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JULY 11, 2009
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Alas, poor activism, we knew her well
40 years after Stonewall, sipping cocktails has replaced marching as our preferred method of protest

HOME > VIEWPOINT > EDITORIAL

Jun 26, 2009  |  By: KEVIN NAFF  | COMMENTS      Printer Friendly Version

FORTY YEARS AFTER the rebellion at Stonewall, the business of activism is in a sorry state.

Four decades after a group of gay bar patrons humiliated the New York police department by repelling their regular raids with physical force (from kick lines to bottle throwing), a group of wealthy and connected LGBT donors was preparing to sip cocktails with Vice President Joe Biden at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington last night and enjoy the 10,000-square-foot spa at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

When the Obama administration’s Justice Department defended the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in a legal brief that would have made George W. Bush proud, there were flickers of Stonewall-era activism. Maybe, just maybe, lady activism would make her triumphant return.

Some prominent donors, like David Mixner and Bruce Bastian, announced plans to boycott last night’s DNC event. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said it would protest at the hotel, even though two of its board members planned to attend. Officials from the Human Rights Campaign and National Gay & Lesbian Task Force declined to attend.

But activism, that poor faded dame, didn’t stand a chance. Other donors shrugged off calls to boycott the DNC, which has vacuumed up untold millions from the LGBT community over the years and delivered precious little in exchange. Like moths to the flame, lured by the magnet of proximity to power, the gay donors planned to open their checkbooks once more in the futile hope of being accepted by a party that prefers its gays rich, supplicant and invisible. And did I mention rich?

SEVERAL OF THOSE who planned to attend the DNC fundraiser are friends and surely mean well. But during the past week I have heard more than one of them say they would protest the event by only making the minimum contribution of $1,000. That’ll teach ’em! No one who was present at the Inn 40 years ago would recognize such behavior as activism.

In the decades since Stonewall, we’ve redefined activism and watered it down to its current, unrecognizable state. Of course we need to pursue change from within — there should be out gays working in the highest levels of government. OPM’s John Berry, for example, is already making tremendous progress at leveling the playing field for LGBT federal workers.

But as last fall’s spontaneous street protests against Proposition 8 demonstrated, not everyone can afford $1,000 fundraisers and those voices should be heard too. When longtime activists Cleve Jones, Robin Tyler and David Mixner recently called for a national march on Washington to demand gay rights, they were immediately attacked and derided by some who labeled them naïve for suggesting such a radical thing. Maybe a national march thrown together in a few months isn’t the most sensible way of bringing activism out of her long slumber, but those calling for such a protest surely don’t deserve to be ridiculed and dismissed. If they want to march, then so be it. It probably won’t win us any legislative victories, but that approach can’t be any worse than the checkbook activism of recent years.

The New York Times this week published an opinion piece that attracted much attention within gay activist circles. It was titled, “Why the Gay Rights Movement Has No National Leader.”

“Gay people have no national standard-bearer, no go-to sound-byte machine for the media,” wrote Jeremy Peters. “So when President Obama last week extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, there was no alpha gay leader to respond with the movement’s official voice, though some activists criticized the president for not going far enough.”

Peters posits several explanations for the lack of national leadership on LGBT issues, from the AIDS epidemic decimating a generation of leaders, to the focus on local activism in a push for non-discrimination laws that didn’t require a national spokesperson leading the call for change.

There’s another reason for this lack of visibility: the reluctance of gay activists to criticize politicians who aren’t Republicans. It’s a frustrating pattern that has played itself out innumerable times, as Democrats betray their gay constituency and are rewarded with more money and votes. You can’t be the national face of activism if everyone perceives you as a tool of one political party. When Democrats throw us under the bus, they should be held accountable. Instead, activists look the other way.

There was John Kerry’s support for state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, Bill Clinton’s signing DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and countless other examples from Marion Barry’s recent flip-flop on marriage to ...

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AttentionLTRseek
Arlington, Va
0
... And when has the LGBT community protested the infamous "sting operations" for the last time? The U.S. Park Police, for one, has never stopped them. How many people had their lives and careers destroyed lately just for trying to get a little of what should be no-frigging-body's business?
Of course, we are all just saintlier than thou... So decent, so self-righteous, so mainstream and so full of it.

Posted 6/28/09 - 2:49 PM


RCS
1
There are still gay rights organizations actively pushing legislation and court cases to advance gay rights.  Instead of just blindly writing cheques to any political party, maybe some donours should think of contributing directly to them. Two of the most prominent are:

The Human Rights Campaign
www.hrc.org

Lambda Legal
www.lambdalegal.org

Posted 6/28/09 - 6:07 AM


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