politicians, but through all the talk and media which such a campaign generates.

    I’ve been in long debate with a couple people that are heavily involved in the Tea Party. They swear up and down that it is not a God or far right Republican movement. I point out that the top 10 candidates supported by the Tea Party ALL include pro-life in their campaigns. They side-step that point saying that they can’t get the perfect candidate so they accept the pro-life stance as a compromise….. ARRRRGGGG!!!!! Notice, this is not the Republicans compromising, it’s the Tea Party; and I would think the Tea Party would be the last to compromise.

    To say that the Republicans plan to “eliminate me” is the same fear mongering technique that you accuse them of. I don’t think (and I really hope not) that “traditional marriage” is a slippery slope to the holocaust.

  4. Bolton, I have to go in a minute but I wanted to respond briefly. First, Dems may not all stand up for gays, but Republicans pretty much universally at this point support anti-gay legislation. For myself, I would prefer somebody who doesn’t help me when I am trying to accomplish something than support somebody who plans to eliminate me.

    Second, I don’t necessarily believe people should compromise their goals. Only that they use common sense, acknowledge reality as opposed to existing in a dualistic, ideological bubble, and find different ways to attain their objectives. For example, the republicans are a lost cause right now. Until the moderates decide to really fight back against he right-wing nutcases, the leadership in that party has chosen to side with extremists. The no-supportive Democrats are currently the most likely path to the goals. Challenges against unsupportive democrats should therefore occur in the primaries from pro-lgbt candidates who also have a handle on the broader range of issues. Democrats are best supported in the general election in the meantime because that would generally mean at the least erosion of support and possible some incremental gains.

    Expecting people to just come onto the side of the LGBT community, especially if they are not gay, is unrealistic even in today’s society. Having unrealistic expectations only leads to disappointment and unreal objects and unreasonable strategies.

    Finally, it is good to be a bit self-reflective. As an obvious example, one can consider the racial and religious bias that certainly exists within the lgbt community. A decrease in that might lead to a little better cooperation from ethnic communities, not to mention the greater participation of ethnic minorities within the lgbt community. LGBT politics is, quite frankly, a very white thing. Another reason why I gave up. There really isn’t that much room for other perspectives in LGBT political circles. This is not an unusual opinion. There are some really great people… Idon’t want to saay everybody is like this, but it is the dominant mindset.

    well I have to go. Just a few thoughts to chew on, agree or not.

  5. Bolton Winpenny says:

    To “Me”s response: Yes, my moral ground regarding obtaining the civil equality and religious freedom I thought I had since birth is higher than raping children that look to you for spiritual guidance then relieving guilt by saying “The evil homosexuality within me made me do it.”

    I’ve had it with the compromising democrats. The other side doesn’t play that way. Our plight is ignored because every politician on our side knows that we’ll forgive them since they’re better then the other guy. LGBT shouldn’t even be a party-line issue. There are plenty of gays who think our government spends too much, plenty who fear that “gun safety” is a threat to their right to bear arms (although at this point for me, I see how that could be quite dangerous), plenty who think that government handouts lead to a weak society. Perhaps if we stop supporting politicians that don’t support us, and instead let our vote be up for grabs by either party we’ll get a better result. The Tea Party movement is NOT a far right republican movement, although all Tea Party candidates are far right republicans. The Tea Party suggests that instead of fighting for the government to treat us all equally, we get the government to equally stop treating us. But since the gays are so attached the Democrats who don’t get anything done for us, we have no voice in any other political movement, so there’s no reason for them to support us.

    The moderates don’t care about marriage equality, gays in the military, employment & housing fairness or hate crimes. They don’t stand up for what they don’t care about. Frankly, if the republicans win, we have nothing to loose since we haven’t won anything in the legislature. As you noted, it seems the far right is more eager to make abortions illegal, oppress non-Christians and remove government protection from subject classes then they are to push gays back in the closet. So let all those who didn’t stand up for us loose their freedoms. Get them rallied up and maybe they’ll remember their history lesson “they didn’t come fur us, so we didn’t do anything until it was too late.”

    • Bolton,
      If you don’t like the way you think Democrats do politics, then I encourage you to get involved with the Democratic Party and work to change it. I don’t know that I think the Republicans do politics better, however. They simply seek to be an obstacle for any real legislating, and then use fear and BS to get themselves back into power. But, the way to get the Democratic Party to function differently is by getting into the Party.

      I don’t think I’d agree with the statement, “Our plight is ignored because every politician on our side knows that we’ll forgive them since they’re better then the other guy.” I think you lack any awareness of the reality out there. You make it sound as if Dems simply choose to do nothing and this isn’t the case at all. It is a culture war out there, and even the folks fighting strongly for us don’t get as far as we want to go because it is just really rough. Take for example, a woman’s right to choose. There are now 5 Tea Party candidates poised to take seats in the US Senate who believe a woman should be forced to carry a baby to term, even in cases of rape and incest. A rational mind would have thought that abortion had been settled in Roe v Wade, but not so. We are on the edge of really losing ground on this important issue.

      Governance, especially in a democracy is all about compromise. Granted, there is something to be said for not loosing too much in a compromise. But your desire to see Dems act like Republicans is asking them to stop seeking compromise which is real democracy.

      You are just so full of crap when it comes to the Tea Party Movement. IT IS FAR RIGHT, IT IS ALL ABOUT SOCIAL CONSERVATISM. The taxes rhetoric is just a way for the Far Right to stir the masses. Much like in the Health Care Reform struggle where they were lying and telling Seniors that HCR would pull the plug on Granny. Or that it was government run HC, so all of these Seniors on govt run HC were up in arms.

      If you think we have accomplished nothing, and therefore having nothing to lose if the Republicans win, then I truly feel sorry for you. We are on the Verge of the Far Religious Right’s last big push to take control, and they could likely do it unless we get out and support democrats. One of the specific gains I don’t want to see us loose on a National front is the progress on DADT. We are so close to getting it repealed, and a Republican take over in November will kill that possibility. I’m so grateful for Patrick Murphy and all the hard work he has put into it. On a State level, there won’t be ANY LGBT legislation move, even an inch if Tom Corbett is elected. If he wins, we are most likely also going to loose the PA House and the State Senate will end up more liberal than the House, and THERE IS NO WAY THE CURRENT SENATE CAN BE CALLED LIBERAL. Following what has been done in other states, I won’t be surprised if Corbett moves to eliminate the entire Human Relations Commission, to cut the budget. THEN we are all screwed.

      I agree that LGBT rights shouldn’t be a party-line issue and it is becoming less so in some ways as people like the McCain daughter step up and challenge the GOP status quo. Or we see this shift in terms of gay marriage as more and more conservatives take a more traditional view and think Govt doesn’t belong in our bedrooms. However, the biggest battle going on right now is over who controls the GOP. Will it be more traditional conservative thinkers, or will the far right social fundamentalists take total control. They have almost full control already.

      The last think I want to comment on is your statement, “instead let our vote be up for grabs by either party we’ll get a better result.” While in theory this makes sense, it can’t play out in any practical sense. Governing isn’t a light switch that you simply decide to do this or do that. So, the ramifications, both good and bad of this November’s election won’t really be seen to take full root for 2-3 years. This means there isn’t any way to hold those elected fully accountable. This isn’t like news cycles. We, LGBT folks are only a very small constituent base of about 10% . For your idea to work, we would have to be a much larger voting block of maybe 20-25%. But that said, the fallacy of this notion is illustrated with the latino vote. Here IS a voting block that could put the Republicans clearly in power, yet the far right is more concerned with nationalist white fundamentalist purity than they are with gaining a voter block.

  6. This is a good editorial Tom. We would also do well to treat each other civilly and try to contribute productively instead of assume we have the higher moral ground than our fellows, or even politicians. This tendency to assume everybody but ourselves should transcend the human imperfections we often expect others to overlook in ourselves is shattering our society. We become as judgmental as those who demonize us. The bickering and one-upsmanship and righteous posturing, along with the lack of actual substantive support on the part of many in the community (ie. all talk no action), is a big reason why I quit doing advocacy for this community a long time ago. It made me miserably and stressed out and while I didn’t expect a pat on the back, I had enough of the crap. It was thankless and I applaud you for taking it up.

    I do my own part in my own way. I certainly vote. I work for democrats because the republicans at this point are a lost cause. I still take lgbt issues into consideration in what political work I still do. But I’m not going to jump into that pool of misery again.

    • Thx for the comment. I think sometimes we (in the general sense) get so afraid and desperate for change that we forget to mutually trust and expect others have good ideas and actions. I also think that the LGBT community has had to work so hard to believe that we deserve equality that this impacts our willingness to work together.

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