The other day, I tagged this post by Mark Segal in the Philadelphia Gay News, with the intention to write about it. I felt that it was a good follow-up to the piece I wrote about the Equality PA town hall meetings, although, in my opinion, Mark isn’t talking as specifically about Pennsylvania State issues/policy. Then over the weekend, on an email list, there was a fairly attacking post against Mark’s post. Seemed to me that the author of the email, totally misunderstood what Mark was saying, and it left me to wonder if parts of the LGBT Rights movement can stop fighting long enough so that we can actually get something accomplished. I am not going to use this space to rebut the email specifically, but there is a base question, Segal proposes and the email rant illustrates, that I do want to elaborate on. Namely, how do we move closer to full Equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. This sums up Mark’s post nicely:

The road to change is two-fold: Fight it on a state-by-state level or federally by amending the Civil Rights Act, adding sexual orientation and gender identity. It has already been introduced before and, at one time, lost by just one vote in the Senate. Is it possible with a Republican Congress? Yes. But it takes leadership to voice the need to protect LGBT Americans living in places like Alabama, Florida and Texas. Yes, LGBT people living in red states deserve equality too. The issue calls for a leader(s) to be clear and a strategy for equality.

State By State

This is exactly the same message shared by Equality PA and the ACLU in their town hall meetings. Their focus is on non-discrimination and other protections at the State level. I understand Mark’s point to be that a state by state approach alone will not address the full issue as some very red states are far away from allowing even these basic protections in housing, employment and public accommodations, so a National approach is needed. Mark identifies it as amending the Civil Rights Act. Some activists are pushing for this via the American Equality Bill (AEB). I’d add only that it isn’t Red states where the citizens need Federal protections. Our own Pennsylvania hasn’t been able to pass non-discrimination, under Democrat control, and the likelihood of it passing now while the state is under GOP control seems impossible, but time will tell.

I’m completely with Mark on this one: we need to be working at this in a two-forked approach- at the state level as well as at the Federal level.

Marriage Equality

Some however, see this call for non-discrimination protections are if it were suggesting to not work on Marriage Equality. Here is where the fight begins. But such a position is really both unwarranted and unhelpful. Those who want to put all of their energy into Marriage Equality and ignore basic protections do so and diminish the possibility of getting what they want, i.e. Marriage Equality. Everyone, regardless of what issue you feel is “most important” ought to be working for non-discrimination protections, because without it, marriage really doesn’t mean much. Here’s why.Consider:

  • You and your boyfriend get married on a Saturday afternoon, but are denied accommodations at a hotel on Saturday night, when you want to have your honeymoon.
  • On Tuesday, when we go to find a bigger apartment, we are told they do not rent to homosexuals, and when the current landlord finds out, she evicts you.
  • On Wednesday, your employer finds out and fires you.
  • By thursday, you are married, but living in a cardboard box, homeless and without a job.

We know that no state has passed same-sex marriage if they don’t already have in place basic non-discrimination protections. It isn’t that basic non-discrimination is merely a stepping stone to gay marriage., Rather, real equality starts when all folks have these base level protections in housing, public accommodations and employment.

Those who see a call for a focus on basic non-discrimination as being opposed to working towards Marriage Equality, are so wrapped up in their own little world, they are thoroughly missing reality, and this fight they wish to fuel does little to accomplish anything.

How Do We Fight For Marriage Equality?

Segal puts it this way:

Marriage equality, no matter what we do, will be won in the courts.It will eventually be won or lost in the Supreme Court. You can support that fight by supporting the organizations that understand that system, namely Lambda Legal and American Foundation for Equal Rights. But it’s not an in-the-streets, chaining-yourself act. So masses here won’t help move that along. It will move at its own speed and, honestly, do we want to go before this court?

Here too, I thoroughly agree, but I would add that there are things that each and everyone of us can do to help bring Marriage Equality into being.
That isn’t marches and rallies and other activist-type events. Rather, we help the movement towards Marriage Equality, but being visible and educating the majority about who we are and why Equality benefits everyone. I would put it this way: Screaming and chanting for Marriage Equality won’t move us closer to Marriage Equality. But, simply being who we are in visible ways moves the issue forward because it helps educate others. Without non-discrimination protections, it can be hard for many to be visible. Passing non-discrimination protections helps move us towards same-sex marriage in this way.

There will be a point in the struggle when rallies and marches may help bring Marriage Equality, but time will tell. As it looks right now, the courts will end up working on this no matter what public opinion is.

Grass Roots vs Working the System

Segal advocates for putting our energy behind those who understand how the system works. He attributes passage of DADT to those who knew how to work the system . I don’t totally disagree with him, but I think we need more than that. we do need to put energy and resources behind those who understand the system, but we also need to increase direct action and other grass roots efforts so that the pressure is on for change. For example, we could have passed an Inclusive ENDA last year if there had been more pressure from the general public and grass roots activists.


Real equality is for all people, and that will include those who seek to be married as well as those who do not. Focusing only on the right to marry misses the real issue, which is creating an environment where all persons are treated fairly, with dignity, and have the same rights and freedoms.

PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News. Phila gay news. philly news – LGBT politics 101.


  1. Believe that Thomas may have captured my views better then I had in my column. His line about being married then being discriminated aginst the following day, not because of your marriage, but because you’re LGBT is the best example for non-discrimination legislation. This is and should continue to be a dialogue in our community, but let us try to agree to disagree with respect for the others views.

    Mark Segal

    • I have to give credit for the discrimination scenario to Ted Martin of Equality PA. I told him I was stealing it, and glad I did.

      I also totally agree that we need to increase dialogue within the LGBT community about all of these issues. Historically, there hasn’t been enough information flow from some major organizations down to the average person, and some have felt as if they give $$$ but don’t get much for it. But what we know is this work takes time. More dialogue and communication can help that info be dispersed as well as allow good ideas and energy trickle up as well. We will need everyone on board, as there are many tasks to be done, but grass roots organizers, by seasoned activists and many others as well. If we all play our own part the concerted effort can be success.

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